Reservation Blues

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Father Arnold Character Analysis

The devoted Catholic priest on the reservation. Father Arnold loves his job, and preaching reminds him of what it was like to sing in a rock band after college. He also plays basketball and is relatively moderate in terms of religious dogma. He falls for Checkers, and, frightened by his feelings, decides to leave the Church and the reservation.

Father Arnold Quotes in Reservation Blues

The Reservation Blues quotes below are all either spoken by Father Arnold or refer to Father Arnold. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Grove Press edition of Reservation Blues published in 1995.
Chapter 5 Quotes

“Those white women are always perfect, you know? When I was little and we’d go to shop in Missoula, I’d see perfect little white girls all the time. They were always so pretty and clean. I’d come to town in my muddy dress. It never mattered how clean it was when we left Arlee. By the time we got to Missoula, it was always a mess.”

Related Characters: Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water (speaker), Father Arnold
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

Checkers here confesses her childhood pain to Father Arnold as a way of explaining her current feelings of anger toward the interloping Betty and Veronica. In her story, we see the young Checkers confronting her outsider identity, and feeling intensely jealous of the clean white girls that she saw in town, whose beauty was celebrated and idealized by the society they all lived in.

The white girls' beauty, which Checkers felt was unattainable for her, is tied both to their whiteness and their cleanliness - a proxy for their wealth. Checkers and Chess, who likely only own one or two dresses apiece, have to contend with the mud flung up by their horse-drawn carriage on the long ride into town, since they cannot afford a car and live in isolation on the reservation. They cannot access the wealth that provides these white girls with their clean dresses, and Checkers especially feels this lack as a fault in herself, a frustrating cycle that she cannot escape and over which she has no power. The mud, therefore, represents both the girls’ poverty and their darker skin, neither of which can be easily washed away. Checkers’ fascination with white ideals of beauty is also held up by religion in her life, since, as she tells Father Thomas, she always sees Jesus painted as a white man.

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Father Arnold Character Timeline in Reservation Blues

The timeline below shows where the character Father Arnold appears in Reservation Blues. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Father Arnold, priest at the reservation’s Catholic Church, tries to convince his parishioners that God has other... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
Sometimes Father Arnold feels that delivering a good homily (sermon) is like being a lead singer in a... (full context)
Chapter 4
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...goodbye to everyone but Victor. She is planning to go to church, to meet Father Arnold and sing there. In the van, the band members ignore Victor. They drive toward Seattle,... (full context)
Chapter 5
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...at the reservation, Checkers dresses up to go to the Catholic Church and meet Father Arnold. She wears Nikes, remembering when her father Luke used to send her and Chess to... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Checkers begins to tell Father Arnold about Junior and Victor having sex with Betty and Veronica. She explains that this makes... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...white like them, because Jesus was white and blond in all of the pictures. Father Arnold reminds her that Jesus was Jewish, but she says she never saw him painted that... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...and ran away. Chess tells him that Checkers is planning to go and see Father Arnold, and that Chess herself is thinking about joining the church on the reservation as well. (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
In her journal, Checkers writes that she has fallen in love with Father Arnold, and she thinks he might love her back. This is the reason, she thinks, why... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...I will impale you on my flag pole.” On the reservation, Checkers dreams of Father Arnold—the two of them are naked, and he lies beside her, smelling of smoke and Communion... (full context)
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
On the reservation, Checkers sings in the choir, watching longingly as Father Arnold conducts the service. She steps past the communion wine, remembering her own father’s smell. At... (full context)
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Father Arnold falls asleep in his office, and dreams that he is preaching to a huge congregation... (full context)
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...to church on Sunday, and tells him that Checkers probably has a crush on Father Arnold by now. After a while, Thomas asks how she can go to a church that... (full context)
Chapter 6
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...holds his hand as the service begins, and Thomas observes Checkers’ adoring gaze at Father Arnold. Thomas drifts into a hot dream, where Father Arnold asks why he has come. Suddenly... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
Checkers searches for Father Arnold, and finds him cleaning generations of Indian graves in the Catholic cemetery. She tells him... (full context)
Chapter 7
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...out sounding better than ever. Checkers is scared Big Mom will be angry about Father Arnold, because it feels like Big Mom comes from “a whole different part of God.” Later,... (full context)
Chapter 9
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
Checkers finds Father Arnold kneeling in the front of the church, crying. She approaches him, leaving muddy footprints on... (full context)
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...had cried, silently, mourning the loss of his guitar. In the church, Checkers tells Father Arnold he can’t leave her alone. He admits that he dreams about her, but he wishes... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
On the reservation, the day before, Father Arnold calls the Bishop and tells him that he doubts that he is being effective, and... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The day after Coyote Springs returns to the reservation, and a day before Father Arnold’s decision, Betty and Veronica sit in Cavalry Records’ recording studio in Manhattan. Armstrong arrives to... (full context)
Chapter 10
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...gives him the cedar harmonica she carved, and walks down the mountain. She finds Father Arnold packing his bags, and asks him about Checkers. He tells her that he loves her,... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...Junior in the Spokane Tribal cemetery, near his mother and father. Big Mom and Father Arnold take turns leading the service, while Checkers, Chess, Victor, and Thomas watch. Lester and the... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...found a job as a phone operator. At this moment, Big Mom enters with Father Arnold, who wants to speak to Checkers. (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
Checkers refuses to speak to him alone, insisting that Chess stay with them. Arnold apologizes, but Checkers tells him it doesn’t matter, and that she is leaving with Chess.... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
The local paper reports that Father Arnold led the Catholics to victory in the annual basketball tournament. A few days later, the... (full context)