Reservation Blues

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Robert Johnson Character Analysis

A famous blues guitarist who lived from 1911-1938. He died under mysterious circumstances, and legend has it that he made a Faustian bargain with the devil to be the best guitar player of all time. Alexie imagines that Johnson has been wandering all this time, trying to escape the Gentleman (a figure of the devil) who took his freedom. He finds refuge in Big Mom’s house and, at the end of the novel, decides to stay on the reservation.

Robert Johnson Quotes in Reservation Blues

The Reservation Blues quotes below are all either spoken by Robert Johnson or refer to Robert Johnson. 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 1 Quotes

“This is a beautiful place,” Johnson said.
“But you haven’t seen everything,” Thomas said.
“What else is there?”
Thomas thought about all the dreams that were murdered here, and the bones buried quickly just inches below the surface, all waiting to break through the foundations of those government houses built by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Robert Johnson (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Thomas reflects on all the suffering embedded in the reservation, both historical and contemporary, and is left unable to adequately respond to Robert Johnson’s praise of the landscape. It is, in fact, a beautiful place, at face value - but there are also years of built-up pain and despair that haunt the reservation, psychological and physical violence perpetuated against its inhabitants by the government that now builds their flimsy houses as meager recompense for their actions. The ghosts of these painful events, victims of the Indian War and the years of patterned suffering that have followed, lie in wait, hoping to break through and erode away the government-built houses. Just as prominent in Thomas’ mind as the actual bodies are the murdered dreams, the hopeful fantasies that have each been extinguished, without fail, by circumstance; to be a Native American, Alexie implies, is to struggle forever with despair. Thomas takes on this struggle when he dares to hope that his little blues band can achieve success, but this dream too risks being murdered along with all of the others.  

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Reservation Blues quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Chapter 6 Quotes

Then the music stopped. The reservation exhaled. Those blues created memories for the Spokanes, but they refused to claim them. Those blues lit up a new road, but the Spokanes pulled out their old maps. Those blues churned up generations of anger and pain: car wrecks, suicides, murders. Those blues were ancient, aboriginal, indigenous.

Related Characters: Robert Johnson
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

Robert Johnson, famous blues guitarist and singer, sings a short blues song on Big Mom’s porch, where he has been in recovery, hiding from the diabolical Gentleman since he arrived on the reservation. The effects upon the reservation are intense, as this music speaks to its soul, stirring up all of the “anger and pain” bred from generations of suffering and historical oppression. This is a moment of magical realism, as the landscape is personified and given life by the spirit of those who have died there. The tribe members refuse the call of this music, though, stubbornly sticking to their “old maps” instead of letting themselves hear and understand the patterns of suffering that hold them back.

The community rejects this opportunity for growth, comfortable in its own fashion with the status quo, as full of despair as it is. They refuse the memories of suffering that cross cultures, from the African American Johnson to them. This cross-cultural exchange is based in a shared experience of oppression, and Alexie makes it clear that he believes Native Americans have a valid claim to the blues as a genre by calling Johnson’s music “ancient, aboriginal, indigenous,” three adjectives commonly attributed to the Native peoples.

Get the entire Reservation Blues LitChart as a printable PDF.
Reservation blues.pdf.medium

Robert Johnson Character Timeline in Reservation Blues

The timeline below shows where the character Robert Johnson appears in Reservation Blues. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The man introduces himself as Robert Johnson, and reveals that he has come in search of an old woman from his dreams... (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
Thomas tells Johnson that Big Mom, who lives on top of the beautiful and mystical Wellpinit Mountain, may... (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
...need: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, and many others. Now she watches as Robert Johnson makes his way to her. (full context)
Chapter 2
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...Thomas bought for himself and Junior are no match for the sound produced by Robert Johnson’s mystical guitar. After a few days, crowds come to watch them rehearse—first Lester FallsApart (a... (full context)
Chapter 3
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...he hopes they don’t make it big, because it might ruin them. He holds Robert Johnson’s guitar in the dream, and plays it, feeling sweet pain, until Victor shouts at him.... (full context)
Chapter 6
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
...independent Indian woman, and the story picks up on Big Mom’s front porch with Robert Johnson. Johnson remembers his time with the guitar, how he would escape for weeks at a... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...without her help, they will have no chance of landing a contract, and that Robert Johnson is waiting for him. Big Mom invites the band to visit her at her home. (full context)
Chapter 7
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
...figure of Big Mom when they reach her blue house. She tells Thomas that Robert Johnson is gone looking for wood to build a new guitar. She tells Victor that, if... (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
...the end of a long day of rehearsal, Victor resists playing the chord again. Robert Johnson listens, wincing, from the bushes. Thomas tells Victor to keep going, and they play once... (full context)
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
...back on the reservation unless they are heroes, or rock stars. Thomas calls for Robert Johnson, who hears but doesn’t answer, knowing that the band is entering dangerous territory. Thomas continues... (full context)
Chapter 9
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
...share cups of powdered milk for breakfast, hating it. The day before this decision, Robert Johnson sits on Big Mom’s porch and watches the reservation. The two discuss the tragedy of... (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
Robert Johnson watches as members of the reservation protest Coyote Springs, carrying large signs. He remembers meeting... (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
...of both musicians and horses, may finally have “been stacked too high inside her.” Robert Johnson tells her that they need her, and that she saved him. She gives him the... (full context)
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
Robert Johnson is walking through town when he sees the-man-who-was-probably-Lakota. They walk together toward the Longhouse. Thomas... (full context)