Reservation Blues

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Reservation Blues, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon

Alcohol is presented as a normal, ever-present, and inescapable part of life on the reservation—a symptom of the poverty and sense of despair that surround Native American life after years of oppression and broken promises from the American government.

Alcoholism is a thread that weaves its way across life on the reservation, and directly affects the lives of each of Coyote Springs’ members. At various points in the novel they are confronted, individually or collectively, with the painful memories of alcohol abuse that broke up each of their families, in a way that was simultaneously predictable and seemingly impossible to stop. Chess and Checkers’ father, Luke Warm Water, became an alcoholic after his infant son died of a preventable illness when no medical help was available. Luke’s drinking tore their family apart, leading to their mother’s suicide, and both sisters are haunted by memories of their father’s alcoholism. Thomas’ father, Samuel Builds-the-Fire, was once a basketball-playing hero of the tribe, but after the death of his wife he became an alcoholic as well. The only special skill he has now is one that Thomas jokes belongs to all Native American fathers – the ability to show up drunk on their children’s doorsteps, no matter where or how far they have gone away in an attempt to escape. Junior’s parents were both killed in a drunk driving accident, and Junior himself has now fallen into the same pattern of drinking he had hoped to avoid, binging with Victor whenever the opportunity presents itself. Junior, too, is haunted by dreams of his parents. Victor’s drinking is in turn a reaction to another pattern of suffering—his nightmares reveal that he was sexually abused by a priest while still a young boy. Now, he is persistently verbally and physically abusive to those around him, and the most recklessly alcoholic member of the band.

The prevalence of alcohol’s destructive influence in the past and present of each of these characters is a reflection of the general patterns of suffering that pervade life on the reservation. The origin of these patterns is, more often than, not, oppression handed down from the government. This pattern of government oppression is exemplified by the three white executives of Cavalry Records, who finally defeat the unlikely “underdog” hope of Coyote Springs after first rekindling that hope with a worthless string of promises and contracts. To drive his point home, Alexie names these executives Sheridan, Wright, and Armstrong, after famous U.S. Army Officers implicated in the slaughter of Native Americans. Philip Sheridan (1831-1888) was a general who pioneered scorch earth tactics during the Civil War, and then oversaw the Indian Wars on the Great Plains. George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) also fought in the Indian Wars and, significantly for Alexie’s novel, once ordered his men to shoot 875 captured Indian horses. George Wright (1803-1865) commanded troops during the Battle of Spokane Plains near modern-day Wellpinit, and hanged Chief Owhi and his son Qualchan in bad faith after inviting them to negotiate.

The reservation’s patterns of suffering are held in the memory of Big Mom and the stories of Thomas Builds-the-Fire, and transformed into the music played by Coyote Springs. Big Mom’s memory of the murder of Native horses and her transcription of their song of mourning and pain makes these ghostly horses a symbol of the suffering of Native Americans at the hands of the government. The novel in some ways chronicles the band members’ desperate attempt to escape from the patterns of suffering that destroyed their respective parents—and it is this desire to escape that finally drives Thomas and Chess to move off the reservation.

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Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering appears in each chapter of Reservation Blues. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering Quotes in Reservation Blues

Below you will find the important quotes in Reservation Blues related to the theme of Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering .
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.  


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The colt shivered as the officer put his pistol between its eyes and pulled the trigger. That colt fell to the grass of the clearing, to the sidewalk outside a reservation tavern, to the cold, hard coroner’s table in a Veterans Hospital.

Related Characters: Big Mom
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Big Mom, the mystical matriarch of the Spokane who has just been introduced, reflects on the vivid image of a dying colt, killed by a U.S. officer during the Indian Wars. Horses become a symbol for the Native American spirit in Alexie’s novel, and Big Mom is the guardian of the tribe’s collective memories, chronicling the patterns of suffering that have beset the reservation throughout its history.

Here, Alexie offers a poetic representation of that suffering. He collapses time by connecting this moment of cruelty directed toward a Native American horse more than a hundred years ago with the consequences of this brutal slaughter on the spirit of the reservation today: the alcoholism that causes many Spokane to fall “to the sidewalk outside a reservation tavern,” and the many other common causes of death - chief among them suicide, disease and car crashes - that might lead to the coroner’s table. These consequences are the secondary, indirect violence that results from the initial - now historical - violence of war. The weapons of that war, between "mainstream" America and the "outsider: Native Americans, have changed over the years, but the psychological damage inflicted by the patterns of alcoholism, poverty, and suicide has a heavy casualty rate all the same, trapping the reservation and its culture in a dangerous cycle of despair.  

Chapter 3 Quotes

As he slept in the Warm Waters’ house, Thomas dreamed about television and hunger. In his dream, he sat, all hungry and lonely, in his house and wanted more. He turned on his little black-and-white television to watch white people live. White people owned everything: food, houses, clothes, children. Television constantly reminded Thomas of all he never owned.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the broke and hungry Thomas dreams that he is sitting alone in front of the the television. Dreams are an important storytelling technique in Alexie’s novel, and this one demonstrates that even in his dreams Thomas is confronted with the dreary injustice of a world in which the odds are stacked against him because of his race. He only has a small black-and-white television, because even in a dream he cannot escape the reality of his poor existence. On that television, he sees only the narratives of mainstream white America, reminding him that he is an outsider, the "other." The easy success of the people on TV only makes his own poverty harder to bear, confirming the power of art and storytelling to reinforce either positive or negative structures of inequality. Growing up on the reservation, Thomas was never offered a realistic vision of Native American success, either from within his community or from the television. He did not have even this fiction to help him escape his hunger, only mainstream America’s cheerful reminders that he was alone in that poverty because of his race. 

Chapter 4 Quotes

Junior and Victor shrugged their shoulders, walked into Thomas’s house, and looked for somewhere to sleep. Decorated veterans of that war between fathers and sons, Junior and Victor knew the best defense was sleep. They saw too many drunks littering the grass of the reservation; they rolled the drunks over and stole their money.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire, Junior Polatkin, Victor Joseph, Samuel Builds-the-Fire
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Junior and Victor react - or, rather, don’t react - to the sight of Thomas’ drunken father, Samuel Builds-the-Fire, passed out on Thomas’s front lawn. Their shared indifference to the appearance of the drunken Samuel is a product of their extensive experience in the “war between fathers and sons” of which they are “decorated veterans,” since alcohol destroyed both of their families as well. This experience has hardened them against suffering, making alcoholism the expected, normal state for fathers. They respond pragmatically to this abundance of alcoholism now, callously stealing whatever they can from the passed out members of the reservation when they come across them. The key component of this philosophy is despair; there is nothing else to be done but sleep, no hope for changing the habits of the reservation or escaping the pattern of suffering embedded in their culture. Thomas holds on to hope in some ways, but must also therefore continue to confront the sadness of an unchanging reality, since he refuses to escape into sleep or drink like Victor and Joseph. 

Once outside, Thomas cried. Not because he needed to be alone; not because he was afraid to cry in front of women. He just wanted his tears to be individual, not tribal. Those tribal tears collected and fermented in huge BIA barrels. Then the BIA poured those tears into beer and Pepsi cans and distributed them back onto the reservation. Thomas wanted his tears to be selfish and fresh.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Thomas’s frustration and sadness at the sorry state of his drunken father overflows, as Samuel Builds-the-Fire lies prone on his kitchen table, tended to by the Warm Water sisters. Thomas is very particular about showing his suffering to no one else - not because, as Junior or Victor would have been with their macho ethic, he is afraid to cry in front of the Warm Water sisters, but because he wants his tears to be “individual, not tribal.” Thomas does not want to add to the stock of suffering built up in his culture, the patterns that have led to this moment. He has a clear sense that these patterns are encouraged and perpetuated by the BIA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a governmental organization that holds the reservation back even as it provides aid, by only offering a bare minimum to survive, and promoting dependence on alcohol or Pepsi, the two continual drinks of the tribe.

The sinister, fantastical image of tears collected into barrels and fermented into beer reinforces the sense that everything in the tribe members’ lives is used against them by the unjust government with whom they are still, in some sense, at war. Tragedy leads to despair, which leads to alcohol and further tragedy. By keeping his tears to himself, and ensuring that they are “fresh,” Thomas is trying to break free from this pattern of suffering by rejecting the recycled despair of his race, imposed by outsiders.

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.

“I mean, I think they’re all using each other as trophies. Junior and Victor get to have beautiful white women on their arms, and Betty and Veronica get to have Indian men… Look at them. They got more Indian jewelry and junk on them than any dozen Indians. The spotlights hit the crystals on their necks and nearly blinded me once. All they talk about is Coyote this and Coyote that, sweatlodge this and sweatlodge that. They think Indians got all the answers.”

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Junior Polatkin, Victor Joseph, Betty, Veronica
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Thomas speaks to the radio interviewer after Coyote Springs wins a battle of the bands in Seattle, answering a question about the relationship between Junior and Victor, and Betty and Veronica, two groupies who have joined the band as back-up singers. Thomas takes a dim view of these couplings, seeing both the Native men and the white women as being fascinated more with the fact of one another’s race than with one another's actual person. Each is a trophy to the other - Betty and Veronica are in search of the exotic, seeing in Native Americans a stereotypical, mystic and new age identity to be explored, while for Junior and Victor, the act of landing a white woman proves their masculine power and, as they discuss later, serves as a sort of revenge against the white power structures that hold them down in patterns of suffering.

“There was a part of every Indian bleeding in the snow. All those soldiers killed us in the name of God, enit? They shouted ‘Jesus Christ’ as they ran swords through our bellies. Can you feel the pain still, late at night, when you’re trying to sleep, when you’re praying to a God whose name was used to justify the slaughter?”

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Chess (Eunice) Warm Water
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

Thomas is speaking to Chess about the role of religion in her life, as she tries to convince him to come to church with her. For Thomas, it is impossible to separate the historical injustice and violence perpetrated by the Christian Church from any of its present-day spiritual teachings. These teachings were used to justify the slaughter of thousands of his own race, and so must be corrupt and evil, as far as he is concerned. He feels a real bond to every Native who was killed, a bond made stronger perhaps by his role as a storyteller, who listens to the voices of the reservation’s many ghosts.

The fact that Catholicism still has such a strong hold on the reservation is, in Thomas’ mind, only further proof that the white Christian desire to oppress the Natives, weeding out their traditional spiritual practices, has not left. Rather, according to Thomas’s perspective, their continued presence serves to reinforce patterns of guilt and fear that isolate, rather than build community. Like alcohol, religion is another means by which those in power aim to pacify the just anger of the oppressed, giving them a false sense of happiness or hope while removing their will to change their current circumstances for the better by rising up against the structures that restrict them.

Thomas smiled.
“You know,” he said, “I’ve always had a theory that you ain’t really Indian unless, at some point in your life, you didn’t want to be Indian.”
“Good theory,” Chess said. “I’m the one who told you that.”

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Chess (Eunice) Warm Water (speaker)
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

Thomas and Chess speak about the struggle of Native American life, and arrive at the same conclusion: that self-hatred and a desire to escape one’s Native identity is in itself an integral part of what it means to be Native. As she rightly reminds Thomas, it was Chess who came up with this pearl of wisdom first; it seems as though the female characters in the novel are more capable of taking this kind of perspective on their pain, while the male characters are often too trapped within the cycle of suffering to see its cause. That Thomas unconsciously echoes Chess is a sign of their growing love for one another, as they are beginning now to take refuge from all of this suffering by relying on each other.

This sort of lamenting of one’s position in life that both characters describe is a key part of blues songwriting, which is inherently mournful, sometimes with a tinge of anger at the sorry conditions the singer finds him or herself trapped within. They express, and perhaps overcome this despair through song, which builds a community of support, of fellow-sufferers willing to hope for better.

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.

“You want the good stuff of being Indian without all the bad stuff, enit? Well, a concussion is just as traditional as a sweatlodge… What did you New Agers expect? You think magic is so easy to explain? You come running to the reservations, to all these places you’ve decided are sacred. Jeez, don’t you know every place is sacred? You want your sacred lands in warm places with pretty views. You want the sacred places to be near malls and 7-Elevens, too.”

Related Characters: Chess (Eunice) Warm Water (speaker), Betty, Veronica
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Chess yells at Betty and Veronica when they decide to leave the reservation after Victor and Junior fight with White Hawk and are taken to the hospital. Chess’s mounting frustration at the invasion of these white women comes to the fore here, as she berates the two outsiders for their limited, ultimately racist view of what it is to be Native American.

Betty and Veronica, argues Chess, are interested in Junior and Victor only as a means of touching the exotic, engaging with a culture they see as holding a special, spiritual power. They misunderstand this power, says Chess, because they believe they can control it and make selective use of it, taking only the good without the bad and keeping all the conveniences and advantages of their white identities at the same time. The sacred is everywhere, in everything, and they are blind to it because it doesn’t suit their exotic fantasy of what magic is. In fact, Chess goes on, the pain of violence driven by alcoholism, as exemplified by this recent fight, is an equal part of what it means to be a Native American, trapped within patterns of suffering that Betty and Veronica cannot begin to understand.  

Chapter 7 Quotes

“Michael,” Big Mom said, “you run around playing like you’re a warrior. You’re the first to tell an Indian he’s not being Indian enough. How do you know what that means? You need to take care of your people. Smashing your guitar over the head of a white man is just violence. And the white man has always been better at violence anyway. They’ll always be better than you at violence.”

Related Characters: Big Mom (speaker), Michael White Hawk
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Big Mom remembers a speech she gave to a young Michael White Hawk, before he went to prison for attacking a white cashier. He had been her student, and she hoped to head off his angry tendencies before they got out of hand - but she was unsuccessful.

In her attempt to convince White Hawk to choose a different path, Big Mom implies that the best way to beat the white man, since they will always be better at violence, is through means like art and music. As the living memory of the Spokane tribe, she speaks with the historical perspective of someone who has seen many like Michael fail in their foolish attempts to fight violence with violence. She berates White Hawk, who has no such perspective, for claiming the authority to decide what is “Indian” and what is not, equating Native identity with his misguided quest to be a warrior. Rather than judging and condemning his fellow Natives, Big Mom tells White Hawk to embrace and take care of them, building community, and escaping the patterns of violence that she has witnessed destroy so many macho young men with their wild hopes that give way to despair.  

The old Indian women dipped wooden spoons into stews and stirred and stirred. The stews made of random vegetables and commodity food, of failed dreams and predictable tears. That was the only way to measure time, to wait. Those spoons moved in slow circles. Stir, stir. The reservation waited for Coyote Springs to fall into pieces, so they could be dropped into the old women’s stews.

Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

The reservation's inhabitants await news about Coyote Springs' fateful trip to New York to play for a group of big time record executives. While most hometown communities might cheer for the potential success of their underdog heroes, the band’s failure is a foregone conclusion in the minds of these waiting old women, so hardened to a lifetime of “failed dreams and predictable tears” that they no longer dare hope that anyone could break free from the pattern of suffering that has shaped their lives.

The old women, survivors of many tragedies on the reservation, are repositories for its memories and spirit, broken to despair by years of disappointment. This bitterness is transferred into the stew that they stir, the food that fuels the entire community, its contents determined by scrounging together the meager available resources. Coyote Springs, in the view of these women and the reservation, will inevitably return broken and defeated, further fuel to add to their bitter stew. The circular, repeated stirring motion of the old women is a sign of this cycle of disappointment, a pattern that is so difficult to escape.

Chapter 8 Quotes

Victor roared against his whole life. If he could have been hooked up to a power line, he would have lit up Times Square. He had enough anger inside to guide every salmon over Grand Coulee Dam. He wanted to steal a New York cop’s horse and go on the warpath. He wanted to scalp stockbrokers and kidnap supermodels. He wanted to shoot flaming arrows into the Museum of Modern Art. He wanted to lay siege to Radio City Music Hall. Victor wanted to win. Victor wanted to get drunk.

Related Characters: Victor Joseph
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Victor reacts to the band’s failure in the recording studio, a failure caused by his mystical guitar’s sudden rebellion. Victor “roars,” consumed with anger against the system, the society that has crippled his chances at success. His rage is a distinctly violent one, in the model of the warrior ancestors venerated by his tribe - he wants to enact traditional representations of Native American violence, from bow and arrows to scalping, on every symbol of mainstream American power that surrounds him in New York City: the stockbrokers and supermodels, museums and police.

The image of Victor riding on horseback down the streets of New York is equal parts absurd and tragic, a representation of the extent to which he has been trapped in the past, and is out of place in this modern world, unable to cope. He had dared to hope, dared to leave behind the despair that had dominated his life until this point - he wanted to win, for once, but has only lost once again. And, once again, he will turn to the only relief that many of his tribe have found for this repeated trauma: alcohol. This cycle of disappointment and the desperate search for relief is what has driven so many of his people to alcoholism, and the related suffering of family and community that accompanies that particular sickness.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Chess looked around the graveyard, at all the graves of Indians killed by white people’s cars, alcohol, uranium. All those Indians who had killed themselves. She saw the pine trees that surrounded the graveyard and the road that led back to the rest of the reservation. That road was dirt and gravel, had been a trail for a few centuries before. A few years from now it would be paved, paid for by one more government grant. She looked down the road and thought she saw a car, a mirage shimmering in the distance, a blonde woman and a child standing beside the car, both dressed in black.

Related Characters: Junior Polatkin, Chess (Eunice) Warm Water , Lynn
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

Chess takes a moment to look over the reservation cemetery at the end of Junior’s funeral, and she sees a mirage of the white woman Junior loved in college, and their unborn child. Surveying the rows of graves, Chess sees the race-driven violence behind each of the dead Natives, the patterns of suffering - alcoholism, cancer caused by uranium mining, and car accidents - that she believes are enforced by the racist policies of mainstream white America. She is nearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of this destruction, and by the many suicides who gave in to despair. The trees and the gravel road that “had been a trail for a few centuries before,” are a piece of the old reservation, before the advent of white settlers, repositories of the history of Native Americans in this place that go beyond the graveyard. The trail will be paved over soon, erased by the government’s money, a bandaid applied to the wrong wound. In the distance, the blond woman is a vision of what might have been for Junior, a happy family with a child that Victor lied about, who was in fact aborted. If the racism that separated Junior from his college girlfriend, Lynn, had not existed, this family might.

WalksAlong didn’t respond, and Victor left the office, feeling something slip inside him. He stole five dollars from WalksAlong’s secretary’s purse and bought a six-pack of cheap beer at the Trading Post.
“Fuck it, I can do it, too,” Victor whispered to himself and opened the first can. That little explosion of the beer can opening sounded exactly like a smaller, slower version of the explosion that Junior’s rifle made on the water tower.

Related Characters: Victor Joseph (speaker), Junior Polatkin, David WalksAlong
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

Victor is rejected by David WalksAlong after making his final desperate attempt to escape the pattern of suffering and despair that has guided his life so far, and that has claimed that of his best friend, Junior. WalksAlong, an elected leader of the tribe, chooses personal vengeance over his responsibility to Victor as a member of the community, mocking the poorly written resume that Victor had brought in search of a job.

This final blow is too much, and Victor, who had previously resolved to give up drinking after being visited by the ghost of Junior, turns immediately to the only relief he has ever known from the suffering that holds him back from success: alcohol. He is too poor to afford it on his own, stealing from WalksAlong’s secretary in a small act of revenge that will only foster further discord in the community. The echo of Junior’s rifle heard in the opening of the beer can is a not-so-subtle sign that this decision is an equivalent surrender to despair, a slower form of suicide that plays into the same pattern.