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.
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon

Throughout Alexie’s novel, hope battles with despair in the lives of each member of the band and the reservation as a whole—and the Blues become a way of converting despair into something that can build, rather than destroy, community.

Hope survives, barely, in spite of sustained adversity. The story of this ragtag band of misfits is in many ways a classic underdog tale, but without the traditional happy ending. The community invests, against its better judgment, in the sort of desperate optimism that comes with forming a band—entering into a very competitive field with little hope for success, either in terms of fame or money. Thomas tirelessly drives the group forward with his optimistic belief in their potential. When, on the verge of success, they fail so completely, their failure feels expected—even inevitable. This underdog tale is mirrored in the memory of Samuel Builds-the-Fire’s basketball match against the tribal police. Against all odds, and in line with the macho Native American drive toward heroism, Samuel nearly emerged victorious, but then he too was defeated. Now he lies on the table, drunk and defeated in a deeper sense: he totally succumbs to despair.

This fatal drive toward heroism displayed by the young Samuel is typical of other male characters on the reservation, and bitterly mocked by others. The novel’s main female characters, Chess and Checkers, ascribe this drive in male Native Americans to the macho need to fit the image of the fearless Indian warrior. They are bitter about its effects on the men of the reservation, seeing this need to feign invincibility as part of what leads many to alcohol when they, inevitably, can’t live up to the impossible ideal, and then as a result face a persistent sense of unfulfilled potential. Hope against all odds is also a part of this reckless urge—so Alexie seems to argue that there should be a middle ground, somewhere between reckless hope and the other side of the equation: deep despair.

Despair pervades the past of each of the band’s members, and also threatens to invade their present. Junior ultimately gives in to despair, after the memory of his aborted child comes back to haunt him when the band is flying home from New York in defeat. Victor, in response to the death of his best friend, tries at first to rise up and respond with a heroic sort of hope, formulating a tragically inept resume to offer to David WalksAlong in the hope of taking over Junior’s job. When this resume is laughingly rejected, though, he falls back into deep despair, returning to the life of an alcoholic he had hoped to escape. Any humor and hope in Alexie’s novel is always dark. This deep awareness of despair is another link between the song lyrics written out at the beginning of each chapter of Reservation Blues and the Blues genre itself, which is famous for its themes of longing and sadness (rising as it does from a history of slavery and oppression). Music and storytelling become one way to grapple with the reality of a despair-filled life, injecting hope and personality into the equation—and perhaps discovering a path toward that “middle ground” between unrealistic hope and despair.

Hope, Despair, and the Blues ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Reservation Blues related to the theme of Hope, Despair, and the Blues.
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 2 Quotes

They did go home with Junior and Victor one night, and everybody on the reservation knew about it. Little Indian boys crept around the house and tried to peek in the windows. All of them swore they saw the white women naked, then bragged it wasn’t the first time they’d seen a naked white woman. None of them had seen a naked Indian woman, let alone a white woman. But the numbers of naked white women who had visited the Spokane Indian Reservation rapidly grew in the boys’ imaginations, as if the size of their lies proved they were warriors.

Related Characters: Junior Polatkin, Victor Joseph, Betty, Veronica
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Alexie discusses the reservation community’s reaction to Betty and Veronica’s fling with Junior and Victor. The boys of the town are entranced by the white women, who serve as a means of affirming their own macho identities - they all lie, shamelessly, to claim an easy familiarity with the sexual prize of the white woman. The fact that these young boys, who are without exception sexually inexperienced, believe that these claims bolster their image in the community, shows that interracial relationships are driven by a set of machismo politics instilled at a very young age.

Victor and Junior are heroes according to this logic, at the peak of the macho pyramid. In reality, though, neither has a very successful night with the visiting women, since their blindness to the women themselves, outside of their role as status-boosting trophies, has meant that neither has grown much in their understanding of romantic love since they themselves were young boys. The boys’ need for a macho reputation is driven, Alexie suggest, by their desire to be seen as “warriors,” striving to conform to an identity that the narratives governing their lives, both White and Native, associate with a glorious and brave past.

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. 

Coyote Springs created a tribal music that scared and excited the white people in the audience. That music might have chased away the pilgrims five hundred years ago… The audience reached for Coyote Springs with brown and white hands that begged for more music, hope, and joy. Coyote Springs felt powerful, fell in love with the power, and courted it.

Page Number: 79-80
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Alexie describes the atmosphere at Coyote Springs’ second live concert in Montana, a return to the same stage with the addition now of the Warm Water sisters to the band. The true, powerful potential of the band is on display here, as their music begins to come together for the first time with the live energy of the audience, harnessing their collective experience of despair to inspire hope and passion. The power of this collective hope is almost religious in character, as later demonstrated by Father Arnold’s admission that he used to play in a band, and feels a similar sense of power as a preacher to what he felt onstage.

This moment of togetherness unites the oppressed tribe members by giving them the hope of a common culture, just as the Blues functioned in African American communities. The presence of this new, collective pride in their identity, with its "tribal" undertones, scares the white audience members, who are now the outsider, confronted by a culture that also excites them because it is exotic and other. The power of that music, of that collective hope, might have united the tribes of America against the pilgrims if it had existed when they arrived, suggests Alexie, in another collapsing of history (a common device throughout the novel).

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.

“You never told us who won that game between your father and the Tribal Cops.”
“Who do you think?” Thomas asked. “Who do you think won that game?”

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Chess (Eunice) Warm Water (speaker), Samuel Builds-the-Fire
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Alexie reveals the ending to the pick-up basketball game from years before when Thomas’s father, Samuel Builds-the-Fire, took on the Tribal Cops in the ultimate underdog contest. There was no happy ending to the story - Samuel and his team lost. This cycle of impossible hope, driven, the Warm Water sisters would suggest, by the macho drive of would-be warriors in the tribe, leads inevitably to defeat and despair - such that Thomas does not even have to say outright that his father lost, because it is the obvious outcome to such a common story. Thomas' repeated question is tinged with defeatism and anger that this cycle is a part of his identity - the Tribal Cops, representatives on the reservation of the power of White America, have always won, and always will win against the marginalized Natives who dare to speak up or struggle against injustice, as Thomas’ father did in his own way.

The story that Thomas tells is a powerful one, illustrating the history of struggle against the governmental powers that perpetuate a cycle of hopelessness. Thomas uses his gift as a storyteller to bring to life his father’s effort once again, even as Samuel lies prone on the table in the present. If anything, this tale serves to underline the tragedy of his father’s fall from glory to this moment, and to bristle against the seeming inevitability of that fall.

Chapter 5 Quotes

“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.

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.

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.  

In the blue van, Thomas, Chess, and Checkers sang together. They were alive; they’d keep living. They sang together with the shadow horses: we are alive, we’ll keep living. Songs were waiting for them up there in the dark. Songs were waiting for them in the city.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire, Chess (Eunice) Warm Water , Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, which ends the novel, Thomas, Chess, and Checkers cross the borders of the reservation on their way to a new life, accompanied by a herd of shadowy horses. They have finally grown so frustrated with life on the reservation and among its community that they have decided that the only way to keep hope alive and break the pattern of suffering and despair is to build upon the smaller community of love they have created amongst themselves, in a new place. When making this decision, Thomas is sad to leave the stories of the reservation behind - but the shadowy ghost horses that appear to shepherd them across the border are a sign that the spirit and history of their culture will accompany them, and this gives Thomas and his companions hope that songs are “waiting for them in the city.” They sing together now, using the blues as a means of overcoming there despair, and look to the future. There will be new stories, and new songs - and perhaps, this time, they will at long last have new endings.