Reservation Blues


Sherman Alexie

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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.

Race, Culture, and Identity

At the core of Alexie’s novel is an intense exploration of what it means to be a Native American living in America today. By writing a novel about Native Americans who form a blues and rock and roll band (naming themselves “Coyote Springs”), Alexie is able to portray the complicated relationship between Native Americans and the country that surrounds them. As Americans, they are connected to the unique culture that produced the Blues. At the…

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Hope, Despair, and the Blues

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…

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Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering

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…

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Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual

In Alexie’s novel, overtones of magical realism create a heightened sense of myth and an awareness of history that seems native to life on the reservation—and especially to life as it is experienced by Thomas Builds-the-Fire, the protagonist. Although the novel is narrated from a third-person perspective, it most consistently follows Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who is infamous for his storytelling. His stories are said to creep relentlessly into the dreams of everyone who lives on…

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Community, Friendship, and Love

Community plays a huge role in life on the reservation, since each of the individuals living there is bound together by the shared sense of identity that comes from their race—its past and present, as outlined above.

Community can be a force for good, as exemplified by the small acts of kindness and support displayed by many of those on the reservation, and the camaraderie that comes from being part of a shared struggle. Alexie…

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