Cari Gilkison, English 575: Post-Colonial Literature, Winter 1997
Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie shows that there is no hope for Native Americans to redress the effects of colonization. Alexie feels that there is no hope of ever getting back to his original roots no matter how hard he or any other Native America tries. Part of the problem is that Native Americans aren’t even sure what being a Native American means. Victor and Junior certainly don’t know what it is all about. They are confused and just drifting through life. They have no sense of the past, where they are in the present or the future. They know only that they are Spokane Indian and that is all.
When white men came, it changed everything for the Native American. Whoever wasn’t wiped out was made to speak English and learn the ways of their oppressors. They go to government regulated schools and have been separated, but no equal in the eyes of the world. Hollywood came along and gave us our traditional view of the savage Indian. Those images have not yet left the minds of the popular culture even though those days are long gone. When you think Indian you think of war paint, eagle feathers and riding horses. No one knows what it is like to be a Native American today because the English has wiped not only many of the people, but the traditions and beliefs as well. There is no tribe untouched by society.
Thomas is the only one who seems to be really trying to get back to his roots. He is trying to get back to his heritage by telling stories and visiting Big Mama. He thinks that by forming a band and singing about their problems that it will help establish some sort of definition for themselves. They decided that the name of the band will be Reservation Blues, but they will not being singing about before Christopher Columbus, so they will be singing the Urban Indian Blues. (224). Either Way, they will not be singing about a time before they are colonized because they don’t know what it is like not to be colonized.
Religion is another good example of not know their ancestry or identity. Most of them go to church, but do not believe in “white man’s god.” Thomas even makes fun of Christianity by making up his own reservation Ten Commandments (154). However, they don’t really even know enough to make those up either.
Throughout the novel horses are frequently mentioned and they are often mentioned screaming when something happens. Horses scream when someone goes off the right path and loses a bit of themselves. These horses come to represent not only pain and loss, but freedom as well (306). When the boys leave the reservation the horses run along beside them. With the running of the main characters and the horses, there is finally a sense of hope.
Still, despite the image of freedom, Alexie has offered no real solution for the problems facing the Native Americans. Being a band and trying to bring the pride of the Native Americans failed. They have lost their special guitar and they have lost Junior along the way as well. Nothing has changed really, but perhaps they have at least started trying to find their way at long last.