How can I analyze Father Arnold's dream in Sherman Alexie's Reservation Blues and explain the dream's significance?
In Sherman Alexie's "Reservation Blues," Father Arnold dreams about missionaries approaching him and promising him a method for holding his congregation's attention. In the dream, the missionaries watch Father Arnold preach to an uncaring audience for hours before walking in with black boxes full of smallpox and threatening to open them on inattentive people. Father Arnold protests, but the missionaries assure him that religion should be about fear, because "fear is just another word for God."
Father Arnold's dream serves as a critique of religious abuse from authorities, and a major aspect of the book's theme of religion, along with the tension between secular blues and religious gospel music. The dream shows Father Arnold's determination to be compassionate and kind to his congregation, rather than authoritative. Father Arnold protests the use of fear in religion and the use of religion as fear, and feels tension between his kinder approach and the ability to abuse his position as a religious authority to command the attention of his congregation. Ultimately, Father Arnold is representative of a compassionate and caring approach to preaching, while his dream represents and critiques the use of fear and intimidation.