How does the novel Reservation Blues address Native American issues?

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kjtracy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reservation Blues by author Sherman Alexie addresses a variety of Native American issues. This imaginative story delves into life on the "rez" through the perspectives of its unique characters. Life on the reservation is blended with the Faust myth, creating a platform for Native American issues that has the benefit of realism as well as metaphor.

The Death of Dreams

One of the primary issues addressed in Reservation Blues is the death of dreams that is tragically common for occupants of the "rez." The musical group that forms on the "rez" experiences this death when they arrive in New York to find that they have been exploited by Phil Sheridan and George Wright. The two men have proven themselves to be volatile towards the Native American community and only interested in exploiting the musicians.

Stereotypes

Reservation Blues touches on many of the stereotypes that are harmful to Native Americans, including those that seem positive to outsiders. Groupies Betty and Veronica explain that they want to be part of Native American culture so they can be "wise and peaceful." This stereotype showcases the lack of understanding that outsiders have for the hardships faced by members of the "rez" as well as the discrimination they face from outside communities.

Diversity

Another major theme presented in Reservation Blues is the habit outsiders have of lumping all Native American cultures in together. The novel delves into the reality that each Native American nation has its own distinct culture, with even greater diversity between individual reservations. The characters in Reservation Blues find themselves in a world that flattens their multidimensional culture and renders it generic, ignoring both the good and bad aspects that make life on the "rez" unique, beautiful and often painful.

Poverty

Poverty is a major theme throughout Reservation Blues, even if it is often an unspoken one. The occupants of the "rez" face diminished economic opportunities because of where they grew up, and they often find the lack of expectations stifling. While there are many overtly oppressive and abusive characters, such as Wright and Sheridan, the "rez" is also forced to deal with the oppressive economic structures that prevent growth and lead to the continuation of poverty and other issues.

Genocide

While Reservation Blues has a relatively modern setting, it is clear that the Native American genocide of the past haunts the characters and continues to have a measurable impact on their lives. The fighting may have ended, but the new generation of Native Americans is left to pick up the pieces of their dreams and the diminished portion of land they have to call their own.

Throughout the novel, each of these issues is presented in a humorous, often satirical light. The humor in no way diminishes the severity of the issues but rather makes the narrative more relatable to the reader.

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Reservation Blues

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