Chapter 1 Summary
Reservation Blues (1995) is Sherman Alexie’s first novel, which was much anticipated after his immensely popular 1993 story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Alexie transported some of his characters from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven to flesh out their stories more fully in Reservation Blues as he continued to reflect on the lives of Native people on the Spokane reservation. According to Frederick Busch writing for The New York Times, Reservation Blues is a “stinging commentary” on the tragic conditions of reservation life that makes readers “uncertain” whether they should “laugh or cry.”
The setting for most of Reservation Blues is the Spokane Indian Reservation in the eastern part of the state of Washington. The only town on the reservation is Wellpinit, which is never reached accidentally. That is why many of the people on the reservation are talking about a stranger who has suddenly appeared. The stranger is a Black man, which makes him even more curious because few Black people live in eastern Washington. When first noticed, the man was standing at a crossroads and carrying a guitar.
Thomas Builds-the-Fire is the first person courageous enough to talk to the stranger. Thomas learns that the Black man’s name is Robert Johnson. (Robert Johnson—1911 to 1938—was a guitarist, considered one of the creators of blues. One of his major songs refers to a crossroads, and the lyrics have been interpreted to mean the singer sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his ability to play the guitar.) In this novel, Robert Johnson is a guitarist who tells Thomas that he needs spiritual help. Robert also tells Thomas that he is looking for a specific woman about whom he has dreamed. In his dream, she was an old woman who lived on a hill. Robert adds that he has been running away from The Gentleman, with whom he made a poor deal. He is afraid to play his guitar now—if he does, The Gentleman will hear him and know where he is.
Thomas takes Robert to the base of Wellpinit Mountain. This is where Big Mom lives, Thomas says. Thomas attempts to...
(The entire section is 559 words.)