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Victor Joseph’ Sense of Identity in “Reservation Blues” by Sherman Alexie Essay

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Updated: May 25th, 2019

One of the reasons why many critics refer to Sherman Alexie’s novel Reservation Blues as such that constitutes a particularly high literary value is that in it, Alexie was able to provide readers with the discursive insight as to what accounts for the very formation of the sense of self-identity, on the part of Native Americans that reside in reservations.

In its turn, this explains why Alexie’s novel features a number of characters whose positioning in life appears being reflective of different specifics of their exposure to the experiences of a racial discrimination.

In my paper, I will aim to substantiate the validity of this suggestion, in regards to the character of Victor Joseph, as a person whose sense of identity is being equally affected by his visually and psychologically defined ‘nativeness’, on the one hand, and his simultaneous desire to integrate into the White society, on the other.

The close reading of Reservation Blues suggests that it is namely Victor’s tendency to succumb to irrational anger, which defines the essence of his life-posture.

Such Victor’s tendency can be well illustrated in regards to the fact that, throughout the novel, he never skips an opportunity to refer to other Natives in a particularly sarcastic and even derogatory manner.

For example, Victor used to derive an emotional pleasure out of deliberately altering Thomas Builds-the-Fire’s last name, “’Ya-hey, Builds-the-Shithouse,’ Victor said. ‘Ya-hey,’ Thomas said” (Alexei 17).

Apparently, Victor’s experiences of being brought up by Catholic priests naturally caused him to despise the stereotypic emanations of ‘nativeness’, as such that in his mind were closely associated with the notion of inferiority.

At the same time, however, Victor could never embrace the existential identity of Whites, which is exactly the reason why, along with mocking stereotypical ‘nativeness’, Victor used to expose the utter irrelevance of the White people’s cognitive inclinations, which serve as a foundation upon which Christianity rests.

Apparently, Victor never ceased being aware of the fact that the Native people’s tendency to reflect upon the surrounding reality through the lenses of an idealistic euro-centrism does not make any sense, whatsoever.

Hence, the clearly defined sarcastic sounding of Victor’s referrals to those Natives, who in his mind appear being thoroughly comfortable with embracing ‘perceptional whiteness’, “’Shit,’ Victor said. ‘She (Big Mom) thinks she’s a medicine woman.

She thinks she’s Yoda and Junior is Luke Skywalker. Use the force, Junior, use the force” (Alexei 282). Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that, throughout the course of Alexei novel’s entirety, Victor continued to exhibit a number of anti-social behavioral traits.

After all, as psychologists are being well aware of, people with the ‘split’ sense of self-identity, experience a particularly hard time while trying to attain an emotional comfortableness with what they are.

In its turn, this often leads them to act in a particularly rebellious manner, especially when they happened to be under influence.

The earlier suggestion helps us to understand the actual essence of Victor’s addiction to alcohol, which often prompted him to indulge in violence.

There is, however, more to that – far from being induced by the alcohol alone, Victor’s violent-mindedness appears being of an essentially defensive nature, because while living in the reservation, he learned rather quickly to recognize the erroneousness of White people’s politically correct rhetoric, directed at Natives.

Apparently, Victor’s experiences of socializing with Whites, confirmed the appropriateness of his suspicion that despite their ability to indulge in this kind of rhetoric, most of these people remain just as vicious as their distant ancestors, who robbed Natives of their land.

Therefore, Victor’s taste for violence can be well discussed as the byproduct of his awareness that, in order for Native people to be able to defend their interests, their act must match that of their oppressors. That is, they should be willing to use naked force when deemed appropriate.

Even though Victor remained fully aware of the historical injustices, perpetrated by Whites against American Natives, his endowment with the ‘ambivalent’ racial identity was naturally causing him to strive towards attaining social prominence in a similar manner with Whites.

That is, just as it is being the case with the majority of White people, Victor shared the belief that one’s ability to make a lot of money is being synonymous with his or her ability to enjoy happiness in life.

Hence, Victor’s obsession with trying to become rich, “Victor wanted money so bad that he always spent it too quick, as if the few dollars in his wallet somehow prevented him from getting more. Money.

That’s all Victor talked about” (Alexei 26). Apparently, despite the fact that Victor fully understood the counter-productive nature of the particulars of his upbringing in Catholic summer camps, he nevertheless could not overcome this upbringing’s negative effects on the very functioning of his psyche.

Thus, it will be fully appropriate, on our part; to refer to the character of Victor Joseph in Reservation Blues as such that exemplifies the innermost essence of life-challenges, experienced by Natives that live in reservations.

Just as it being the case with Victor, the majority of these people do experiences a number of life-impending anxieties, which in turn come because of Natives’ endowment with the deep-seated suspicion that even today many Whites refer to them in terms of the American society’s ‘burden’.

The fact that, as of today, Natives are being provided with many special rights and privileges does not reduce the acuteness of their suspicion, in this respect.

What adds to the continuous existence of such state of affairs is that the government’s attempts to integrate Native Americans into American society, as its integral part, remain essentially euro-centric.

That is, these attempts ignore the fact that there are no objective reasons to believe that the rationale-based and greed-driven ‘American dream’ appeals to Natives as much as it appeals to White Americans.

Moreover, these attempts also ignore the qualitative aspects of how today’s Native Americans go about forming their sense of self-identity, which now has effectively ceased being solely concerned with the stereotypical manifestations of ‘nativeness’. This is exactly what Alexei’s novel about, in general, and the existential stance of Victor Joseph, in particular.

I believe that this conclusion is being thoroughly consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, there are indeed a number of good reasons to consider Native Americas (especially the representatives of younger generations) that live in reservations, as such that could longer be satisfied with retaining their formally ‘independent’ but de facto strongly dependent social status of ‘noble savages’.

In its turn, this implies that the government’s attitude towards Native Americans should undergo a drastic transformation.

Instead of merely exempting Natives from being required to pay taxes, in exchange for their willingness to ‘remain quiet’, while turning a blind eye on what contributes to the many Natives’ inability to lead socially-productive lifestyles, the governmental officials should adopt an active stance, while addressing these people’s existential needs.


Sherman, Alexie. Reservation Blues, New York: Vintage, 1996. Print.

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IvyPanda. "Victor Joseph' Sense of Identity in "Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie." May 25, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/victor-joseph/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Victor Joseph' Sense of Identity in "Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie." May 25, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/victor-joseph/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Victor Joseph' Sense of Identity in "Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie'. 25 May.

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