Sherman Alexie uses a great deal of symbolism in Reservation Blues. The most prominent symbol in the novel is Robert Johnson’s guitar. As a young man, Johnson traded his soul to the Gentlemen to be able to play the guitar like no other. After passing the guitar onto Thomas, the guitar represents the Coyote Spring’s dreams of fame. At first, the guitar’s music seems beautiful and alluring. Likewise, the entire band becomes star-struck as they gain fans and are visited by a producer. However, the guitar may also be a little bit dangerous. The man-who-was-probably-Lakota warns Thomas when he sees him holding the guitar, stating “Music is a dangerous thing,” (Pg 12). He is alluding to the future trouble it will cause. Victor must also wear gloves to protect his hands from the burns and cuts Johnson suffered. Still the guitar seems like a wonderful gift, it until it betrays Coyote Springs. At the New York City audition, the guitar seems to turn against Victor, as it bucks away from him. The song falls to pieces the band simply watches as “Victor’s guitar kept withering in his hands until it broke the straps and fell to the floor in a flurry of feedback,” (Pg 226). Later, the guitar comes back to haunt Victor like the regret of a lost dream. Although he left the instrument in New York, he believes it followed him when he sees a guitar case at the airport. There is no shame in aspiring to a career in music. However, Coyote Springs became caught up in the quest for fame, and it eventually tore their lives apart.
Alcoholism is also used as a symbolical death for Victor. After Junior’s suicide, Victor encounters a very difficult mourning period. Thomas, Chess and Checkers leave the reservation in hope of a new start, leaving Victor behind. Although he attempts to turn his life around, he cannot. Page 293 demonstrates Victor’s slow fall into self-destruction- “That little explosion of the beer can sounded exactly like a smaller, slower version of the explosion Junior’s rifle made on the water tower.” Junior shot himself because he did not know how to cope with difficulties of life. Although Victor promised to stop drinking, he also succumbs in his despair. It is likely that Victor will lapse into a life of alcoholism, much like other members of the tribe, and soon join Junior in the overcrowded graveyard.