Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



This thesis demonstrates how music, specifically jazz and blues, serves as a narrative device in contemporary fiction to characterize the redemptive ethnic experience, failed or successful, of Native and African American writers. The thesis provides a main focus on Sherman Alexie's Reservation Blues, (1994-95), James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" (1957) and Toni Morrison's Jazz (1992) After comparing African American and Native American experiences with oppression, the thesis discusses the extent to which music has expressed and continues to express these experiences. In Alexie's work, characters attempt to rise above their social surroundings by journeying outside the reservation and outside of themselves, and expressing their hopes, fears, and desires for better lives through their music. In Baldwin's and Morrison's works, however, jazz and the blues are redemptive within the social confines of the characters' ethnic groups. In all three texts, music is central to the dramatic action and used as an important device for the understanding of culture and cultural aspirations.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Baldwin, James, 1924-1987 Sonny's blues
Morrison, Toni Jazz
Alexie, Sherman, 1966- Reservation blues
Jazz in literature
Blues (Music) in literature
American fiction -- Indian authors -- History and criticism
American fiction -- African American authors -- History and criticism



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University