A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
Summary: Chapter 10
The Vietnam War has begun, and Christine asks Dayton what his draft classification is. Dayton has been classified a “4-A,” which means that he cannot be drafted because his father is dead and he is the only son left to his mother. Christine asks Lee what he plans to do after his two years in the military, but he informs her he is not going to enlist, and that he will dodge the draft if he has to. Christine thinks Lee is being a coward and the two get into an argument. The argument ends when Christine slaps Lee across the face.
People wonder whether or not Lee will enlist. Christine gets into an argument about it with Aunt Ida, who supports Lee. One day Christine sees a poster publicizing the tribal elections and knows that Lee will never be elected if he does not join the army, which she explains to Dayton. Dayton and Lee had made plans about Lee eventually running for election to the council, and Dayton recognizes that Christine is right. As a draft-dodger, Lee would never be elected. Dayton commits himself to persuading Lee to enlist.
Lee and Dayton disappear for a few weeks but return the night of the mission’s Labor Day bazaar. Lee has cut his hair and enlisted, and he starts hanging around with a new group of friends. Soon Dayton cuts his hair as well, though he clings to his 4-A classification. Christine begins to find the reservation too confining, so she decides to join an employment program in Seattle. She bids a civil farewell to Ida and has a rather drawn-out goodbye with Lee. Lee ships out for boot camp soon after.
Christine makes plenty of new friends in Seattle but her job bores her. She frequently switches jobs and apartments, but never really finds anything she likes. Christine receives two pieces of mail from Lee: a postcard from Hawaii and then a letter from Vietnam. Several months later she gets a letter from Dayton. Lee has been listed as MIA—missing in action. Christine is distraught and dreads getting any more letters.
That night, feeling anxious about Lee, Christine stops in a bar for a drink. It takes a minute for her to realize that everyone in the bar is black. A man in uniform comes over and buys Christine a drink. His name is Corporal Elgin A. Taylor. Christine tells Elgin about Lee, and he puts his arm around her and tells her not to worry. The two go back to Elgin’s hotel room together. Being with Elgin is a whole new experience for Christine, and the next morning she asks him never to leave her. He promises that he will not.
Analysis: Chapter 10
The deference for the “red, white, and blue” Christine mentions in the previous chapter makes another appearance here. Only when we keep in mind the patriotism that pervades Christine’s reservation can we properly understand the ramifications of Lee’s desire to dodge the draft. Indeed, after Christine confronts Lee, and the opinions of people on the reservation are split, we see that Lee’s enemies claim that he will dodge and his friends claim that he will not. This split gives us a fairly explicit indication that avoiding the military would be poorly received by the entire reservation.
It is unclear why Christine is so anxious to see Lee enlist, and her reasons are in many ways selfish. Her first concern when she learns that Lee may try to dodge the draft is what her friends will say about her. Christine’s close association with Lee is a large part of her identity, but we get the impression she enjoys being his sister only when he is popular and well liked. However, we also get the sense that Christine seems to want what is best for Lee. Christine steps up her efforts to persuade Lee to enlist only when she realizes that enlisting would greatly help Lee’s future political career. This foresight shows some concern on her part for Lee’s future. While Lee’s success would also improve Christine’s reputation, Christine’s ultimate goal seems to be that they succeed as a pair. Regardless of her true intentions, it is clear that Christine ties her identity closely to Lee’s.
The wild life Christine lives after graduation is another part of her search for identity. She experiences a switch in personalities from a prudish girl obsessed with the alleged end of the world to a popular social butterfly who never misses a party. This party-girl image Christine adopts causes problems in her relationship with Ida, in essence weakening Christine’s identity as a daughter. Christine feels that there is something special waiting for her in the big city, so she goes to Seattle to find it. The jobs she gets are unexciting, however, and none of them provides her with a satisfactory identity to replace the one she has left behind. Although she has shed the discipline and restrictions of life on the reservation, Christine has also lost the support her family provided, and her life feels empty because she is unable to replace this love and support.
When Lee is reported as missing in action, Christine loses one of her last bastions of family love and support. Soon after receiving the news of Lee’s disappearance, however, she meets Elgin. After they spend the night together, Christine makes Elgin a part of her identity, a kind of replacement for Lee, who is far away and possibly dead. Elgin becomes a new anchor for Christine, someone who will stay with her, provide her comfort, and validate her existence.
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