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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

Chapter 12

Chapter 11

Chapter 13

Summary: Chapter 12

Lee’s corpse is finally delivered to the reservation, and Christine takes Rayona to the funeral. Christine drives her new car, a Volaré, through a snowstorm late at night. At one point during the drive, Christine, in a fit of snow blindness, thinks she sees Lee standing by the side of the road, halfway up a golden staircase and holding his hand out for her. Focused on this vision, Christine skids the car and spins off the road. After changing Rayona’s diaper and feeding her in the car, Christine starts off again toward the reservation.

By the time Christine and Rayona arrive, Lee’s body is lying in wait at Aunt Ida’s house. When Christine sees Ida, she is struck by the similarities between Ida and Rayona. Many people attend Lee’s wake, but Dayton is not among them. Christine is ready to forgive Dayton for not going to war, but she soon realizes that some of the people on the reservation blame her for Lee’s death. Christine asks Ida where she can put Rayona to sleep. For the first time Ida shows some affection to Rayona.

Lee’s funeral is the next day, and Father Hurlburt stops by to lead everyone to the church. Christine has not been to church once since the world failed to end years before, so she stands at the back. Christine sees Dayton sitting in the pews, and she flashes her wedding ring at him as he is leaving. As it is winter, the ground is too hard to bury Lee, so the mourners take handfuls of potting soil to throw on the casket. When they are finished, Ida cleans off the dirt and shakes cedar out onto the casket in a six-pointed pattern, in the center of which she places Lee’s championship buckle. The only person who does not throw her dirt is Christine, who stands petrified and unable to move. Finally, Dayton grabs Christine’s wrist and tells her she must bury Lee. When Dayton lets go of Christine’s arm, she is able to move again and throws dirt on the coffin.

There is a get-together at Pauline’s, but Christine and Dayton skip it and go to dinner in town instead. They order food but do not talk much. Christine brags about her life in Seattle. Later, the veterans hold an honor ceremony for Lee at the mission gym. Willard Pretty Dog, one of the veterans, pulls Ida into a dance. Christine dances with Vernon, another veteran, and Dayton dances with baby Rayona.

Analysis: Chapter 12

Despite Christine’s disillusionment with religion, in this chapter we see her fall back on her faith as a support, and religion takes on a new credibility in the novel. As she is driving through the snowstorm to the funeral, Christine prays for protection against skidding on the icy road. Unlike her previous religious experiences, which were as a member of an organized religious group, Christine’s prayer exhibits a personal faith. Out on the snowy road, Christine does not have to deal with religious dogma and prays directly to God without an intermediary. This is the first time we see personal, purified religious faith in the novel. Rayona’s dealings with the church, for instance, actually have very little to do with God and are more style than substance. The God Squad and other catchphrases of Father Tom’s had characterized religion in Rayona’s section more than had any actual religious faith. Christine’s faith as her car skids out of control, however, is a purer, more meaningful version of religion than we have previously seen.

Christine’s vision of Lee clearly has religious overtones, but its meaning is open to interpretation and gives all of the events surrounding the vision a mysterious feel. The image of Lee climbing a flight of golden stairs is an unmistakable symbol of him ascending to heaven. However, the fact that Lee is holding out his hand toward Christine is intriguing, as Lee seems to be indicating that he wants Christine to follow him. This vision could mean that Christine is going to die soon, literally following Lee up the golden staircase. It could also, however, indicate that Christine is meant to follow Lee in some other way, to more closely emulate Lee’s life. The vagueness of this vision leads to a car accident of equally ambiguous nature. The skid appears to be an accident, but it can also be read as a passive suicide attempt, since Christine says she “let [the world] go with no regrets.” Even so, as she spins off the road Christine throws herself over Rayona to keep her baby from flying out of the car. This gesture is clearly protective, and signifies that Christine cares enough about Rayona to keep from seizing an opportunity to end her life and truly follow Lee.

Earlier we encounter the possibility that Christine wanted Lee to join the army at least partly out of concern for her own reputation, and now we see this selfishness backfire. At Lee’s wake, Christine sees that Lee’s enlistment has, ironically, actually been detrimental to her reputation, as many people on the reservation blame her for Lee’s death. Christine’s reaction to this blame is two-fold. She comes to the reservation ready to forgive Dayton for dodging the draft and to play the part of the grieving but kind sister. When she realizes that people blame her, Christine becomes angry at Dayton and Ida, a reaction that seems to indicate that Christine’s primary interest is still her own reputation. However, Christine’s emotional state at Lee’s funeral shows that her grief is very real. While the other mourners are sad, they are at least able to contribute to Lee’s burial, but Christine is too stricken with grief to throw her handful of dirt onto Lee’s coffin. She does not want to forget Lee and is unable to make this final gesture until Dayton forces her to. For Christine, Lee is still only halfway up the golden steps.

Dayton finally forces Christine to accept the reality of Lee’s death and let go of his memory. Now that Lee is gone, Christine’s best and clearest memories of him are through Dayton. Christine and Dayton share a connection after Lee’s death that is as strong as the one they shared over Lee’s future when he was still alive. Lee was originally a source of competition for Christine and Dayton, but now their shared memories of him bring them closer together.

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