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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

Chapter 17

Chapter 16

Chapter 17, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary: Chapter 17

Ida’s narrative begins with an explanation of the context of her life. Ida describes her life as one characterized by resentment, and says that if she could begin her life again, she would learn how to say “No.” Ida tells us that she goes through her story daily, and though she may one day tell her tale to Rayona, no one realizes that it is she, Ida, whose life truly drives the story of her family.

When Ida begins her story, her mother is sick and her aunt, Clara, has just arrived to take care of her. Clara fascinates Ida, who watches her aunt unpack while Ida’s sister, Pauline, runs to get their father. Ida is troubled when she catches herself thinking that her mother’s sickness might be a good thing because it prompted Clara’s arrival. Clara has come at the insistence of Ida’s mother and over the objections of Ida’s father, Lecon. Lecon does not want Clara to come because he worries that other people on the reservation will shame him for wearing out his wife and not being able to care for her himself. Ida offered to drop out of school to care for her mother, but her father would not allow that either. Finally, Ida’s mother suggested that they tell everyone Clara was homeless and needed somewhere to stay. Ida’s father agreed because he knew the community would esteem them for taking in a homeless woman. Now that Clara has actually arrived, however, Ida’s father has begun to act strangely.

Ida is very friendly toward Clara, giving her gifts and taking her to a secret place on the roof to talk. Ida even tells Clara her secrets, such as her crush on Willard Pretty Dog, a boy in her class. Ida begins to do better in school because Clara helps her with her studies. Lecon is very friendly to Clara, doing chores for her and buying her gifts, but Pauline does not seem to like Clara and spends most of her time working with the nuns at the mission. Pauline owns a colorful beaded rosary and is extremely proud of it. However, when Clara comments that the beads of the rosary are most likely scrap beads left over from other regular rosaries, Pauline grows upset and throws the rosary away.

One night, just before Christmas, Ida returns home to find her mother and Clara in tears. Clara is dressed for travel and refuses to tell Ida what has happened unless Ida promises not to hate her. Ida promises and Clara tells her that she is pregnant by Lecon. That night Ida hears her mother, Lecon, and Clara arguing. Ida’s mother wants Clara to leave her house and her imminent departure mortifies Lecon because it will shame the family. To make things worse, Clara has told some of the men on the reservation that a baby is due at Lecon’s house. Clara points out that she has not said whose child it is, and that no one will suspect Lecon. Clara tells Ida’s parents about Ida’s crush on Willard Pretty Dog and says they could always claim it was Ida’s baby. Ida’s mother agrees to let Clara stay, but only if Ida agrees. Before her parents can even ask, Ida has already walked into the room and consented.

Ida’s family calls over the new priest at the mission, Father Hurlburt, who has a reputation for secrecy among the people at the reservation. They tell him that a drifter has raped Clara and that there is now only one way for them to preserve the family’s honor. Father Hurlburt is reluctant to go along but eventually acquiesces. He knows a motherhouse in Colorado where Clara and Ida can go to wait out Clara’s pregnancy. Clara tells Ida not to be sad, because they will have a lot of fun in Colorado.

Analysis: Chapter 17

Ida’s story begins to explain some of her quirks, which we have seen in Rayona’s and Christine’s narratives. As with the understanding we gain from combining perspectives on the frequent confrontations between Christine and Rayona, many of the cold and absurd things that Ida does make sense once we are able to look inside her head. Ida begins her story by mentioning her resentment, and everyone who knows her in the other stories is aware of this trait’s outward manifestations. In Rayona’s and Christine’s stories, Ida is almost always grumpy and cold; we now see that this exterior aloofness is due to Ida’s bitterness toward the friends and family who have used her. Ida also alludes to the fact that she has reasons for her resentment other than Clara, but she leaves this part of her story for later.

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