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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

Chapter 7

Chapter 6

Chapter 8

Summary: Chapter 7

When Evelyn catches up with Rayona, Rayona is looking out at the yellow raft, hoping she can forget her troubles if she stares hard enough. Evelyn says nothing, but Rayona tells her the whole story. When she is finished, Rayona feels as if a burden has been lifted from her. Evelyn decides that Rayona needs to go home, and that she and Sky are going to drive Rayona there. After his initial surprise when Evelyn and Rayona arrive at the gas station to pick him up, Sky closes up the gas station and gets ready to go. Rayona packs her clothes in a case that Evelyn gives her, and she takes the videos from Village Video. Rayona knows that there is an Indian rodeo in the nearby town of Havre that day and thinks that might be a good place to look for her mother.

As soon as they get to the rodeo, Rayona sees Foxy. Foxy is, as usual, quite rude to Rayona and immediately antagonizes Evelyn, who reacts with hostility. Sky and Evelyn look for seats in the bleachers and leave Rayona and Foxy to talk. Foxy is supposed to be in the rodeo, riding a horse belonging to Dayton, Christine’s boyfriend. Foxy, however, is much too drunk to ride, so he tells Rayona to ride for him and flashes a knife to make sure she obeys. To make sure no one knows Rayona is a girl, Foxy lends her his hat and jacket. As Rayona is heading over to the stock pens, she sees Annabelle. Annabelle is outraged when she learns Foxy has been drinking. Rayona thinks to herself that her mother must have looked like Annabelle when she was young. Rayona is reminded of Ellen, but Ellen does not compare to Annabelle.

Rayona climbs onto the horse and spends a nervous moment in the pen before her ride begins. Babe, the horse, throws her three times in one minute, but Rayona keeps getting back on with tenacious determination. By the end of the minute both girl and horse are exhausted. After the ride, Rayona feels changed. Bearpaw Lake and the people she has worked with for the past few weeks seem very far away. Everyone is very impressed by Rayona’s bravery in the rodeo. Annabelle calls Rayona “insane,” but in a notably friendly tone. When the awards are given out at the end of the day, Rayona—or rather, Foxy—is given a special prize: the “hard-luck buckle.” When Rayona gets up to claim her award, she notices everyone looking closely at her. She takes off her hat and jacket, and from across the arena, Evelyn starts cheering for her. Soon, everyone else cheers as well.

Analysis: Chapter 7

When Rayona returns to the lake to stare at the yellow raft, she longs one last time to escape her troubles, then bids her fantasy life farewell. Rayona feels that if she stares at the raft long enough it “will launch [her] out of [her] present troubles.” This raft is the gateway to the life Rayona has been trying to live, and is the site of her most recent realizations. First the raft is the place where she drifts from Father Tom and breaks the last bond to her old life, and then it is where she first sees Ellen, who lives the life Rayona wants. Rayona is now, however, unable to lose her troubles in such fantasies because Evelyn, who knows that Rayona’s world is only an illusion, is standing right behind her. Rayona idealizes Ellen’s life, but she nevertheless feels that something took “a weight off” when she confesses her story to Evelyn. When Rayona plunges back into reality she no longer has to bear the burden of sustaining a lie and risking exposure as a fraud. Rayona feels real for the first time in months.

Rayona’s first encounter with her old life is with Foxy, whom she sees at the rodeo. This encounter is the worst possible beginning to Rayona’s reunion with her past, as Foxy is the cruelest of all the young people on the reservation, but Evelyn gives Rayona the power and confidence to deal with Foxy. Evelyn motivates Rayona to stand up for herself not by connecting her to some fantasy but by showing Rayona that she cares about and supports her. In this way, Evelyn fills in a gap left by Christine, who has never really bothered to act as her daughter’s ally.

In any case, Rayona ends up on the back of the wild horse, and her perseverance in staying on the horse is symbolic of her new attempt to live the life she has been given. Riding the horse is a liberating experience for Rayona because it is something real, an experience that is hers and under her control alone. It is true that she is disguised as a boy for her ride, but this temporary transformation allows her to escape from her idealistic self to a more realistic version of herself. In other words, the identity she assumes in the rodeo is much more relevant to her life than the identity she dreams up for herself, and it still liberates her to some degree. By riding, Rayona gains the acceptance and admiration of many of the people in the arena. She gains this admiration by being her real self, not her fantasy self.

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