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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

Chapter 8

Chapter 7

Chapter 9

Summary: Chapter 8

As Rayona steps off of the awards platform, she sees Foxy glowering angrily at her. Rayona also sees Father Tom heading her way. A heavyset, mixed-blood cowboy comes up to Rayona, and the man turns out to be Dayton, Christine’s sometime boyfriend and the owner of the horse Rayona has just ridden. Father Tom sidles up and acts as if he is not surprised to see Rayona. Sky and Evelyn arrive, and Rayona introduces them to the others as friends from Bearpaw Lake State Park. The mention of the park startles Father Tom. Annabelle also shows up, and although Rayona hesitates to introduce her as a friend, Annabelle smiles and does not object to the term.

Meanwhile, Evelyn has locked eyes with Father Tom. He realizes Evelyn knows about his dealings with Rayona, and he shrinks abashedly away into the crowd. Dayton agrees to take Rayona home, so Rayona goes with Evelyn and Sky to get her things from the car. Once there, Rayona presents Evelyn with the blanket from the park that she had saved for the older woman. They say goodbye, and Evelyn and Sky ride off. Foxy is still furious, but as he starts toward Rayona, Annabelle intercepts him.

On the way back to Dayton’s ranch, Rayona finds out that Dayton was good friends with her uncle, Lee. When they arrive, Christine is both surprised and furious to see Rayona. Christine talks as if Rayona has greatly wronged her, pointing out how sick she has been and chastising Rayona for running away and worrying everybody. Rayona fires back, and the two sling insults at each other until Dayton herds them inside. They sit down in front of the television and watch the local news coverage of the rodeo. Rayona is a major feature, and Christine is amazed to learn that Rayona rode. After the news, an evangelical religious program comes on and everyone goes to bed.

Rayona wakes up the next morning stiff from her rodeo escapade. As she dresses, she sees the horse from the rodeo out in the yard. Rayona recalls Dayton mentioning that once one has broken a horse one can ride it, so she goes outside and hops on Babe. The horse has other plans, however, and tosses Rayona over the fence.

Christine comes outside, and she and Rayona begin talking. Christine explains how she lost her religious faith and gazes at Rayona the same way Rayona gazes at the yellow raft the day before. Christine says she lost her faith because of a letter supposedly from the Virgin Mary. There were all sorts of rumors about the letter: the pope was going to open it in 1960, and as a consequence either the world would end or Communist Russia would be converted. Christine had studied the apocalyptic passages in the Bible as preparation for the end of the world, but when nothing happened, she had become confused. Upon asking one of the sisters at the mission school why nothing had happened, the only answer she had received was that it was a “mystery.”

Analysis: Chapter 8

Chapter 8 opens with a seemingly out-of-place reference to the old western TV show the “Late Show,” a piece of pop culture that Dorris uses to provide parallels to the events of his novel. Rayona mentions that in episodes of the “Late Show” everything turns out all right in the end and that the good guy always escapes through some miraculous event that gets him out of whatever trouble he has been facing. Rayona’s experience at the rodeo is akin to these miraculous events from the “Late Show.” Rayona’s performance in the rodeo is unexpected and suddenly makes things seem to turn out well for her. As an ending to Rayona’s section of the novel, the rodeo ride is something of a deus ex machina—a literary term for an unexpected event or object that suddenly appears and provides a contrived solution to a seemingly unsolvable situation.

Though the rodeo performance does bring Rayona some of the acceptance she has been seeking, it does not solve all of her problems, and Dorris leaves some loose ends for the rest of the novel to pick up and resolve. Even after the rodeo, Rayona’s relationship with her mother is still distant and contentious. When Rayona arrives at Dayton’s house, for example, Christine’s reaction is not what one might expect from a mother who has lost track of her daughter for several months. Christine is angry, and her anger provokes anger in Rayona. To Rayona, her mother’s unwelcoming attitude is irrational, selfish, and stupid. Rayona’s tone in this section gives another negative impression of Christine. In later parts of the novel we see this mother-daughter relationship revisited from a different perspective—Christine’s—at which point we begin to see more clearly the causes of Rayona and Christine’s misunderstandings. For now, however, only Rayona’s bitterness is visible.

Christine is more courteous to Rayona the morning after the rodeo, and Dorris begins to reveal the many hopes and dreams she pins on her daughter. Christine tells Rayona the story of a part of her life, and Rayona notes that the expression on her mother’s face is much like her own expression when upon looking at the yellow raft the day before. Much as the raft represents an idealized fantasy life for Rayona, Rayona represents the same thing for Christine. Christine goes on to tell Rayona a confessional story about her loss of faith, much as Rayona tells Evelyn a confessional story the day before, and the parallels between these two confessions suggest that Christine may get the same relief from talking to her daughter as Rayona does from talking to Evelyn.

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