A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
Summary: Chapter 9
This chapter marks the start of the second part of the novel, and the narrative voice switches from Rayona to Christine and from the present tense to the past.
Christine’s narrative begins immediately after the time Christine expected the world to end. Christine regrets that she missed a party while getting ready for the apocalypse that never came and vows to never miss another party. Christine’s brother, Lee, is the best-looking boy on the reservation, but Christine does not consider herself attractive at all. She wonders if she and Lee have the same father, but Aunt Ida never tells them. Ida does not let Christine and Lee call her “mom” because she was never married.
Lee hangs around with Christine throughout grade school. Christine is the toughest kid in her class, so the boys always send her out on dares, which she accepts every time. One day, however, they dare Christine to cross a natural bridge of stone that runs high over a stream. She is almost across when she freezes with fear, paralyzed until Lee comes and pulls her across. When the two walk down the ridge, Christine makes a mental list of things she should never again dare to do.
When Christine is a sophomore and Lee is thirteen, a child of mixed heritage named Dayton Nickles moves to the reservation. Dayton becomes Lee’s shadow, following him everywhere. By this time, Christine is popular among her peers, and other girls in her class go to her when they want to learn about making out. One day, Christine is in her room and catches Dayton looking at her from the next room. Taking this look as a sign of Dayton’s interest, Christine becomes attracted to Dayton. During a powwow the next April, Christine takes Dayton out to a field and tries to seduce him. They begin kissing, but Dayton pulls away, telling Christine he thinks of her as a sister. Christine is furious. Dayton and Christine have a falling-out, and Lee is torn between them.
Lee is an excellent rider and becomes a rodeo star. However, Aunt Ida refuses to allow Lee to make riding his profession. Christine can tell that Ida has other plans for Lee, but she does not know what they are. Some people claim that Lee will one day be regarded as the Indian JFK because he is so smart and handsome.
After she graduates from high school Christine gets a job with the tribal council and constantly goes out with boys. One night Christine takes a road trip to North Dakota with Diamond, a young man who already has two children, and they stay there for two weeks. When Christine comes home, Ida is angry with her because Diamond’s mother has complained to Ida that Christine is preventing her from seeing her grandchildren. Christine moves out of Ida’s house and goes to live with Pauline, Ida’s sister.
At the end of their high school careers, Lee and Dayton become active in the militant “Red Power” movement. Christine disapproves of Lee’s behavior and confronts him at a general store one day. Christine goes to Aunt Ida to tell her that Lee is acting strange, but Ida tells her that Lee is fine and knows what he is doing. Christine leaves the house, feeling forgotten.
Analysis: Chapter 9
This new section grows out of the story Christine is telling Rayona at the end of the previous chapter, and it is unclear whether she is telling the story out loud or if the novel has begun to chart Christine’s inner thoughts. Certainly, this section is more than just Christine telling a lengthy anecdote, and just as Rayona has done with her confession to Evelyn, Christine is now getting her own story out into the open. Unlike her daughter, however, Christine has the benefit of perspective, and this perspective is indicated by the fact that she uses the past tense (whereas Rayona uses the present tense). Christine, unlike Rayona, is distant enough from her story that she has to look back on it rather than narrate it as it occurs.
This chapter gives us a different perspective on the same reality we have been shown through Rayona’s eyes. Whereas Rayona always thinks of her mother as being attractive, we learn here that Christine never thought herself pretty. Because we have two equally subjective viewpoints, it is unclear whether Rayona’s admiration of her mother’s beauty is truly deserved or just another one of Rayona’s idealizations. Conversely, it is unclear whether Christine is correct in thinking she is unattractive or if this perspective merely reflects her low opinion of herself as a person.
Christine begins her narrative by situating us in her era, the 1960s, and Dorris steeps the story in the culture of the 1960s to help us follow Christine’s story. Christine lingers on the idea of patriotism for the first few paragraphs, mentioning how important “respect for the red, white, and blue” was for people living on the reservation. Later, Christine mentions many of the popular songs of her day, which she hears on the radio program “The Teen Beat.” Because the songs she mentions are still familiar tunes, these references allow us to get some feel for the period. Christine also mentions some well-known political events and trends, all of which plant Christine’s story firmly in the 1960s without making it feel unfamiliar to a contemporary reader.
Another interesting aspect of the beginning of Christine’s story is the way it weaves into Rayona’s narrative and elaborates on some of the details Rayona leaves unexplained. People who are only minor characters in Rayona’s story, such as Lee and Dayton, are suddenly more prominent and are given more depth. The origins of several details Rayona mentions in passing are now fully explained, such as the notebook Rayona finds in Christine’s room in which Christine tries pairing her name with different boys’ last names. In this chapter we get to see the origin of attitudes and trends that are part of Christine’s life at the beginning of the novel. For example, Pauline’s warning to Christine that she will wear herself out echoes the warnings of Charlene, Christine’s friend from Seattle. Some of Christine’s behavior seems baffling at the beginning of the novel, but by showing the origins of some of her actions, Dorris brings us closer to understanding them.
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