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Yellow Raft in Blue Water consists of three distinct narratives.
What effect does this structure have? Why does Dorris choose to
present certain scenes in more than one narrative?
It is important to observe that the three
stories in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water are all
a part of a larger story. The tales of Rayona, Christine, and Ida
all intermingle as the novel progresses, and each story supports
and completes the others. This structure forces us to take a more
active part in our reading, and we play the part of detective, slowly
gathering information about the characters and their lives. What
is crucial here is not just that one narrator describes events that
the others may not, but that the different narrators provide explanations
for the strange behavior and events we see at earlier points in
the novel. Each character’s story seems like the whole story as
we read it, but the subjectivity of that particular character’s narrative
becomes apparent when we read what the other narrators have to say.
This effect is especially strong when different characters
produce their own descriptions of the same event or scene. We learn
a lot about the characters by examining what details they choose
to focus on and how they interpret them. At times, Ida, Christine,
and Rayona make the same event seem like three different events,
which reveals that their stories are shaped more deeply by their
personalities than by actual occurrences. Therefore, by telling
the story through three different narrators, Dorris allows us to
come up with our own opinion of the novel’s events and characters
and to avoid being swayed by the words of only one narrator.
2. The main characters
of A Yellow Raft in Blue Water are all looking
for a place to belong. How do Rayona’s travels affect her and what
conclusions does she come up with?
Each character assumes different identities
over the course of the novel, and their journeys allow them to discover
which of these identities, if any, will work out for them in the
end. Rayona is a particularly good example of how the characters
discover themselves on their journeys. Rayona often laments the
fact that she does not fit in, has no natural place to call home,
and is an outsider everywhere she goes, mostly because of her dark
skin and her abnormal height and lankiness. She creates an imaginary
identity to help her better relate to others and to boost her self-esteem.
When reality intrudes on her imaginary world, however, Rayona finally
finds herself placed in the real world and earns the admiration
of her peers with her bravery at the rodeo. Having gained some respect,
Rayona makes peace with Christine and is finally able to establish
a rapport with her that makes Rayona realize how precious her family
Before she comes to these conclusions, however, Rayona’s
search for a place to belong leads her to try on all sorts of false
identities, and she tries to make herself as average as she can
and conform to the standards of whatever group she wants to join.
While at Bearpaw Lake State Park, Rayona tries to look like Ellen,
while on the reservation she wishes she looked like Annabelle. Rayona
also changes more than her physical appearance and joins a religious group
to fit in, even though she is not especially impressed with Father
Tom’s ecclesiastical jargon. As these different identities disappoint
her, however, Rayona comes closer to discovering who she really
is. While Rayona’s travels are filled with pain and disappointment,
they allow her to dispense with her fantasies about more traditional
families and lifestyles and grow comfortable with her own family.
In the novel,
the events of the past affect the lives of characters who are too
young to know these events have occurred. In what ways do these
family secrets affect the different characters of the novel? Are
these effects lessened or amplified by the fact that they are kept secret?
Most of the novel’s secrets originate with
Ida and her decision to pose as Christine’s mother. Having to keep
so many secrets is a burden for Ida and makes her turn inward and
become reluctant to trust others, but the fact that she never acknowledges
this turbulent period does not make its effects vanish. The secrets
born in Ida’s early life create many of the conditions that pervade
the lives of future generations. For example, Ida initially makes
Christine call her “Aunt Ida” because she knows Christine’s real
mother will eventually come home and she does not want Christine
and herself to become too attached to each other. However, this
title eventually becomes permanent and Christine takes it as a sign
of Ida’s embarrassment over her. Later, the title “Aunt Ida” is
also imposed on Rayona and has the same alienating effect. Because
Ida is so close-mouthed about the genealogy of her family, Christine
is essentially fatherless, has no ancestors of whom she is aware,
and consequently has trouble understanding their identities. To
compensate, Christine has to try on a number of identities, which
causes her a great deal of pain and disappointment. This identity
crisis is likewise passed on to Rayona, who, like her mother, spends
a lot of time drifting without really knowing where she fits in.
In this sense, then, the hidden secrets of Ida’s time continue to
haunt her adopted daughter and granddaughter.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Yellow Raft in Blue Water!