Analysis: Chapter 1
From Rayona’s point of view, Christine is acting irrationally and absurdly in this chapter. Her actions seem to be all an act, a show put on to gain Rayona’s and Elgin’s sympathy. However, neither is willing to give Christine what she wants, and from the information that Dorris shares with us in this first chapter we do not find it difficult to share Rayona’s skepticism regarding her mother’s illness. Dorris tells us, for example, that Christine’s partying frequently puts her in the hospital but that she is too irresponsible to calm down. Dorris also shows us that even though Christine accuses Elgin of having left her for a black girl, she has made this accusation so many times that it is not credible. Finally, when Christine appears in the parking lot, she is wearing clothing that makes her unrecognizable to her own daughter, as if her very personality were camouflaged and hidden. Although Rayona never expressly tells us not to trust Christine, Rayona’s confusion and mistrust of her mother are evident in the facts she chooses to relate and the skeptical way in which she tells them.
From the very beginning of the chapter, Rayona is isolated from both her mother and father, and strong familial ties are missing. Her irritation with her mother prevents Rayona from taking her mother seriously and from enjoying their time together. Elgin appears rather disinterested in both Rayona and Christine. Unlike Christine, Rayona does not react to Elgin’s indifference overtly. However, as Rayona articulates her inner thoughts to us, it is easy to tell how hurt she is, not only by Elgin’s show of apathy at the IHS but also by the course of her life in general.
Rayona’s odd appearance compounds her outsider status and awkwardness with her parents. Nearly everyone notices Rayona’s lankiness: even her father focuses his gaze on her size and weight when he enters the hospital. Rayona is so accustomed to comments about her frame that she is acutely sensitive to any comments she receives that are about some other aspect of her. In addition to her physical awkwardness, Rayona is somewhat self-conscious of her skin color. With a black father and Native American mother, Rayona feels like an outsider to both races, and the color of her skin makes her outsider status impossible to hide. We see Rayona’s racial self-consciousness in the frequent comments she makes about the difference between her skin tone and that of either of her parents.
Rayona also pays particular attention to popular culture, making special note of the songs she hears on the radio and the brand of car her mother drives. Rayona also frequently works pop culture into her analogies, metaphors, and similes, which is not surprising for a girl her age. These repeated references to popular culture remind us that Rayona desperately wants to fit in.