A Yellow Raft in Blue Water By Michael Dorris Summary and Analysis Christine: Chapter 10

Summary

Christine confronts Dayton about whether or not he's going to enlist in the military. Dayton says that he's not, that he'll move to Canada if he has to in order to avoid the military draft. Later, when Lee passively agrees with Dayton's stance and says that he, too, is uncertain just what he'll do when he's drafted, Christine slaps him.

Christine then hits on a plan to get Lee to enlist in the military. The reservation is run by a council made up of elected members. Christine knows that Lee's goal is to be elected head of the council, but a draft dodger is not likely to be elected. Christine approaches Dayton, who she knows will talk to Lee, and she tells Dayton that if Lee doesn't enlist, he'll never gain the prominence on the reservation that he wants. Her plan works. At the Mission Labor Day Bazaar, Lee enters and everyone realizes that he has cut his hair, an act that symbolizes that he's going to enlist in the military. Soon after, Christine says goodbye to Lee, who leaves the reservation for military life.

Christine also leaves the reservation. She moves to Seattle and gets a boring, menial assembly-line job, which she soon quits. Eventually, she moves to Tacoma and works for an airline, assembling small airline salads. She hears from Lee only sporadically, but eventually she gets a letter from Dayton telling her that Lee is listed as missing in action in the Vietnam War. She's dumbfounded and in denial about Lee's perilous situation.

One night after work, depressed because she has a dead-end job and is worried about Lee, Christine goes to a bar to drink. She's surprised that the bar has an all-black clientele. A black man in a military uniform buys her a drink, and the two strike up a conversation. His name is Elgin Taylor, and Christine goes with him to his apartment, where they have sex. Elgin promises Christine that he'll never leave her.

Analysis

Chapter 10 is one of the most political Chapters in the novel. Mirroring the conflict that many men faced during the Vietnam War era, Lee is determined not to enlist in the military. He's sure that his only viable option will be to flee to Canada to avoid the draft, as Sky earlier told us he himself did. The conflict between Lee and Christine seems to have no apparent solution possible. Immersed in the Red Power movement of the 1960s, Lee refuses to "fight a white man's war." Christine, on the other hand, is most concerned with how Lee's decision not to fight will affect her. Somewhat selfishly, she's worried that her many white boyfriends, who had fought in Korea or Okinawa, will reject her because of her brother's actions.

By manipulating Dayton's hero worship of Lee, Christine finally emotionally blackmails Lee into joining the military. She is a skilled manipulator who argues that if Lee dodges the draft, he will never gain the high tribal office that she knows both Lee and Dayton desire for him. Note that Lee's decision to join the military is symbolized by the braid of hair that he cuts off his head and gives to Aunt Ida. In Chapter 1, in Christine's hospital room, Christine braided Rayona's hair as an act of mother-daughter affection. Here in this Chapter, Lee's presenting his braid to his mother, Aunt Ida, symbolizes the deep affection he has for her. And at the end of the novel, Aunt Ida ritually braids her own hair, as though the motion of braiding re-creates the many narrative strands that together make up both the novel and Aunt Ida's life.

Christine's decision to move to Seattle is a natural response for her now that her idol, Lee, has decided to enlist in the military and no longer threatens to shatter the ideal image she has of him. However, Christine's existence in Seattle, and then Tacoma, is anything but perfect. Stuck with performing menial tasks, including making salads for an airline, she compensates for her drifter-like existence by continually changing her appearance. Symbolically, her many changes in her looks mirror her uncertainty about who she really is.

The messages that Christine receives in this Chapter, the postcard from Lee and the letter from Dayton, recall the scrap of letter that Rayona used to create an imaginary world for herself. The letter from Lee is noteworthy because of the line, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" Rayona's father included this exact line in his letter to her. But the letter from Dayton shatters Christine's world and ultimately affects her personal life: Depressed, she goes to a bar for a drink one night after work and meets Elgin. Ultimately, then, the letters in the novel are one of the literary tools that Dorris uses to unify the three female narrations that make up the text.

On the surface, Christine's meeting Elgin seems like the "perfect combination" between herself and another person that she so desperately wants. She builds an instantaneous trust with him — "I said to him what I had never said to anyone before. I said I needed him." But she will soon learn that no matter how perfect she wants the world to be, she has only herself to rely on.

Glossary

gone for a skunk here, to gamble on thoroughly defeating one's card-playing opponents and keep them from scoring.

WAC a member of the Women's Army Corps.

a shirttail cousin a third or fourth cousin.

BIA the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

a silver bola [or bolo] tie a "necktie" made of a long piece of leather cord and fastened at the throat by a decorative clasp.

stinger a cocktail of crème de menthe and brandy.

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