A Yellow Raft in Blue Water By Michael Dorris Summary and Analysis Christine: Chapter 13

Summary

Lee's burial ceremonies over, Christine prepares for the trip back to Seattle. She retrieves Lee's Purple Heart from the garbage can, where Ida has thrown it. Reaching Seattle, Christine, toting Rayona with her, goes to a local bar in order to be with people; she doesn't feel like being alone. Surprisingly, she sees Elgin in the bar, with his arm around a woman. Christine, Elgin, and Rayona leave the bar together, and Elgin stays with Christine and Rayona for two weeks, but then the destructive pattern of Christine and Elgin's relationship starts again.

Realizing that she'll never have the picture-perfect family life that she wants, Christine accepts a routine existence with Rayona, although she acknowledges that she takes Rayona for granted. She comes to rely on Rayona's presence and the stability that Rayona symbolizes in her life.

Once, when Rayona is almost seven years old, Aunt Ida makes a surprising visit to Seattle and stays with Christine and Rayona. Ida has come to see a woman named Clara, who's a patient in Indian Health Service Hospital in Seattle. Ida grudgingly shows small affections toward Rayona.

During Aunt Ida's visit to Seattle, she cajoles Christine, along with Rayona, into visiting Clara in the hospital; Christine cannot understand why Clara would want to see her. Ida explains that Clara is Ida's mother's sister, her aunt and Christine's great-aunt. Christine's visit with Clara in the hospital seems uneventful, although Clara cries when she sees Christine; Christine is unaffected by the visit and feels that she's done her duty to Aunt Ida. On the night that Aunt Ida is scheduled to return to the reservation, Christine notes that Aunt Ida tells Rayona to call her Aunt Ida, but Christine thinks nothing of it; she's always called her mother Aunt Ida.

Christine and Rayona's life reassumes its daily pattern after Aunt Ida leaves. Every so often, Rayona sees her father, but Rayona never tells Christine just what it is she and Elgin do together when they're away from Christine. Christine silently resents, and is jealous about, the time that Elgin and Rayona spend together.

Analysis

After returning to Seattle following Lee's funeral, Christine's meeting Elgin in the Silver Bullet bar reinforces the misguided directions that her life has taken. Christine and Elgin spar briefly — she ridicules him for dating a fat woman, and he criticizes her for bringing Rayona to the bar — and then spend the next two weeks together. Christine seems unable to change her life for the better, as though she's caught in a trap but can't get out. "I was going downhill with my brakes out," she metaphorically comments, "always barely avoiding a crash."

Chapter 13 focuses to a large degree on the relationship between Christine and Rayona. Christine acknowledges that she takes Rayona for granted, but this acknowledgment doesn't change the fact. Rayona, the safety net once swaddled in a yellow blanket, acts more as an adult to Christine than Christine does to Rayona. Rayona becomes the responsible parent who puts the milk back in the refrigerator before it spoils. Faced with a life alone without Elgin, Christine relies on Rayona for companionship. Likewise, Rayona, without a father who plays an active role in her life, depends solely on Christine. Christine's dependence on Rayona is best summed up in her statement, "Rayona gave me something to be, made me like other women with children."

The episode concerning Christine's visit with Clara in the hospital is more important than Dorris lets on here in Chapter 13. Only in Aunt Ida's narrative section will we learn just how these three women — Christine, Aunt Ida, and Clara — are inextricably tied together. Note what Christine wears for her visit to Clara: a yellow wraparound and flowered top. Symbolically, she's protecting herself, but the question then is, from what? Aunt Ida's only comment about who Clara is, is that she and Ida's mother are sisters. Significantly, although Christine cannot realize it, her parting sentence to Clara — "I'll come back soon, little mother" — carries more weight than Christine will ever realize.

To Christine's credit, she's careful to teach Rayona to speak Indian in addition to English. Through Rayona, Christine keeps a door open to her reservation past, her heritage. Certainly if Christine meant to break completely from her past, she wouldn't teach Rayona the Indian language. The reciprocal relationship between the two females is best summed up in Christine's comment, "What I had to give a child, Rayona got, and what I needed, she gave." To a great extent, Christine lives her life through her daughter, much as she did earlier in her life through Lee. She might be older and therefore wiser, but she's none the happier for it.

Glossary

a Mahogany Elgin is joking here, indulging in wordplay; because mahogany is an extremely dark black wood, he is creating a theoretical tribe of black "Indians" and using the term "Mahogany" to approximate, say, "Mohican."

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