A Yellow Raft in Blue Water By Michael Dorris Summary and Analysis Christine: Chapter 14

Summary

This Chapter records events that Rayona related in Chapter 1, but here we see these events through Christine's eyes. Christine learns that her many years of drinking have affected her health; her doctor informs her that she is slowly dying, that she probably has only six months to live. Having checked herself into the Seattle Indian Health Service Hospital, Christine is visited by Rayona. When Rayona finally shows up, Christine ritualistically braids Rayona's hair. Christine asks about Elgin, and then she and Rayona play cards. Unbeknownst to Rayona, Christine purposefully plays badly; she wants Rayona to tell her that she's cheating.

When Elgin shows up at the hospital, Christine is combative toward him. Later, she desperately sneaks out of her hospital room and finds her car, intent on killing herself. But Rayona reaches the car just as Christine is about to get into it. The two argue briefly, and Rayona refuses to let Christine drive off without her. Christine vows to drive to Tacoma, where Rayona was conceived, but Rayona will not get out of the car. Christine and Rayona drive to Tacoma together.

In Tacoma's Point Defiant Park, where Christine has vowed to kill herself, she and Rayona argue about just what it is that Christine intends to do. Rayona screams at her mother about how bad a mother she's been to Rayona, but Rayona doesn't realize that Christine is actually trying to make a better life for Rayona — without Christine. When the two women realize that the car is out of gas, foiling Christine's suicide attempt, Christine decides to take Rayona to Aunt Ida's, in Montana. Perhaps, she thinks, Rayona will have a better chance at a successful life at Aunt Ida's. Before leaving home, Christine stops at a video store and rents two movies: These movies are the legacy that Christine plans to leave Rayona.

When Christine and Rayona finally reach Aunt Ida's, Christine and Aunt Ida have a tense confrontation. Aunt Ida asks why she should allow Christine into her home after all of the trouble that Christine has caused Aunt Ida. Christine, dumbfounded that she has to explain her actions to her mother, yells a foul curse at Aunt Ida and then runs away, leaving Rayona with her grandmother.

Analysis

Chapter 14 details Christine's stay in the hospital, a scene that Rayona narrated in Chapter 1. By presenting such episodes from more than one point of view, Dorris emphasizes the complexity of life, much like William Faulkner does in his novels about the South. There are no absolutes in life, for one person's perceptions are only that: one person's perceptions. As Christine comments later in this Chapter, "You know, it's strange, you live in a place half your life and yet the sight of it from an unfamiliar angle can still surprise you." In other words, depending on how and from where you view something, that perception will always change.

Christine's stay in the hospital allows her to evaluate her life, and she doesn't like what she sees. She apparently hates everyone with whom she's had contact, including Aunt Ida, Lee, and Elgin. But her lashing out at all these people is a defense mechanism against lashing out at herself. However, she's left with no one to blame for her life except herself, which she recognizes when she thinks to herself, "I hated the mess I made of myself."

Christine rationalizes that if only she were no longer in Rayona's life, Rayona would have a better chance at success. Blaming herself for Rayona's less-then-perfect life so far, Christine thinks, "If I could go back through the same hole I would leave no mark." In other words, without Christine, Rayona would have a happier life. But Rayona doesn't understand that Christine's act of suicide is meant to help — not hurt — Rayona. Taking Rayona to Aunt Ida's to live is the only viable option Christine sees if Rayona is to have a better life than Christine's. Unfortunately, though, because Christine doesn't communicate the reasons for her actions to Rayona, Rayona naturally thinks that her mother is abandoning her. Ironically, then, Christine's attempted suicide is, in her own mind, the greatest, most helpful thing she can do for her child, whom she sees as "the yellow flame on the end of a tall, skinny candle." What she doesn't realize is how selfish her actions — including abandoning Rayona at Aunt Ida's — really are.

The permanence that Christine so desperately wants Rayona to have is symbolized in the two videotapes that Christine chooses for Rayona to remember her by. Again, though, Rayona doesn't know why Christine is determined to rent — steal — the two tapes. Note also that the lifetime guarantee of video membership is a driving force for Christine, who rationalizes that the video lifetime guarantee will be "something to remember me by" for Rayona, "something nice and expensive that didn't wear out" — unlike Christine herself.

Christine's turning to Aunt Ida for help with Rayona recalls the episode of Lee's funeral ceremonies when Aunt Ida was the one person to whom Christine turned for support. Speaking of Aunt Ida, Christine says, "I wanted to know she'd take care of Rayona, be a better mother to her than she was to me." Ironically, then, Christine is hoping that Rayona will get better care from Aunt Ida than Christine herself got, and better care than Christine is able to give to Rayona.

Christine's reasoning of why Aunt Ida will accept Rayona is contained in Christine's thinking, "At that minute [Aunt Ida] was my last hope, the one person who had no right to turn away from me." But Christine seems to have forgotten that she rejected Aunt Ida, that she moved away from home. Dumbfounded when Aunt Ida challenges her as to why Aunt Ida should welcome her home, Christine panics and ultimately curses her mother. However, note that Christine's refusal to bow and scrape to Aunt Ida is really because she doesn't want Rayona to see her as a weak role model. "I saw Rayona watching and it came to me that nothing, nothing was worth her witnessing me laid low," Christine thinks. "What she couldn't do was erase the picture of her mother made a fool by an unforgiving old woman." And so Christine flees, as she's done so many times before.

Glossary

to snooker me to cheat or deceive.

Smokeys citizens band radio lingo for officers of the state highway patrol.

the Grand Coulee a dam on an enormous gorge, carved by the Columbia River; located in north-central Washington State.

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