A Yellow Raft in Blue Water By Michael Dorris Summary and Analysis Christine: Chapter 15

Summary

With no place to go, Christine realizes that the only person on the reservation who will accept her without question is Dayton. She hitches a ride to his house, wondering all the way whether she has done the right thing by leaving Rayona with Aunt Ida. Although neither Aunt Ida nor Rayona realizes it, Christine's actions are intended to provide Rayona with a better future.

At Dayton's, Christine makes herself at home, waiting for Dayton to return. She pretends to be asleep when she hears Dayton opening the door, but then she stops playacting and asks Dayton whether he's surprised to see her. Dayton doesn't seem overly surprised to see her, although he asks her where Rayona is. He accepts that Christine is very ill and that she has come to the reservation to die.

Christine and Dayton begin a routine life together. Dayton goes to work every day, and Christine stays home; they live a husband-and-wife life together, but they're not lovers. One day, while Dayton is away at work, Christine finds a hidden package that contains news clippings about Dayton's alleged sexual assault of a teenage boy at a public school near the reservation (Dayton was a teacher at the school). She learns that Dayton was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary but that he maintained his innocence throughout the trial and his years in prison.

Christine learns from her friend Charlene in Seattle that Charlene has shipped medicine for Christine to Aunt Ida's. When Christine and Dayton go to Aunt Ida's to pick up the medicine, Christine tries to get Aunt Ida to realize just how sick she is. Aunt Ida, unable to face that her only remaining child will die, yells at Christine, "I never wanted you! . . . I had no choice." Stunned, Christine can only ask that Aunt Ida take care of Rayona.

Analysis

Christine's staying at Dayton's is ironic — but not surprising — because Dayton was Christine's perceived enemy for Lee's affections. That Dayton accepts Christine into his home is not surprising because he alone is the one person who doesn't judge her. He accepts her on her own terms, without question. What Christine fails to recognize, however, is that her own daughter, Rayona, also accepts her, without question. Christine is surprised to see a painting of Dayton and Lee in Dayton's home. What surprises her even more is that, in the painting, Lee is wearing his prize brass buckle, which he never wore. To a certain extent, then, Dayton has come to terms with Lee's death in a way that Christine is unable to. And what is even more surprising to Christine is finding a picture of her and Rayona. Whereas she expected Dayton to reject her following her victory over him in getting Lee to enlist, Dayton has accepted her as a part of his life.

Dayton accepts his past but doesn't constantly — and negatively — reevaluate it as Christine does hers. Christine notes of him, "It was as though he took himself at his word, he didn't look back." His even-keeled life seems to rub off on Christine, who becomes more and more content with who she is and what she's experienced in her past. Although understated, a defining moment in their lives together is when Christine, without fanfare, sets Lee's Purple Heart on Dayton's desk while he's at work, an act that symbolizes Christine's acknowledgment of Dayton's important role in Lee's life — and in her own.

The emotionally charged confrontation between Christine and Aunt Ida here in Chapter 15 emphasizes Dorris' theme of how perceptions are individually based. For example, when Aunt Ida shouts at Christine, "I never wanted you! . . . I had no choice," Christine is hurt and outraged by Aunt Ida's words, as any person would be. She assumes that Aunt Ida's statements have a literal meaning, as perhaps they do. But what Christine does not — cannot — know are the reasons for Aunt Ida's apparent rejection of her. "You don't know anything," Aunt Ida says to Christine. Here, Aunt Ida is as much at fault — perhaps even more — as Christine is for the two women's abysmal relationship, for she fails to explain why she feels the way she does about Christine. Note that Christine's reactions to Aunt Ida — "I couldn't look at her. I couldn't see her weak" — are based on the same reasons she wouldn't let Rayona see her grovel in front of Aunt Ida in the previous Chapter. All the women in the novel are afraid to show their vulnerability, which they equate as weakness but which is the overriding factor in why their relationships with each other seem so doomed to failure.

Glossary

Wildroot a brand of men's hairdressing.

just tooling just driving around, rather aimlessly.

Santana a Latin rock/blues group that played at Woodstock and was especially popular during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Happy Hunting Ground derisive Anglo slang for what some Anglicans believe Native Americans look forward to after death and upon entering heaven.

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