A Yellow Raft in Blue Water By Michael Dorris Summary and Analysis Christine: Chapter 16

Summary

As time passes, Christine and Dayton continue their routine of living together. One day, Aunt Ida surprisingly visits Christine to tell her that Rayona is gone. Rayona's disappearance disturbs Christine, who must face that she's been a terrible mother to Rayona. Ironically, Christine and Dayton talk more and more about Rayona, as though Rayona is their child.

When Dayton leaves to attend the rodeo in Havre, Christine is left alone in the house. Growing ever more sick, she relies on the pain medication to relieve her physical suffering. Christine is flabbergasted when Dayton returns from the rodeo — with Rayona. Christine and Rayona immediately start arguing, but Dayton acts as peacemaker between them. Unbeknownst to Rayona, Christine still thinks of her as her "miracle."


Christine, Rayona, and Dayton become accustomed to each other in Dayton's house, and Christine and Rayona appear to get along better than they did before. Aunt Ida even visits them and has a nice evening. As an act of healing and — perhaps — love, Ida arranges for Christine to receive medicine that will relieve her physical suffering.

When it's time for Babe to be picked up from a farm where Dayton sent Babe to be impregnated by a stallion, Christine offers to go along with Rayona; she wants to spend as much time with Rayona as she can before she dies.

On the way to get Babe, Christine and Rayona stop at a restaurant to eat. Facing the fact that she's going to die soon, Christine decides to pass on her valued jewelry to Aunt Ida, Rayona, Dayton, and Elgin; her jewelry is the legacy that she will give to others. When Rayona reaches into her wallet to pay for the meal, the scrap of letter that she found while working at Bearpaw Lake State Park falls onto the table. Significantly, Rayona throws it away: She's rediscovered her real mother, Christine, and no longer needs a make-believe, picture-perfect family.

Analysis

Christine's staying with Dayton creates the stable home life that she's always sought throughout her life. Whereas Rayona, Aunt Ida, and even Elgin deny that Christine is dying, Dayton accepts her illness at face value. They act like "an old married couple," with an "imaginary child" named Rayona.

Because Christine has no responsibilities outside of the house, she spends countless hours replaying over and over again the many conflicts that make up her past. Most important, she wonders why Aunt Ida's cruel words to her in the previous Chapter "somehow sounded to me like an apology, like raw sympathy." Christine is beginning to understand that her perceptions of things are not the only perceptions, that she must take into consideration how other people — here, Aunt Ida — perceive the same things.

Christine and Rayona's combative meeting after Rayona and Dayton return home from the rodeo is similar to Christine and Aunt Ida's confrontation when Christine and Rayona first returned to the reservation in Chapter 14. Christine accuses Rayona of abandoning both her and Aunt Ida, and Rayona accuses Christine of abandoning her. Their argument mirrors Christine's accusations against Aunt Ida and Aunt Ida's responses to Christine.

Note that Christine first thinks that Rayona is Lee; for Christine, Lee represents her past and Rayona her future, with her as the linchpin between the two. Throughout their first night again together, Christine keeps mistaking Rayona for Lee, in part because of the medicine that she's taken, but more importantly because she defines her own life in terms of other people, predominantly Rayona and Lee. But Christine is still unable to express publicly her love for Rayona. We know that Christine thinks of Rayona as "my miracle," but Rayona does not know this.

The defining moment in the novel for Christine is when she determines to gives her four rings to the four people who together make up her life and define who she is: Rayona, Aunt Ida, Dayton, and Elgin. For Rayona, Christine chooses her sterling silver turtle ring because the turtle is most like Christine: "Slow but gets there in the end." To Rayona, Christine's gift is symbolic of the emotional journey that she herself has been on and solidifies her relationship with her mother. The picture-perfect world encased in the scrap of letter written by Ellen DeMarco's parents is mere illusion, a fantasy that Rayona no longer needs or believes in, and so she throws the scrap away.

Christine's donning the "smudged amber-tinted glasses" on the drive back to Dayton's symbolizes how she is more at peace with herself and with her relationship to Christine. "When I put them on," Christine narrates, "they turned the world yellow like an old photograph." The glasses may be smudged and imperfect, but the yellow world that Christine now sees represents her newfound contentment. Throughout the novel, therefore, yellow has symbolized safety and contentment.

Glossary

La-Z-Boy a brand of recliner chair.

June berries blue-black and purplish berries growing on shad bushes.

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