A Yellow Raft in Blue Water By Michael Dorris Summary and Analysis Christine: Chapter 9

Summary

Christine begins her narration by expressing how, during the 1960s, everyone who was white seemed to be having fun. Also, she briefly discusses how political events, including the buildup to the Vietnam War and hippies' "flower power," affected the reservation, where she lives with Aunt Ida. Christine, in contrast, was not political; she was enjoying having a woman's body and having sex with whomever she pleased. In her words, she was "the most popular high school girl on the reservation."

Christine's narration is as much about her brother, Lee, as it is about herself. Lee is the best-looking teenager on the reservation; Christine is not — she's just popular with the boys. However, she and Lee have a very close, special sister-brother relationship, except that in Christine's opinion, Aunt Ida favors Lee more than she does Christine. Aunt Ida and Christine do not get along.

As a young girl, Christine is a show-off. On one occasion, she tries to cross a high, natural bridge made of yellow stone but gets too scared and cannot get down from the bridge. Lee saves her by calmly talking her down.

When Lee is thirteen and Christine is a sophomore in high school, Lee becomes best friends with a boy named Dayton. Christine notes that Dayton "hero-worshiped" Lee, which Christine doesn't like because Dayton gets all of Lee's attention; Christine gets none. Christine and Dayton become competitive for Lee's attention, but then Christine wonders whether it's possible that Dayton spends so much time with Lee so that he can actually be near her. When Christine tries to seduce Dayton, he rejects her, which makes her even more competitive with him.

Over the course of their teenage years, Lee and Dayton grow closer, and Christine becomes more jealous of their relationship. Perhaps as a way to rebel against both Lee and Aunt Ida, Christine starts drinking heavily and having frequent, indiscriminate sexual relationships with various men. When Aunt Ida confronts Christine about her loose behavior with a married man with two children, Christine rebels even more and moves in with her Aunt Pauline, Ida's sister. Tellingly, Christine's motto is "You only live once."

After Lee and Dayton graduate from high school, both become involved in the Red Power political movement. Christine is embarrassed because of Lee's newfound crusade: She's afraid that the many servicemen whom she dates will reject her because of Lee's political stances for Indian rights and against the Vietnam War. When Christine confronts Aunt Ida about Lee, Aunt Ida supports Lee's behavior, which only causes Christine to be that much more angry at Aunt Ida.

Analysis

Whereas Rayona compensates for her feeling about being displaced from her cultural heritages by becoming silent and withdrawn from her mother, Christine, as a teenager, consciously chooses to become the most popular girl on the reservation. Both women experience the same pains of finding personal identities, but Christine's solution radically differs from Rayona's. Christine says, "I had to find my own way and I started out in the hole." Rayona has experienced very much the same feelings.

Christine's idealizing her brother, Lee, is similar to how Rayona idealized Ellen DeMarco and, to an extent, Annabelle Stiffarm. For Christine, Lee symbolizes a picture-perfect world very much like Ellen does for Rayona. Note that when Christine attempts to cross the natural-formed bridge made of yellow stone, Lee saves her. She thinks of Lee, "His calmness flowed through me like a rope." Hence, Lee and the color yellow are linked together in Christine's mind: Both represent safety — and, paradoxically, self-denial — just as the yellow raft represents both these qualities for Rayona. Remember that on the yellow raft, Rayona felt free, but Father Tom shattered this freedom.

When Lee becomes the centerpiece of Christine's existence, she's challenged for his attention by Dayton, who seems to have an almost homoerotic fascination with his friend. If nothing else, Dorris tells us that Dayton "hero-worshipped" Lee, much like Christine and Lee reciprocally did to each other growing up. Concerned that Dayton is beating her out for Lee's attention, Christine reacts as she always does: She tries to use sex as a tool to get her way and to validate herself, as she does many times during her teen years. But Dayton rejects her advances, and Christine, dumbstruck that any male could resist her sexual advances, is forced to rely on her intellectual powers rather than on her sexual prowess to get her way. She'll use the political situation of the Vietnam War and Lee's political aspirations as the linchpin of her strategy to get Lee's attention. Ironically, here Christine unknowingly learns that sex isn't the only means she has to get her way. She thinks, "Everything about me was all wrong, and it took me years to forget that it was Dayton who showed me."

Christine's narration here in Chapter 9 introduces the national and local political background that informs the novel. We learn that Dayton rejected Christine's sexual advances in 1963, about two months before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Earlier in the Chapter, Christine remarks, "You don't live on a reservation without learning respect for the red, white, and blue," an ironic remark that hints at the overbearing presence of the federal government in Indian affairs. Kennedy's assassination reminds Christine that Lee, her ideal brother whom tribal members expect to someday be a great leader of them, "was going to be the Indian JFK." However, if Lee evades the military draft, he will be dishonored and never attain the status that he — and Dayton — so desperately want for him. And Christine knows this.

Christine's first trip outside the reservation and her many excursions thereafter change her, perhaps for the worse. She says, "I returned from that first trip after only two weeks, but in some ways I never came back at all." However, no matter how much she thinks that she's changed for the better because of her newfound wisdom about the world, her new maturity — which is really sexual recklessness — is not acknowledged by her mother, Aunt Ida. In fact, the two women never get along. Perhaps they are too much alike. Similar to her fear of Dayton's soaking up too much of Lee's attention, Christine battles Aunt Ida for Lee's attention, as well. Ultimately, she acknowledges Aunt Ida's victory of Lee and chooses what, to her, is the only possible course of action: She moves out of Aunt Ida's house.

Glossary

the Sacred Heart a painting or illustration of Jesus revealing his physical heart, a symbol of love and redemptive sacrifice.

All Souls' Night the night before All Souls' Day, a day of prayers for the dead; usually on November 2.

an Alberta blow a strong, bitterly cold wind blowing southward from Canada's Alberta province.

When John F. Kennedy was killed November 22, 1963.

ICBM's intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Red Power Indians Indians united for political and economic reasons, seeking racial equality.

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