A Yellow Raft in Blue Water By Michael Dorris Summary and Analysis Rayona: Chapter 2

Summary

Having gotten gas from a nearby gas station, Rayona and Christine head back to Seattle, where they live. Christine has decided that both she and Rayona will go to Aunt Ida's on the reservation. In their Seattle apartment, they pack all their belongings in four jumbo garbage bags, and Christine takes the time to ask her neighbor and friend, Charlene, who works in a pharmacy, to send some illegal, unprescribed Percocet to Aunt Ida's house for Christine.

On the way out of town, Christine stops at Village Video. A week before she went into the hospital, Christine signed up Rayona for a lifetime membership at the video store, and Christine now wants Rayona to rent some videos to take along to Montana.

Without stopping for the night, Christine and Rayona drive to Aunt Ida's reservation in Montana. When they approach Aunt Ida's house, Aunt Ida is outside, mowing the lawn and listening to music on a headset. She sees Christine and Rayona but ignores them. When she finally acknowledges Christine and Rayona, she asks Christine for three reasons why she should be glad to see her. However, Christine can think of only two reasons. Frustrated, Christine curses at Ida and then picks up her bags and jerkily runs from the house, leaving Rayona with Ida, who speaks only Indian. Luckily, Christine has taught Rayona the Indian language.

Rayona runs after Christine, but just as she gets close to her, Christine hails a passing truck, which stops for her and speeds away. Rayona has no choice but to return to Ida's. Christine has abandoned her.

Analysis

The episode in the Village Video is an example of how Dorris inserts humor into his novel, but Christine's determination to get a video life membership for Rayona speaks volumes about Christine's concern for her daughter. Christine purchases the life membership for Rayona as a symbol of Rayona's — and her own — permanence in the world. She feels that she has nothing valuable to pass on to Rayona when she dies; also, she understands the personal problems that Rayona faces as the daughter of a black father and a Native-American mother.

Having packed their belongings into four "jumbo" green plastic garbage bags, apt symbols of how topsy-turvy their lives really are, Christine and Rayona set out for Aunt Ida's home on the Montana reservation. However, Christine decides that they first must stop and get videos from the video store. Her choice of videos is telling about Christine. The video Christine, about a car that kills people who threaten its owner, is an obvious choice: Christine, as we learn more later in the section of the novel that she narrates, envisions herself as a tough, take-no-prisoners, indestructible woman. She shrouds herself in an unfeeling, gruff exterior in order to cover up her more sensitive, caring, and emotional personality. She also chooses Little Big Man because she supposedly dated an actor who appears in it. Although the movies are meant for Rayona to have, Christine seems more interested in herself and her wants than she is in her daughter's. Meanwhile, Rayona remembers the many nights she helped her mother to bed, Christine too drunk from reliving past emotional events to make it to bed by herself.

Rayona's resignation about leaving Seattle is expected, given the many problems she's had fitting in at school. Again Dorris focuses our attention on Rayona's dual heritage. Rayona thinks to herself, "I've changed schools so often that I never get past being the new girl. Too big, too smart, not Black, not Indian, not friendly." She's never fit in with her peers because she's not what they expect: She cannot be easily categorized. Also, to Christine's discredit, Christine never stays in one place long enough for Rayona to feel comfortable and accepted in any environment.

The arrival of Christine and Rayona on the reservation introduces us to the third female member of the family: Aunt Ida. Rayona immediately notices Aunt Ida's skin color: "a darker brown than Mom's, though not as deep as Dad's or mine." That Ida's eyes are invisible behind a pair of sunglasses foreshadows Rayona's future inability to personally connect with her grandmother, who hides her feelings behind an insensitive exterior, much like Christine does.

Christine's reaction to Aunt Ida's asking her why Ida should allow Christine to live with her is both humorous and sad. When Christine can think of only two reasons why Aunt Ida should take Christine into her home, she defensively yells profanities at Aunt Ida and then runs away. She again appears to be uncaring toward Rayona by abandoning her at Ida's, but what neither Ida nor Rayona realizes is that Christine is actually trying to provide Rayona with a better life than she has with Christine. The inability of Ida and Rayona to recognize Christine's sacrifice highlights Dorris' theme of perceptions and misperceptions: Christine cares about Rayona so much that she would give her up in order that Rayona might have a better life, but both Ida and Rayona misperceive the reason that prompts Christine's actions. This inability to communicate meaningfully is a recurrent theme throughout the novel.

Rayona's reaction to Christine's abandonment of her at Aunt Ida's reveals a young woman who is emotionally disturbed. In the past, she coped with Christine's unexplainable behavior by trying to fix her mother's problems and thereby secure a more defined place in the world for both herself and Christine. However, when Christine abandons Rayona, Rayona doesn't know how to fix this new situation. She notes that the earth is "ugly" and disorganized, much like her own personal predicament. By ripping the weeds out of the ground and making the earth more presentable, she hopes to make her own life better, more orderly. But she can't solve her problems by herself. She needs help, and Aunt Ida is the person who will help her, although Rayona doesn't realize it yet. Ida's comforting Rayona shows that Ida is a nurturing, caring woman, concerned about others and their problems. Dorris' choice of language in describing Rayona's reaction to Ida is soothing and protective: "I am kneeling into her, my face forced into the warm, damp skin about her bra, her breasts against my neck. . . . I press against her fine grass-smelling skin, sink into the basket of her arms." Ida is the protector, the caregiver whom Rayona seems never to have had.

Glossary

domicile a person's residence, or home.

Percocet a prescription pain pill.

the rez the reservation.

in Indian Dorris never reveals which native language the main characters speak, nor does he specify which tribe they are members of.

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