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Opening in the present and progressively moving backward in time, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water takes place on a Native American reservation in Montana, by means of being equally divided into three spellbinding stories, each faded into one another and told by three women who shared it: the grandmother, Ida, the mother, Christine, and the daughter, Rayona. Not only is the book written upon the desperate plea for acceptance and independence, but it's written upon the principle that people act upon their better judgments, based on their hardships and afflictions. This book conveys the generational gap that fixates itself in today's society, causing the vicious cycle of quick judgments amongst families. In A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris uses subjects and elements of maturation, discrimination, and intergenerational family conflicts as gestures that speak to young adult readers, via three-person narrations that bind and blend the opposing cultures to the ultimate subject of the significance of genuine acceptance.
To get the full effect of why the misunderstandings take place among the family members and make clear the perspective and hardships of the moment, Dorris places the reader in three different storylines with three different narrators. Because he does this, we wind up making assumptions regarding a character by their actions, not their feelings concerning the situation, and subsequently realize the reasons for that character's actions afterward. By composing the book in this fashion, giving us all three viewpoints as an alternative rather than only one, it allows us to identify with each character and perceive how incorrect assumptions can be. Each story occurs during a difficult time period: the 1980's for Rayona, the 1960's to the 1980's for Christine and the 1940's to the 1960's for Ida. (Magill Book Reviews, 1).
The book not only centers on women, but a constellation of attention-grabbing male characters also whirl around the women narrators. (Petrillo, 1). Some family members, some unrelated. In Rayona's case, through being abandoned by her parents and ignored by Ida, she came to find a sense of trust, faith, and reliance in a new cleric for the Holy Martyrs Mission - Father Tom Novak. He enlists Rayona into the God Squad, and they spent a considerable amount of time together, given that Father Tom was the only individual on the reservation that Rayona could relate to. Rayona's friendship had an infinitely unusual result, as it ended abruptly and awkwardly when Father Tom's instigating "companionship" twisted and warped into obscene salaciousness. In chapter four, Father Tom embarrassingly cuts the uncomfortable connection off by stating to Rayona, "When we get back, we should forget this trip ever happened. It was a bad idea, something I should have foreseen. You need friends your own age. Some people might misunderstand if they see us together all the time." (p. 61-62).
Within Christine's narrative, physically or emotionally staying in one place has on no account been her forte. Sifting through a chain of men on the reservation and parting with them years ago, Christine determined that she would settle on a single man. When she discovered that her dearly loved brother Lee was missing in action, she ventured to a bar where she first met Corporal Elgin A. Taylor. She turned to him as someone that she could be consoled and reassured through. In chapter ten, Elgin soothes Christine in the bar as Christine describes:
"The material of his tan shirt was smooth against my check and I let him hold me while I listened to his heart. His hand smoothed my hair, found my neck.
'It's all right,' Elgin said. 'I know. I know.'
'I'm okay.' I spoke into his chest.
'I know.'" (p. 178).
Dorris provides these details to give the reader a clear, full understanding of how Elgin tranquilizes her heart through her loss. Christine's shaky, nervous spirit was calmed by Elgin, something she grew to be grateful for.
Years passed, and while Elgin began to meander away from her and drift to other women, Christine's temperament was not to stand still. (Kenney, 3). She turns to Dayton Nickels, Lee's best friend, for shelter and support on account of Aunt Ida's rejection. He makes her feel at home, becomes her boyfriend, and is with her until the end of the novel. Dorris writes this detail not to just state the detail thoughtlessly, but to accentuate the hopeful meaning that at least one of the women has a happy and stable relationship in times of frequent, failed hopes.
Ida's relationship with male characters is unlike Rayona and Christine's. Ida herself raises Christine, the daughter of Ida's aunt, Clara, who had an affair with Ida's father. "When Ida's Aunt Clara (her mother's sister) became pregnant by Ida's father, the family agreed to conceal the scandal by claiming that Id was the one who was pregnant." (Bochynski, 1). Ida feared that Clara would want Christine back, and consequently, Ida had an inner ache that she felt would occur for the both of them if Christine was to depend on Ida's motherly love. Later, Ida has a son with a World War II veteran named Willard Pretty Dog, and names the boy Lee. Willard is unknowing of this fact. It is only for that reason that Christine had believed that her mother had preferred Lee over her. Later in the novel, Father Hurlburt is introduced, the priest who becomes Ida's most trusted and consistent companion. He knows the truth in it all, and is with her until the novel concludes. (Kenney, 2).
Not only is the novel about the significance of the three narratives or the male characters that are involved with the characters, but the characters' uncertainties and anxieties as a result of unrelenting discrimination and society's quick judgments. The anxieties that the characters struggle with would almost certainly be disintegration with the public, where their places really are in the world, and disorientation by what authentic acceptance is via the intensification of the instability in their family life. The gritty and coarse relationship between Aunt Ida and Christine throughout Christine's narrative was difficult to imagine that it could ever be sanded smooth. Dorris creates a heart aching and emotionally violent argument between the weak versus the bold in chapter fifteen by writing:
"'I never wanted you!' Aunt Ida shouted at me. 'I had no choice.'
A cry broke out from me, halfway between outrage and hurt. 'You made that clear,' I yelled back. 'You don't have to tell me.'
'You don't know anything.' With her free hand, she gripped the back of the chair, squeezed it in her grasp, then flung it aside, smashing it into the wall.
She was more than I could take, more than I ever realized." (p. 271).
One of the most difficult things for Rayona to mentally manage is her racial mixture. Being a combination of American Indian and African American, she becomes very self-conscious of her bodily appearance. The author in addition writes in chapter sixteen that she was "the wrong color, had the wrong name, had the wrong family - all an accident." (p. 276). Rayona's narrative fine points her own opinion regarding how she inelegantly feels about herself in chapter one, saying, "Once, in a hardware store, I found each of our exact shades on a paint mix-tone chart. Mom was Almond Joy, Dad was Burnt Clay, and I was Maple Walnut." (p. 9).
With Aunt Ida, she keeps reserved fears inside that only she knows about. Being Christine's half-sister and cousin, they share a father. She commits to disconnecting herself from others, sitting in her living room and watching daytime drama television to pass the time. She does this by reason of previously being manipulated and betrayed by the people that she put confidence in, and as a result does not desire to be reliant upon anyone for fear of being too emotionally involved. Ida contains a stillness shaped by uncertainty and misapprehension creates a standoffish fear inside her heart that only she can conceal, and she explains in the second paragraph of chapter seventeen by saying, "I'm a woman who's lived for fifty-seven years and worn resentment like a medicine charm for forty. It hung heavier on my neck after each brief rest I took. I should have kept myself free from them all. If I were to live my life differently, I would start with the word No: first to him, my father; to Clara, then to Willard, before they left me; to Lee, to save his life. I was different with Christine, but it turned out no better." (p. 297).
Another trait that the characters burden themselves with in the novel is intergenerational family conflicts. (Smith, 1). These conflicts arise from trying to sensitively fill a mental gap, dramatically misinterpretating each other's actions as a result of not understanding one another's past, and each character just attempting to battle the currents that drive their lives.
The repeated symbol of braiding the stories together sculpts the novel into a concluding narrative of genuine acceptance. Christine makes the statement in chapter thirteen that, "Rayona gave me something to be, made me like other women with children. I was nobody's regular daughter, nobody's sister, usually nobody's wife, but I was her mother full time." (p. 222) Christine finally realizes at that moment that the gift of Rayona marks Christine's identity as a mother-at last providing her with a place to belong in her long-term emotion of misplacement. This excerpt doesn't guarantee the reader that Christine will never have conflicts ever again with Rayona, but that she is in truth Rayona's "mother full time" (p. 222), and that regardless the difference of opinion may be, it in no way can be big enough to sever their relationship.
Whether its hidden identities, hushed and tormented feelings driven by abandonment, or the quiet hope for family unity, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water portrays family issues within storyline and scales them to a larger resolution, pulling back the curtain and showing the reader the thoughts behind the brash, hurried actions. Doing this, Michael Dorris composes a beautiful and profoundly moving novel that opens the reader's eyes and mentality to pacify the frantic prayer for true approval inside our society.