Literature: A Yellow Raft In Blue Water

A Yellow Raft In Blue Water is a novel written by Michael Dorris that explores the lives of three Native American women. The first story is told by Rayona Taylor, the daughter of Native American Christine Taylor and Afro-American Elgin Taylor. The second is told by the mother Christine, and the third is told by the mysterious Aunt Ida.

This story provides examples of:

  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Rayona's birth takes place around the same time Christine gets word that her brother Lee is dead.
  • Disappeared Dad: Elgin Taylor doesn't have much of a fatherly role in Rayona's life, due to his on-and-off relationship with Rayona's mother Christine.
  • Do Not Call Me Paul: An inversion: Aunt Ida insists on being called that even by her granddaughter (technically niece) Rayona.
  • Draft Dodging: Sky is a draft dodger who escaped to Canada, but later came back to the United States when his father left him the gas station. Dayton Nickles got out of joining the army due to the "sole surviving son" clause. Lee would have been a draft dodger, but Christine had Dayton talk him into joining the army.
  • Dumb Blonde: Ellen DeMarco is made out to be this by one of Rayona's fellow workers at Bearpaw Lake State Park. She proves to be otherwise when she flips off one of the workers to tries to get Ellen to save him from drowning just so she could do mouth-to-mouth on him.
  • The Eighties: The backdrop of Rayona's story, with some cultural references such as MTV, video games, video rental stores, and satellite dishes.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Dayton in his school yearbook chose to be called "D. Nickles" because he didn't like what his name could be twisted into, given the insinuations that came with his constant palling around with Christine's brother Lee.
  • Erudite Stoner: Sky, the gas station attendant who along with his wife Evelyn puts Rayona up in their trailer after escaping Pastor Tom, is made out to be this.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: A slightly confusing example occurs here: Christine is really the daughter of Ida's father and her aunt Clara on her mother's side, making her technically Ida's three-quarter sister (or something like that) but Christine was raised to believe she was Ida's in order to cover up the affair that created her. This is made even weirder by Ida's insistence that Christine call her "Aunt Ida." In the end only Ida and the reader knows this.
    • Probably just as weird is that Lee, who is Aunt Ida's son, also has to refer to her as Aunt Ida to cover up the fact that Ida had an affair with Willard Pretty Dog before he got married.
  • Flipping the Bird: Ellen DeMarco's response to one of the Bearpaw Lake workers faking a drowning so he could get her to do mouth-to-mouth on him.
  • Girls With Mustaches: One of the nuns in the convent Ida and Clara were staying in had a mustache.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Rayona is half-Native American and half-African American, and finds that she fits in with neither culture.
  • Hallucinations: Christine has hallucinations of her dead brother Lee appearing in various places. The first time she has one is when she's driving all the way to her reservation in Montana for her brother's funeral.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Lee George and Dayton Nickles, although how heterosexual they were is up for debate.
  • Identity Impersonator: Rayona managed to disguise herself as her cousin Foxy Cree when he was too drunk for his bronco ride at the rodeo.
  • Important Haircut: In Christine's story, Lee gives Aunt Ida his braided hair to let her know that he had now joined the Army.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: The relationship of Christine and her brother Lee's high school friend Dayton Nickles when she returns to the reservation after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Rayona gets her name from the tag of her mother's hospital gown (made of Rayon). Also qualifies as Last Minute Baby Naming since Christine really hadn't given what she'd name her child much thought.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: Dayton Nickles, who was accused of being one in Christine's story when he took a teaching job outside the reservation.
  • Mistaken Message: Rayona picks up what turns out to be one of the letters sent to Bearpaw Lake State Park swim teacher Ellen DeMarco from her parents, and after reading it wishes that this was a letter from her parents. When Sky and Evelyn find the letter in her pocket, they assume that it's a letter sent to Rayona by her own parents.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Rayona Taylor (Native American/African American) and Dayton Nickles (Native American/Caucasian).
  • Parental Favoritism: Lee was perceived as the favorite child of Aunt Ida. It is one of the reasons that Christine refused to have another child with anyone after Rayona.
  • Pedophile Priest: Father Tom Novak in Rayona's story, who tries to molest her while on a camping trip at Bearpaw Lake State Park.
  • The Rez: One of the main settings for all three stories. Rayona's and Christine's stories alternates between that and Seattle.
  • Spurned Into Suicide: Christine attempts this by trying to drive her car off a cliff when her husband Elgin finally decides to walk out on their marriage. One thing that keeps it from happening is that the car ran out of gas before she could even start it up to drive it. Her daughter Rayona also talks her down from doing so.
  • The Vietnam War: The backdrop of Christine's story. She through their friend Dayton convinces her brother Lee that he would have more respectability among their Native American tribe as a veteran, and so he signs on to join the Army, who is then sent into Vietnam. Her meeting with her future husband Elgin took place when Lee was reported as MIA, and the birth of her daughter Rayona was when Lee was reported dead.
  • World War II: The backdrop of Ida's story. Her desired lover, Willard Pretty Dog, signed on to fight in the war and had spent years getting cosmetic surgery upon his return, during which he and Ida had a relationship together that resulted in Ida being the mother of Lee.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Christine suspects her husband of cheating on her during her pregnancy. However, their relationship is otherwise mutually open, with the both of them willing to see other people while in the marriage, until Elgin decides to permanently walk out on the marriage.
    • And this is actually the very reason Christine exists, since her mother, Clara, slept with her sister's husband and got pregnant by him.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: The treatment Christine feels she got from most of the people on the reservation when she was attending the wake for her brother Lee's funeral.