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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris is a story of heartbreak, hope, and the importance of family. Though tragic things happen to the women in this story, they are stronger than those who try to bring them down.

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water was the first novel by American author Michael Dorris. Published in 1987, this novel explores the themes of culture, heritage, and family. It's the story of three generations of Native American women. The book is broken up into three parts, each narrated by one of the women: Rayona, Rayona's mother Christine, and Christine's mother, Ida.

Part One: Rayona

Rayona's story starts at the hospital. She is visiting her alcoholic mother, Christine. When Elgin, Rayona's father, shows up, he and Christine argue. Rayona leaves but is stopped in the parking lot by Christine, who claims she is going to crash the car so Rayona will get her life insurance payout. Rayona brings her home to Seattle, where Christine announces that she will return to the reservation in Montana where she grew up and live with her mother Ida. Rayona agrees to go with her, and they leave the next morning.

Their car breaks down a mile from Ida's house, and Rayona and Christine are forced to walk. Christine's mother, called Aunt Ida by everyone, is not glad to see them. Christine disappears soon after, leaving Rayona in the care of her grandmother. Rayona is bullied and miserable on the reservation until she meets Father Tom, a priest and joins the God Squad, a local youth group.

Father Tom invites Rayona to a jamboree for religious teens, but on the way he stops at Bearpaw Lake and molests her. Embarrassed by what he's done, he buys a train ticket for her back to Seattle. She misses the train and meets Sky and Evelyn, who get her a job at Bearpaw Lake. She stays there for the summer, and eventually tells Sky and Evelyn the truth. They agree to help her find Christine.

Convinced her mother is at a local rodeo, Rayona goes there and meets up with Foxy Cree whom she knows from the reservation. He's drunk and cannot ride in the rodeo, so Rayona agrees to take his place. She does well and wins a prize. Back at Ida's house, Rayona and Christine argue. The next morning, Christine tells Rayona her life story.

Native American Women
NAtive American Women

Part Two: Christine

Christine takes up the narrative of A Yellow Raft on Blue Water. As a child, she spends all her time with her brother, Lee. Lee is much more attractive than Christine, so everyone doubts they have the same father. Aunt Ida, who refuses to let either call her Mom, won't tell them if it is true or not. Christine has a crush on Lee's friend, Dayton, who rejects her.

After finishing school, Christine fights with her mother and moves in with her aunt Pauline. The Vietnam war begins and Lee plans to dodge the draft. Christine talks him out of it, with Dayton's help. Lee goes off to war, and Christine moves to Seattle.

She gets a letter from Dayton, saying Lee is missing in action. Reeling with guilt over the news, since she urged him not to dodge the draft, she stumbles into a bar and meets Elgin. The immediate physical attraction between them is strong, and Christine quickly ends up pregnant. Christine and Elgin get married, and just before giving birth, Dayton tells Christine that Lee is dead. Christine has a baby girl she names Rayona, and she leaves Elgin when the baby is nine months old.

Rayona grows up, and Christine keeps drinking. She learns she is in liver failure and has only a few months to live. Her plan to commit suicide is foiled by Rayona, and the two return to Montana. She cannot live with her mother, and moves in with Dayton. She reconciles with her daughter, and the two take a road trip.

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