Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.
Background of the Story
The well-known short story 'Yellow Woman' by Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko was first published in the 1974 anthology, The Man to Send Rain Clouds: Contemporary Stories by American Indians. Silko's story explores the connection between contemporary Native American life and the ancient mythology that still permeates the cultural heritage of North America's First Nations people.
Before the story begins, there is a poem presented to the reader:
'What Whirlwind Man Told Kochininako, Yellow Woman'
I myself belong to the wind
and so it is we will travel swiftly
this whole world
with dust and with windstorms.
This poem invites the reader to consider the nature of our perceptions about life and the blurred lines between myth and reality. Pueblo and Navajo history and spiritual beliefs permeate the narrative in Yellow Woman. At times during the narrator's story, both the protagonist and the reader feel the power of the ancient myths.
Summary of the Plot
In 'Yellow Woman' a young Pueblo woman finds herself drawn away into a mysterious sexual encounter with a man named Silva. She knows she has left behind family and responsibility, but is caught up in the excitement of the man and the moment, and relates her experience to the stories she remembers from childhood. Perhaps she is reenacting the Yellow Woman legend, in which a young Pueblo woman is kidnapped by a spirit.
The woman's grandfather used to tell the stories of the ka'tsina spirits, and she is tempted to believe that Silva is indeed a spirit. She feels so removed from everyday life that she might actually be part of the old times and the spirit world. As they travel north, she thinks: 'Eventually I will see someone, and then I will be certain that he is only a man . . . and I will be sure that I am not Yellow Woman.'
Silva takes the woman to his cabin, where he lives a solitary existence. Actually, he is a cattle rustler, stealing from the surrounding ranchers and selling the meat in town. At the cabin, she cooks for them and they eat.
After that, he goes out and she is left with her own thoughts. When she finds him outdoors, he points out the boundaries of the various cultures that live all around. This is also when she finds out that he steals meat for a living.
Again that night, she is lost in Silva's lovemaking, forgetting all else. In the morning he's gone. When he returns, there's fresh meat, which they will go to sell in Marquez. On the way, they meet an angry white rancher who identifies Silva for what he is: a Navajo cattle rustler. Silva orders Yellow Woman to head back up the mountain, but she goes south instead, hearing gun shots on the way. As she walks, she gradually moves back into her former identity, nearing the Pueblo area and remembering her husband and baby. She returns to this life but still hopes she will once again meet Silva by the river someday.
To make sense of this story, it will help to understand something about Laguna Pueblo spirituality. For them, the spirit world crosses over into reality, and one can return back to everyday life after such an experience. The woman in the story truly believes that she had no power to resist the encounter with Silva.
One of the key themes in 'Yellow Woman' is this relationship between myth and reality. Silva keeps calling the unidentified young woman Yellow Woman, which makes her half believe that she is from the spirit world, too - or at least a part of the ancient stories and the old times.
Another connected theme is the idea of boundaries. Silva points out the human boundaries operating in the real world of the region: Mexican, White, Pueblo, and Navajo. The encounter with the angry white rancher symbolizes the dangers in crossing these boundaries. But there are other boundaries just as important in Silko's story. The divisions between human and supernatural, between right and wrong, and between responsibility and freedom all play a part in the outcome of this story.
The reader is asked to accept the actions of the woman and Silva at face value: Silva's stealing, Yellow Woman's identity, the fact that she knows she must go back but still cherishes the time she had away from the real world of family and work. At the end of the story, perhaps the most difficult aspect for the contemporary, non-Native reader to accept is the fact that the woman seems to have no doubt about what she has just experienced as true and right.
Leslie Marmon Silko's short story 'Yellow Woman' asks the reader to consider the boundaries in life, including that between myth and reality. In this story of a young woman's encounter with a mysterious man named Silva, her identity becomes blurred with that of Yellow Woman from ancient Pueblo stories. Whether Silva is one of the mythical ka'tsina spirits or merely an attractive and exciting man, the young woman hopes to find him again along the bank of the river.
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