Yellow Woman by Leslie Marmon Silko: Summary & Analysis

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

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.

'Yellow Woman' is a story by Leslie Marmon Silko originally published in 1974. This mysterious story tells of a woman's encounter with a man who leads her away from the ordinary and into the unknown.

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.

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  • 0:03 Background of the Story
  • 1:03 Summary of the Plot
  • 2:50 Analysis
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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.

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