A Yellow Raft in Blue Water Essay - Critical Essays

Michael Dorris

Critical Context

An anthropologist by profession, Michael Dorris made his debut as a novelist with A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Dorris’s wife, Louise Erdrich, is also a novelist; her The Beet Queen had been published in 1986 to critical acclaim. The two commonly worked in close collaboration; a later novel, The Crown of Columbus, was in fact signed by both. Their normal procedure, however, was to attribute authorship to whoever wrote the first draft. The other partner then functioned as an editor, offering comments and suggesting revisions. The book might go through several drafts and was not finished until both partners agreed on every word. Although the arrangement was unusual, the result was an impressive body of work.

Both husband and wife were part Indian, and as A Yellow Raft in Blue Water illustrates, the Native American experience was for them an important subject. The characters in their works are a long way from the stereotypical Indian—howling, breech-clouted savage or faithful Tonto—of American popular culture, and certainly a novel such as A Yellow Raft in Blue Water serves an important corrective function. Yet if Dorris rejected the old stereotypes, it was far from his intention to substitute for them the puppets of any ideology. Rather, he let readers see his characters in all of their troubled humanity, and he showed their world in all of its everyday reality.