Discuss "Yellow Woman" by Leslie Marmon Silko.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Leslie Marmon Silko, a Native American, grew up on the outskirts of an Indian reservation. This allowed Silko to learn not only the Laguna language but the folktales of the oral tradition.  The story “Yellow Woman” is based on two characters which are drawn from these tales: Yellow Woman and Kachina of Ka'tsina.

Yellow Woman, a major figure in Laguna folklore, stems from the legend in which a woman goes away with a ka'tsina or mountain spirit and lives with him for a long time. In the Pueblo people mythology, the ka'tsina is a benevolent spirit associated with rain and water; however, he sometimes kidnaps a woman who later returns to her pueblo.

This story is told in first person with the nameless woman  as the narrator and the protagonist of the story. The setting of the story is in the late twentieth century somewhere in the southwest.  

In the first part of the story, the woman narrator goes for a walk by the river where she meets a mysterious man, Silva, who seduces her. He tells her that he is a ka'tsina (kachina) spirit and calls her "Yellow Woman." Although she doubts that he is really a ka'tsina spirit, the narrator feels compelled to go up the mountain with Silva.

I had stopped trying to pull away from him because his hand felt cool and the sun was high, drying the river bed...

The second part of the story takes place in the cabin of Silva.  Again, the couple make love.  In the morning, he is gone.  Yellow Woman goes for a walk. When she returns to the cabin, Silva has stolen a calf and butchered it.  He wants her to go with him to sell the meat.

The last part of the story finds the pair on their way to Mexico to sell the beef.  An angry man, who owned the cow, approaches them. Silva tells her to return to the cabin. As she rides away, she hears four shots. When she is at the bottom of the mountain, she releases the horse.  Finally, after two days away from her home, she returns to her family and tells them that she had been kidnapped.

The story’s theme is a fusion of folklore and the reality of a woman who wants to get away from her life.  She is easily seduced and even willing to go along with the mysterious spirit and story of her being the Yellow Woman. 

He pulled me around and pinned me down with his arms and chest.  Again, he was all around me with his skin slippery against mine.

Lust and passion drive her until she realizes that she has gone too far. Silko is a thief and a murderer. She is jerked back to reality with the climactic sound of the rifle shots.    

The author’s style and its complexity come from her narrator and protagonist.  The woman’s thoughts and feelings move the story forward.  The narrator is exactly as one might think a young Indian woman might be: unsophisticated; unpretentious; and candid.  When she lies with the man, there is a melancholy passion that seems almost innocent.

Silko’s use of color adds further dimension to her story.  The color yellow is mentioned in more than just the name of the character: “the yellow moon in the water,” “the deep-yellow petals” of wildflowers, and the “yellow” blossoms of cactus flowers. In Indian lore, yellow represents the south from which summer comes. Silko’s storytelling combines the new with the old.  The stories of her grandfather and Silko’s new generation of tales combine for an enjoyable read. Whether it happened or not, it makes the reader think that the tale was true.

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