How does Silko justify the woman's betrayal of her family in "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 writes about the Native American folklore that follows the oral tradition of her Laguna Pueblo culture.  “Yellow Woman” illustrates Silko’s skills in transferring a legend into the contemporary world.  The truth of the legend comes through the realism and confrontations of the emotional truth and  the characters in the story.

The narrator of the story is a young Indian woman who remains nameless except for the name given her by Silva, the representative of the ka’tsina spirit in Indian lore.  “Yellow Woman’’ is set along a river, on mountain trails,  and in Silva's mountain dwelling.   

The young woman seems typical of her heritage.  Attractive, unsophisticated, vulnerable, and sexual—these words describe the narrator caught up in an unknown world that her grandfather told her about,  but strikingly different than the reality of her own life.  She does not come across as a role model for Laguna women,  but more as the spirit for womankind who dream of adventure in their lives.  In reality, the narrator lives with her family in the pueblo, where life is safe, limited, and comfortable.

Her sexual attraction to the mysterious Silva goes beyond the normal man-woman connection.  She feels a part of him when they are together.  He is irresistible to “Yellow Woman.” The narrator presents herself as a willing participant in the sexual encounters as she wants not to go with him; however, she cannot pull away. 

Her world is dream-like. The narrator finds herself between two worlds: the real time of her twentieth century life and family where she is educated and a wife, mother, daughter, and granddaughter; and the mythic world that is timeless.  (1) She progresses through the story with no boundaries between time and place.  She wants the contact of the spiritual world in which the human, animal, and nature are one. 

“Yellow Woman” is not just common version of the old story of a married woman seeking to escape from her boring and unfulfilled family life by having an affair with an exciting, eccentric man. (2) The woman does not decide to do things with Silva but is forced to go along with him.  She lives in the realistic world of Jell-O, paved roads, and screen doors. 

I wondered what they were doing at home now—my mother, my grandmother, my husband, and the baby.  Cooking breakfast, saying ‘Where did she go?—may kidnapped,’ and Al going to the tribal police with the details.

(3) Her thinking indicates that she does not appear to have a very strong attachment to her husband or child, nor does she believe that they will mourn her loss very much.

When the woman realizes that Silva is not the benign, wonderful lover, her dream is quickly shattered by the understanding that this man is a thief and a murderer. Without hesitation, she turns back to the other world: children, husband, responsibility, routine.  She will lie to her family and they will believe her.  Who would believe the truth? When she does return to her pueblo, she holds on to the belief that the “strange” man will come back to get her one day when she walks again along the river.

The narrator will not be punished for her infidelities. (4)This was a woman in search of her spiritual, native world.  Encompassed by the traditions of her people, she will be protected by her other self: Yellow Woman.

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