"'What story?' He smiled and pulled me close to him as he said this. I was afraid lying there on the red blanket. All I could know was the way he felt, warm, damp, his body beside me. This is the way it happens in the stories, I was thinking,...
"'What story?' He smiled and pulled me close to him as he said this. I was afraid lying there on the red blanket. All I could know was the way he felt, warm, damp, his body beside me. This is the way it happens in the stories, I was thinking, with no thought beyond the moment she meets the Ka’tsina spirit and they go.
'I don’t have to go. What they tell in stories was real only then, back in time immemorial, like they say.'"
In this passage from "Yellow Woman" by Leslie Marmon Silko, we see the thoughts and feelings of the narrator, a Native American woman, with regards to a man she has just met the day before. In the story, the author gives the impression that the narrator has made the choice to sleep with the man, though she just met him and she has a family at home. In order to justify this, she relates herself to the “Yellow Woman,” a character that she has heard of many times in traditional stories told by her grandfather.
In the stories, the Yellow Woman left her family when she was visited by spirits (ka'tsina) in the night. She returned much later, with twin children. The description of the Yellow Woman is somewhat vague, but we get the impression that the narrator feels some sort of kinship with her. Not only is the Yellow Woman one of her people, of her own culture, but she is also a woman who dreamed of leaving tradition behind, of going somewhere else, of fulfilling desires which would be considered unhealthy, perhaps even unnatural. It fits nicely with what I see to be one of the main themes of this story: one’s culture and traditions can also suppress one’s innermost desires, leading to the necessity to do something out of the ordinary in order to reclaim one’s own agency over one’s life.
In the passage, she says that she is “afraid,” and we feel at first that she may be afraid of the man. Upon further examination, we realize that she is afraid because she does not know what will happen next. She reflects upon her own situation and is able to see how the Yellow Woman could have gone away from her family for so long; she left because she did what felt right in the moment. However, this action prompts several questions. For example, what would be there for her afterwards? How much longer could this go on? The narrator knows that the only thing that she knows is how this man feels next to her; she does not know him, his people, or where he comes from. Tradition provides security, and breaking from tradition provides insecurity.
Still, she tells him that she really does not have to leave, even if the stories tell her to be cautious. After all, these stories were only true in a different time, a time when culture and tradition reigned supreme. In a sense, the narrator uses her culture and its stories to justify her behavior when it suits her, but she feels that she may reject them when their messages clash with her own actions. She speaks of them as if she believes them completely because they are such a part of her past.
At the same time, we get the impression that she feels trapped by them, as though she does not want to have to be defined by them anymore. In a sense, these stories are a symbol of her culture; to her, it is something which must change with the current demands of the world. Anything which happened long ago was for someone else, for people who did not have cars, trucks, or university educations. Our narrator is stuck somewhere in the middle, a product of both the past and future, and she is very uncertain of the present.