Essays and Criticism

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 561

Silko was born in 1948 of Laguna-Mexican-Anglo ancestry. Her work Storyteller was originally conceived not as an autobiography at all but as a multigenre form including poems, traditional tales, expository pieces on Laguna tradition, letters, even photographs. It was, in effect, an attempt to record an oral tradition that was...

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Silko was born in 1948 of Laguna-Mexican-Anglo ancestry. Her work Storyteller was originally conceived not as an autobiography at all but as a multigenre form including poems, traditional tales, expository pieces on Laguna tradition, letters, even photographs. It was, in effect, an attempt to record an oral tradition that was in fear of disappearing, for, as Silko explains, ‘‘an entire history/an entire vision of the world'' depended "upon memory/and retelling by subsequent generations.’’ Such emphasis on community is not unusual coming from a person who is concerned primarily with relationships; after all, ‘‘that's all there really is.’’

"Polyphonic" autobiography, as Arnold Krupat and others have suggested, for many indigenous people and many women alike, establishes the self and maintains it through relationships that ‘‘bear witness.’’ ...

The Yellow Woman stories included in Storyteller are part of Cochiti and Laguna Pueblo oral tradition. Some of these stories were first collected by the famous anthropologist Franz Boas in the 1920s, but countless others exist unrecorded, in flux, reflecting the individual concerns of each teller and his or her community. In the first Yellow Woman story, a young woman awakens to find herself beside a stranger who has, we guess at first, abducted her from her village. As the story unfolds, the man's actions and the woman's responses seem to resemble those of lovers more than those of abductor/abductee.

Paula Gunn Allen explains that in Native American culture ‘‘the sacred and the ordinary are perceived as a seamless whole.’’ Silko's modern-day Yellow Woman, in contrast, seems entirely incognizant of such perceptions. Hers is a condition born of cultural dislocation: She is an Indian woman living in a Western world that dismisses all stories as irrelevant and, in some cases, antithetical to lived life. In her Indian world, however, stories have an ongoing connection to people's lives. As a product of multiple cultures, like Silko herself, she experiences a kind of fracturing of her identity that mimics ‘‘postmodern ... schizophrenia.’’ Dazed by her "abduction," the protagonist desperately wonders "if Yellow woman had known who she was—if she knew that she would become part of the stories.’’ The boundaries between fact and fiction are thus problematized and grow increasingly so at the conclusion. There, three identities merge: Yellow Woman's, the protagonist's, and the narrator's. Returning home, her family is seemingly oblivious to her abduction—her mother and grandmother fixing "JellO" in the kitchen while her oblivious husband plays with the baby in an adjacent room. Throughout, she is a detached observer pondering a disappearance that may (or may not) have taken place. Unanswered, too, remains the question of which story is actually told to her family, thus leaving open the possibility for other tellings. Silko teases her audience further by not providing a traditional ending but instead playfully flaunting her ability to incorporate ‘‘personal quirks and lapses of memory,’’ those "pluralistic voices of her autobiographical traditions, both oral and written, Indian and Anglo’’ as aspects of her ‘‘manifold identities'':

I decided to tell them that some Navajo had kidnaped [sic] me, but I was sorry that old Grandpa wasn't alive to hear my story because it was the Yellow Woman stories he liked to tell best....

Source: Catherine Lappas, '‘‘The way I heard it was . . .': Myth, Memory, and Autobiography in Storyteller and The Woman Warrior,’’ in CEA Critic, Vol. 57, No. 1, Fall, 1994, pp. 57-67.

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