Characters

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Ayah
Ayah is the main character and narrator. In the present tense of the story, Ayah is an old woman reflecting on her personal history: memories of her grandmother weaving outside, the birth of her first child, the death of her child Jimmie in war, and the loss of her two young children, who were taken away by white doctors. Ayah also recalls her husband, Chato, who, because he could speak English, served as the go-between in many of her significant interactions with white authorities. In the present time of the story, Ayah goes out to look for Chato, who has not yet come home for the evening. She looks for him at the bar, where he can usually be found on the days he receives and cashes their small assistance check, but he is not there. Leaving the bar, she eventually comes upon him walking home. They stop to rest, and Chato lies down in the snow. Seeing that he is about to die, Ayah wraps a blanket around him and sings him a lullaby she learned from her grandmother.

Chato
Chato is the husband of the story's narrator, Ayah. Because he speaks English and she does not, Chato serves the role of gobetween in the family's interactions with white authority figures. When white people come to the door to inform them that their son, Jimmie, has died in the war, it is Chato who must translate the devastating news to Ayah. Chato works for the white rancher, who shows no sympathy when his leg is injured on the job. When the white doctors, and then the BIA police, come to take their two young children away from them, it is again Chato who must communicate to Ayah that she has unknowingly signed the children away to the white people. Because she blames him for the loss of their children, Ayah no longer sleeps with her husband after that point. As an old man, during the present tense of the story, Chato sometimes becomes confused, and she finds him walking toward the ranch, as if they still needed him to work there. On the days when their assistance check arrives, Chato cashes it and heads straight for the bar. After Ayah finds him walking in the snow, Chato lays down to rest. He dies, as Ayah sings him a lullaby.

Danny
Danny is Ayah and Chato's young son who is taken away from them by the white doctors.

The Doctors
The white doctors come to take Ayah and Chato's children away from them, because they have contracted tuberculosis from their grandmother. The doctors intimidate Ayah into signing a piece of paper which gives them permission to take the children away forever. Although she has no idea what she is signing, she does so because she is afraid of them and wants them to go away. When they try to take the children, she grabs them and runs for the hills. They give up on chasing her, but come back later with a police officer and take the children, after which she rarely sees them again.

Ella
Ella is Ayah and Chato's young daughter who is taken away from them by the white doctors.

Grandmother
Ayah's grandmother does not appear in the present time of the story, but only in Ayah's reminiscences. Ayah recalls her grandmother spinning yarn from wool and passing on traditional songs. The grandmother is significant as the generational link in the matrilinear culture whereby women pass on tradition in the form of stories. When Chato is dying, Ayah sings him a lullaby her grandmother had sung...

(This entire section contains 855 words.)

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to her.

Jimmie
Jimmie was Ayah's first-born child. When he died in a helicopter crash in the war, a white man came to the door to inform the family. The army blanket Ayah wraps around herself at the beginning of the story, and her dying husband Chato at the end of the story, had been sent to her by Jimmie while he was in combat.

The Policeman
The B.I.A. (Bureau of Indian Affairs) policeman appears the second time the white doctors come to claim Ayah and Chato's children. This character is significant in that he represents the Native American who helps the white authorities in the oppression and exploitation of other Native Americans.

The Rancher
The white rancher is Chato's employer. The rancher is another figure of white authority who contributes to the most tragic events in Ayah's life. When Chato injures his leg on the job, the rancher does not pay him. When he determines that Chato is too old to work, he evicts them from their house.

White Women
On the few occasions when Ayah's children are brought back to visit her, they are accompanied by white women, presumably teachers or social-workertype figures. On the first visit, there is a blonde white woman and a thin white woman. They both seem to Ayah to be anxious and nervous in her home, and appear to be judging it as an unfit environment for raising the children. The white women also seem perturbed when Ayah's children speak to her in their native language.

Themes and Characters

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The role of storytelling in Native American culture is a theme central to all of Silko's work. "Lullaby" appears in a collection that is especially concerned with ways of translating the oral tradition of storytelling into a written English format. Ayah, the old woman who is the main character, does not tell a story directly to another person; however, the story is comprised of her reminiscences, which function as a form of internal storytelling. This written story captures the structure of an oral story, in that it weaves past memories and present occurrences through a series of associations, rather than in a set chronological order.

In addition to the focus on the oral tradition of storytelling, Silko's writing is also concerned with the ways in which Native American traditions can be adapted to the contemporary circumstances of Native American life. Her characters are often caught between a traditional and a modern way of life. In this story, Ayah recalls such traditions as her mother weaving blankets on a loom set outside, while her grandmother spun the yarn from wool. This memory is evoked by Ayah's use of the old army blanket her son Jimmie had sent home from the war. Looking down at her worn shoes in the snow, she recalls the warm buckskin moccasins Native Americans had once worn. At the point of her husband's death, Ayah falls back on the singing of a traditional lullaby sung by her grandmother. The story suggests that, at such a profound event as the death of a loved one, such traditions such serve an important purpose, even in modern life.

Beginning with the loss of her children and ending with the death of her husband, Ayah's reminiscences focus mainly on the major losses in her life. The strong sense of nostalgia in the story is used to express sadness over the loss of traditional culture and ways of life, as well as pain and bitterness over the loss of all three of her children. Ayah had lost two infants already, but only to natural causes, and was comforted by burying them in the land surrounding her home. The loss of her other children to white authorities, however, she finds more traumatizing. Her first child, Jimmie, dies in a helicopter crash during the war. She learns that his body may have been burned, so she does not have the opportunity to mourn his loss in a more traditional way. She later loses her two young children, Danny and Ella, to the white doctors who intimidate her into signing an agreement allowing them to take the children to a sanitarium. Ayah's final loss comes at the end of the story, when her husband Chato lies down in the snow, and she realizes that he is dying. In this story, Silko is concerned with the ways in which storytelling can heal and transform the experience of loss—both personal and cultural.

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