The Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512

Three powerful women, each representing a different generation, dominate the novel. Each of these women—Rayona, the fifteen-year-old girl; Christine, her mother; and Aunt Ida, supposedly Christine’s mother—also functions as the narrator of one of the novel’s three parts. It is, then, above all through their own voices and through the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions expressed in those voices that readers come to know the characters. In Rayona, readers recognize the adolescent’s uncertainties about her own identity and her place in the world. For Rayona, these anxieties are intensified by her mixed racial heritage and by the instabilities of her family life. It is no wonder that she is tempted to borrow an identity when she reads the letter the solid, middle-class De Marcos have written to their daughter Ellen. Yet it is no surprise that Rayona is able to leave this bourgeois fantasy behind, as her experience at the rodeo and her reconciliation with the mother whose illness Rayona can now accept allow her to come to terms with who she herself is.

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Christine speaks on the run. Staying in one place, physically or emotionally, has never been her strongest trait. She went through a series of boys and men on the reservation, which she left years ago. She has never settled in a single place. She thought that in her relationship with Elgin she was settling on a single man, but when Elgin began to wander, it was not in Christine’s nature to stand still. Now she is in a hurry. She has, she knows, only a short time to live, and she must get her life into whatever kind of shape it can now assume. Her return to the reservation allows her to reestablish some degree of continuity with her past. She faces the destructive consequence of her past jealousy and, in doing so, becomes open to friendship with Dayton. Yet she is still concerned for the future: What will become of Rayona?

The third member of this trio is Ida. Like Rayona and Christine, Ida faced a crisis in her midteens, and the consequences of that crisis are felt by the two younger women. The obligation of caring for Christine and the fear of losing her have to a considerable degree determined the face Ida presents to the world, even to those closest to her. Fear kept Ida from identifying the father of Lee, her natural son; what if the father one day decided to claim the son? When, in the first two parts of the novel, readers see Ida through the eyes of Rayona and Christine, she seems distant, forbidding, and unwelcoming. It is only when she is finally allowed to speak for herself that she is revealed as a woman of powerful feelings, capable of moral heroism.

Each woman tells in her narrative more than she will ever tell either of the others. Christine will die in the belief that Aunt Ida is her mother and that Ida has never allowed her daughter to call her by her proper name, Mama.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 803

Rayona Taylor

Rayona Taylor, the fifteen-year-old daughter of American Indian Christine George Taylor and African American Elgin Taylor. After Rayona’s parents separate, she is brought up by her alcoholic mother. When Christine becomes seriously ill as a result of her drinking, she is committed to a detoxification ward. Rayona helps her to escape, and they drive to the Montana reservation where Christine was reared. When they arrive, Christine deserts Rayona and leaves her with Ida. Father Tom, a young Catholic priest new to the reservation, recruits Rayona into a parish youth group known as the “God Squad.” He invites her to a weekend youth rally in Helena, and on the way they stop for a swim in Bearpaw Lake. Tom feigns drowning. Rayona rescues him and drags him onto a yellow raft in the...

(The entire section contains 3044 words.)

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Critical Essays