The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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 middle of the lake. He makes sexual advances toward her and blames her for his actions. Appalled at his own behavior, Tom deserts Rayona, and she finds herself homeless and alone. She wanders into Bearpaw State Park and meets Sky and Evelyn. She stays with them during the summer and works on the maintenance crew at the park. At the end of the season, Evelyn and Sky drive Rayona back to the reservation to find Christine. They arrive on the day of the annual rodeo. Rayona meets her cousin, Foxy Cree. He is scheduled to ride but is too drunk. He convinces Rayona to impersonate him and ride in his place. Rayona accepts the challenge and rides Dayton Nichols’ feisty horse, Babe. She is thrown three times but refuses to admit defeat and remounts. Her determination and courage win the admiration of the crowd, and the judges award her a prize. When she steps to the podium to accept, she reveals her true identity. Evelyn and Sky leave her in the care of Dayton, who takes her home to be reunited with Christine.

Christine George Taylor

Christine George Taylor, Rayona’s mother and the supposed daughter of Ida. Feeling unloved by Ida,...

(The entire section is 803 words.)