Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water might be read as a meditation on family, on the mysteries of self and community, on the search for identity as individual and as member of the larger group, and on the pursuit of independence in the light of the reality of interdependence.

The main characters of the novel, Rayona, Christine, and Ida, while deeply involved with one another, remain in important ways isolated. They touch one another at a multitude of levels, but they communicate with one another only indirectly and, it sometimes seems, haphazardly. Family relationships have been distorted by the family secret that Ida carries, but family remains at the heart of the story.

The characters derive some of their identity from their complex relationship to the Native American community, but after Lee’s death, the interaction of Ida and of Christine, who has moved off the reservation, with the community at large becomes limited. Moreover, Christine has married a black man, and Rayona, of mixed racial heritage, fantasizes an identity on the basis of a letter sent to someone else, a daughter of the white middle class.

As Catholics, the three women are also members of a faith community. Dorris hardly offers an idealized portrait of the church (the priests, for example, are depicted as vessels of clay), and the book implies no necessary affirmation on the author’s part of religion in general or of Catholicism in particular. Yet two of the...

(The entire section is 453 words.)


(Novels for Students)

In 1979, Michael Dorris wrote that "there is no such thing as 'Native American literature,' though it may yet, someday,...

(The entire section is 1120 words.)