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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1045

On one level, “Yellow Woman” is a simple but haunting story of a young, married Pueblo Indian woman’s two-day affair with a maverick Navajo who lives alone in the mountains and steals cattle from white and Mexican ranchers. The story is divided into four brief sections, ranging in length from...

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On one level, “Yellow Woman” is a simple but haunting story of a young, married Pueblo Indian woman’s two-day affair with a maverick Navajo who lives alone in the mountains and steals cattle from white and Mexican ranchers. The story is divided into four brief sections, ranging in length from four and a half pages to less than a page: Section 1 describes the morning after their first night together, and section 4 depicts (sections 3 and 4 are brief) the woman’s return to her home and family on the evening of the following day.

When the woman awakens on the first morning, the man is still sleeping soundly, “rolled in the red blanket on the white river sand.” She peacefully watches “the sun rising up through the tamaracks and willows,” listens to “the water . . . in the narrow fast channel,” rises, and walks along “the river south the way . . . [they] had come the afternoon before.” She intends to return to her pueblo, but she cannot go without saying goodbye. She goes back to the river, wakes up the man, and tells him that she is leaving. The man smiles at her, calls her “Yellow Woman,” and calmly asserts that she is coming with him. The night before, she had talked of the “old stories about the ka’tsina spirit and Yellow Woman,” stories of a mountain spirit who takes mortal women away to live with him. The woman apparently had suggested that she was Yellow Woman and Silva was the ka’tsina spirit; now the man’s words and actions assert that he is, in fact, the ka’tsina and that she has become the Yellow Woman of the stories: “What happened yesterday has nothing to do with what you will do today, Yellow Woman.”

She is drawn to the sexuality, strength, and danger of this stranger and to the potency of the Yellow Woman myths. She allows herself to be pulled down once again onto the “red blanket on the white river sand,” and then she leaves with him. It seems that he forces her to come, but she acquiesces complacently: “I had stopped trying to pull away from him, because his hand felt cool and the sun was high.” The woman’s pueblo has been out of sight from the opening of the story, and the farther she gets from the pueblo, the less sure she is of her identity or of her understanding of reality. As they travel northward, she hopes to meet ordinary people in order to regain her clear, normal perception of reality: “Eventually I will see someone, and then I will be certain that he is only a man . . . and I will be sure that I am not Yellow Woman.” They meet no one as they travel through the foothills and into the dark lava hills and finally to his house of “black lava rock and red mud . . . high above the spreading miles of arroyos and long mesas.”

In section 2, she enters into his small home and into the rhythms of his life. She cooks for him, makes love to him, sleeps with him. When she awakens to find him gone the next morning, she thinks idly of returning home but waits passively, lost in the silence and beauty of the mountains. She is awed by this man who has assumed the role of a ka’tsina with complete assurance, who has the power to “destroy” her, and who defies the white man and his ways. She knows that life will go on as before in the pueblo: “My mother and grandmother will raise the baby like they raised me. Al will find someone else, and they will go on like before, except that there will be a story about the day I disappeared.” She seems to lose interest in going home: “that didn’t seem important any more, maybe because there were little blue flowers growing in the meadow behind the store house.”

When Yellow Woman wanders back to the house from a peaceful walk in the big pine trees, the man is waiting. He has stolen and butchered a steer and is preparing to go to “sell the meat in Marquez.” He expects her to come with him, and she agrees.

In the third section, they descend from the serenity and beauty of the mountains and the myth into the world of harsh and banal reality that the woman has imagined that she had left behind. They encounter an ordinary man, and suddenly this Yellow Woman-ka’tsina story appears to be exposed as a vulgar tale of adultery, theft, and murder. The man is a white rancher who accuses Silva of “rustling cattle” as soon as he sees “the blood-soaked gunny sacks” hanging from the woman’s saddle. Silva tells her to go back up the mountain. She rides to the “ridge where the trail forked” and waits. When she hears “four hollow explosions” of the Indian’s rifle as he apparently kills the rancher, she takes the trail leading down and to the southeast, rather than returning to the mountain. When she can see the “dark green patches of tamaracks that grew along the river,” she releases the horse, first turning it around so that it will return to “the corral under the pines on the mountain,” and begins the long walk back to her pueblo.

In the brief final section, the woman follows “the river back the way” Silva and she had come. She drinks the cool river water and thinks about Silva, feeling “sad at leaving” this “strange” man. When she sees the “green willow leaves that he had trimmed” from a branch, she wants “to go back to him—to kiss him and to touch him—but the mountains were too far away now.” Moreover, she believes that “he will come back sometime and be waiting again by the river.”

She walks into the village in the twilight. When she reaches the “screen door of her house,” she can “smell supper cooking” and hear “my mother . . . telling my grandmother how to fix the Jell-O and . . . Al . . . playing with the baby.” She decides to “tell them that some Navajo had kidnaped” her and regrets that her Grandpa is not alive to hear a Yellow Woman story.

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