How does "Yellow Woman" by Leslie Marmon Silko reflect gender and identity?

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Silko’s story, “Yellow Woman,” portrays a woman caught in a complex world of reality and mysticism. On first reading, the story appears simple: It is a woman's brief romantic adventure with a handsome, mysterious stranger. The story is told in first person point of view by the protagonist, a nameless Indian woman. Indian folklore is at the heart of the story. Many ancient cultures owe their spirituality and history to oral traditions. The mixing of the two worlds, the old and the new, requires a second look. From this story, two characters important in Indian tales converge: the ka’tsina, a water spirit; and Yellow Woman, a mythical Indian woman.

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Leslie Marmon Silko is a Native American author. In her short story “Yellow Woman,” she blends the realities of modern Pueblo and Navajo Native American life with the mythical beliefs that continue to permeate Native American culture.

The narrator of the tale is a Pueblo woman caught between the two...

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worlds of myth and reality, just as she is trapped between her position as a woman in Pueblo culture and her individual identity. At the center of the story is the ancient legend of theYellow Woman who is kidnapped by a spirit. The narrator recalls mythical tales related to her by her grandfather that told of “the old stories about the ka’tsina spirit and Yellow Woman.”

The narrator is kidnapped by a man named Silva who has sexual relations with her by a river and plans to take her to his cabin. Upon awakening the following morning, she hears the man refer to her as Yellow Woman. It appears her reality mirrors that of Yellow Woman’s experience in the mythical tale.

The protagonist, unsure of her own identity and subject to the limitations of her gender in society, begins to travel in her mind back and forth between the reality of her contemporary culture and the spirit world of myth. She wants to return home but begins to believe that she is actually the Yellow Woman from the myth. Through internal dialogue, she questions her own identity: “I was wondering if Yellow Woman had known who she was.” She wants to know whether Yellow Woman was also an ordinary woman with a normal life aside from her mythical existence.

Silva denies knowledge of the mythical tale, continues to draw her into sexuality, and insists they are just average people. The narrator remains torn between her reality and the myth, and the longer she remains with Silva, the more she separates herself from reality and her home. In the tale, Yellow Woman was forced to remain with her captor, but eventually, the narrator reasons that she need not succumb to the same fate as Yellow Woman. After all, she has her own identity. She thinks to herself,

I had stopped trying to pull away from him ... I will see someone, eventually I will see someone, and then I will be certain that he is only a man—some man from nearby—and I will be sure that I am not Yellow Woman.

But the protagonist meets no one.

As she arrives at Silva’s cabin, she is expected to do all the things she feels is associated with her gender. She cooks for him and sleeps with him and eventually thinks less and less about returning home. She still sees Silva as a ka’tsina spirit.

The narrator begins to slip back to the physical world when Silva admits being a cattle rustler. She sees him as a man, not a ka’tsina spirit. She concludes “that this man Silva must be Navajo, because Pueblo men didn’t do things like that.” During Silva’s violent encounter with a white man “looking for the thief for a long time,” the narrator escapes on horseback and finds her way back to the Pueblo village. She returns to the normalcy of her ordinary life, yet still thinks of Silva:

I came back to the place on the river bank where he had been sitting the first time I saw him ... And I told myself, because I believe it, he will come back some time and be waiting again by the river.

The narrator has accepted her identity and gender as an ordinary woman from the Pueblo village and as Yellow Woman, which is her fate.

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The question of identity is central to the story "Yellow Woman." The narrator is torn two realities: one based on her domestic life with her family as wife and mother and a second in which she is Yellow Woman, a mythic figure who lives in the mountains as the captive (or companion—it is not clear) of a ka'tsina spirit.

This question of identity influences how we understand what happens to her. In her role as wife and mother, the narrator has been kidnapped by Silvio, a cattle rustler, who takes her to a remote mountain cabin and rapes her. But as Yellow Woman, her "kidnapping" becomes a kind of enchantment; Silvio, as ka'tsina, chooses or makes her into Yellow Woman, and her time with him exists outside of history.

In this reality, Silvio and the narrator become mythic figures, idealized types of male and female. They exist outside of history in a way; their actions are predetermined by the myth they embody. Their lovemaking is at once tender and sexual assault—a kind of inevitable narrative fulfillment. The doubleness is perfectly expressed in Silvio's remark to the narrator when she tries to resist his advances: "You don't understand, do you, little Yellow Woman? You will do what I want."

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“Yellow Woman” is a beautifully narrated tale that reflects sexuality, adventure, identity, and the want to experience something larger than life. The story revolves around a young woman who is identified as a mother, wife, and daughter with responsibilities and duties to her family. And yet, she seeks to have an affair with a stranger. But, she does not do it because she feels attraction to the man himself but more because she feels attracted to the mystical legends and stories that he seems to fit right into. Silva refers to her as “Yellow Woman,” a famous Native American character, and he himself resembles the mythical figure of the Ka’tsina spirit. The woman chooses to believe in an identity—Yellow Woman—as her reality seamlessly merges with the fantasy of the stories she heard while growing up. This story celebrates Native American culture while holding up a mirror to the feelings and experiences of the modern tribe members. The protagonist longs to escape from the modern world and dive into the time when nature, animals, spirits, and souls were intertwined, a time when she could assume the identity of the Yellow Woman and Silva the identity of the Ka’tsina spirit.

Gender representation can also be seen as one of the minor themes prevailing in the story. The Yellow Woman, although a “modern” woman, assumes the roles of a conventional woman without question—frying potatoes, running away from the scene of combat, and going along with Silva’s request and demands without much of a fight. However, these incidents add a fairytale-like touch to the entire narrative, which could be seen as the whole point of the story. Yellow Woman’s desire to melt into the primitive times of legend and fantasy maybe results in her assuming the character and behaving like a woman of the past, with princess-like notions about sexuality and love.

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Describe the woman in "Yellow Woman" by Leslie Marmon Silko.

Leslie Silko’s story, “Yellow Woman,” portrays a woman caught in a complex world of reality and mysticism. On first reading, the story appears simple: It is a woman's brief romantic adventure with a handsome, mysterious stranger.  The story is told in first person point of view by the protagonist, a nameless Indian woman.  Indian folklore is at the heart of the story. Many ancient cultures owe their spirituality and history to oral traditions.  The mixing of the two worlds, the old and the new,  requires a second look. 

From this story, two characters important in Indian tales converge: the ka’tsina, a water spirit;  and the Yellow Woman,  a mythical Indian woman.  Silko’s story begins with the young woman going out for a walk near a river and being seduced by  an Indian man named Silva.  Silva calls himself a ka’tsina and the woman he names Yellow Woman. 

A young, beautiful Indian woman--unsophisticated, sensual, adventurous--the narrator is not the real Yellow Woman.  Although the story appears to have an old west quality, the woman mentions Jell-o and trucks. She is caught up in the escapade of Silva’s making.  As the story progresses, the woman’s reality evolves from someone who listened to her grandfather’s stories about the Yellow Woman  to consciously entering the reality of Yellow Woman.

I will see someone, eventually I will see someone, and then I will be certain that he is only a man—some man from nearby—and I will be sure that I am not Yellow Woman.

The woman is not only sexually seduced but psychologically as well.   Yet, in her more cogent times, she wonders about her husband and her baby. Then, she begins to question if the man is a ka’tsina and if she is actually Yellow Woman

‘Do you always use the same tricks?’

‘What tricks?’ his face was calm. 

'The story about being a ka’tsina from the mountains and me being Yellow Woman.  I don’t believe it.'

He shook his had and said softly, ‘But someday they will talk about us…'

Silva convinces her to go with him to his cabin up in the mountains.  Awakening the next morning, she discovers that he is gone.  Yellow Woman goes for a walk and when she returns, Silva is waiting on her with a stolen beef carcass that he has slaughtered and butchered to sell.  Again,  Silva persuades her to accompany him to Mexico to sell the meat. 

On the way, a man, who owned the stolen cow, catches up to them.  He and Silva begin arguing.  Silva tells Yellow Woman to go back to the cabin.  While riding off, the woman hears four shots.  This jerks her back into reality.  Silva is not only a thief,  but a murderer.  She lets the horse go and walks back to her family telling them that she had been kidnapped. 

The seduction of the woman has an ethereal quality that makes the reader question himself about the reality of the man and woman and their connection.  However, in the final analysis, this story  is a desire to explore a destiny that transcends the limits of the woman's life.  Yes, it is  only an exciting moment in the her life.

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Discuss "Yellow Woman" by Leslie Marmon Silko.

Leslie Marmon Silko, a Native American, grew up on the outskirts of an Indian reservation. This allowed Silko to learn not only the Laguna language but the folktales of the oral tradition.  The story “Yellow Woman” is based on two characters which are drawn from these tales: Yellow Woman and Kachina of Ka'tsina.

Yellow Woman, a major figure in Laguna folklore, stems from the legend in which a woman goes away with a ka'tsina or mountain spirit and lives with him for a long time. In the Pueblo people mythology, the ka'tsina is a benevolent spirit associated with rain and water; however, he sometimes kidnaps a woman who later returns to her pueblo.

This story is told in first person with the nameless woman  as the narrator and the protagonist of the story. The setting of the story is in the late twentieth century somewhere in the southwest.  

In the first part of the story, the woman narrator goes for a walk by the river where she meets a mysterious man, Silva, who seduces her. He tells her that he is a ka'tsina (kachina) spirit and calls her "Yellow Woman." Although she doubts that he is really a ka'tsina spirit, the narrator feels compelled to go up the mountain with Silva.

I had stopped trying to pull away from him because his hand felt cool and the sun was high, drying the river bed...

The second part of the story takes place in the cabin of Silva.  Again, the couple make love.  In the morning, he is gone.  Yellow Woman goes for a walk. When she returns to the cabin, Silva has stolen a calf and butchered it.  He wants her to go with him to sell the meat.

The last part of the story finds the pair on their way to Mexico to sell the beef.  An angry man, who owned the cow, approaches them. Silva tells her to return to the cabin. As she rides away, she hears four shots. When she is at the bottom of the mountain, she releases the horse.  Finally, after two days away from her home, she returns to her family and tells them that she had been kidnapped.

The story’s theme is a fusion of folklore and the reality of a woman who wants to get away from her life.  She is easily seduced and even willing to go along with the mysterious spirit and story of her being the Yellow Woman. 

He pulled me around and pinned me down with his arms and chest.  Again, he was all around me with his skin slippery against mine.

Lust and passion drive her until she realizes that she has gone too far. Silko is a thief and a murderer. She is jerked back to reality with the climactic sound of the rifle shots.    

The author’s style and its complexity come from her narrator and protagonist.  The woman’s thoughts and feelings move the story forward.  The narrator is exactly as one might think a young Indian woman might be: unsophisticated; unpretentious; and candid.  When she lies with the man, there is a melancholy passion that seems almost innocent.

Silko’s use of color adds further dimension to her story.  The color yellow is mentioned in more than just the name of the character: “the yellow moon in the water,” “the deep-yellow petals” of wildflowers, and the “yellow” blossoms of cactus flowers. In Indian lore, yellow represents the south from which summer comes. Silko’s storytelling combines the new with the old.  The stories of her grandfather and Silko’s new generation of tales combine for an enjoyable read. Whether it happened or not, it makes the reader think that the tale was true.

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