Yellow Woman


Leslie Marmon Silko

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Yellow Woman Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Leslie Marmon Silko's Yellow Woman. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Leslie Marmon Silko

A Native American novelist, poet, and short story writer, Leslie Marmon Silko was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1948. She grew up on the Laguna Pueblo reservation and attended a local grade school before attending high school in Albuquerque. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Mexico and later taught courses in creative writing and oral tradition for the university. She published her first work, Tony’s Story, in 1969. Though she grew up on the Laguna Pueblo reservation, Silko was of mixed Native American, Mexican, and Caucasian heritage, and she long struggled to reconcile her racial and ethnic identities. Her grandmother and great-grandmother cared for her and her two sisters while her parents worked, and from them Silko inherited a proclivity for storytelling. Silko has published numerous works of poetry, short stories, and novels. Her best-known work, Ceremony (published in 1977), is regularly taught at the university level. In 1981 Silko received a MacArthur Foundation Grant, and in 1994 she received the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award. Silko has been married and divorced twice, has two sons, and currently resides in Tucson, Arizona.
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Historical Context of Yellow Woman

The early 1970s in the United States saw intense upheaval with the intensely controversial Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and subsequent resignation of President Richard Nixon, the continuation of civil rights struggles for women and racial minorities, and the emergence of the “New Right”—a conservative sociopolitical backlash against the welfare state and socially progressive advancements of the 1960s. Many artists and writers responded with a general distrust of the government and fought to hang onto the personal liberties of expression that had been hard-won during the previous decade. Silko’s “Yellow Woman” was published in 1974 and delivers a woman’s account of an extramarital sexual experience and her exploration of her spiritual identity. The climax of the story occurs when Silko’s protagonist and her lover encounter a white rancher, and the confrontation that ensues echoes the long history of oppression and persecution faced by Native Americans at the hands of whites.

Other Books Related to Yellow Woman

Like other works of the Native American Renaissance (a controversial term for this literary period still debated among scholars), “Yellow Woman” celebrates Native American storytelling traditions and confronts the fear of losing such traditions in the increasingly modern era. Silko’s most famous work, Ceremony, also explores finding a balance between modernity and traditions. The works of the Native American Renaissance are most often defined by their attention to reclaiming Native American cultural heritage with a renewed focus on mythology, oral storytelling, and ceremonies. In “Yellow Woman” and her other short stories, Silko draws attention to the lingering importance and influence of mythology within her Pueblo community. Other writers of this literary period include N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Louise Erdrich, and nila northSun. Momaday’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, House Made of Dawn, is widely regarded as the work that catalyzed this literary movement.
Key Facts about Yellow Woman
  • Full Title: Yellow Woman
  • Where Written: Ketchikan, Alaska
  • When Published: 1974
  • Literary Period: Native American Renaissance
  • Genre: Short fiction
  • Setting: New Mexico
  • Climax: Yellow Woman and Silva encounter the white rancher
  • Antagonist: The white rancher and erasure of Native American culture
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Yellow Woman

Career Change. After graduating with her bachelor’s in English, Silko enrolled in law school before deciding to pursue a writing career.

Personal Themes. Because of her mixed racial heritage, Silko has often referred to herself as “a half-breed or mixed-blood person,” and her writing attempts to reconcile the different facets of her identity.