Yellow Woman

by

Leslie Marmon Silko

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Yellow Woman can help.

Yellow Woman: Part One Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator wakes up next to the river at sunrise and notices the sounds and wildlife moving around her. A man is asleep next to her, and she looks at him before following the river back to her horse. She looks off into the distance, not seeing her home in the pueblo but knowing it’s there. After the man’s horse tries to follow her, the narrator decides she cannot leave without saying goodbye and makes her way back to their spot along the river.
The visual and auditory imagery establish the setting of the story, but they don’t suggest any particular time period or place besides a peaceful spot along a river. The narrator’s inability to leave without saying goodbye to the sleeping man suggests that something draws her back to him. The river functions as a guiding force that brings them together.
Themes
Time, Storytelling, Prophecy Theme Icon
The narrator wakes the man to tell him she’s leaving. Unperturbed, he merely reminds her that she is to come with him and calls her “Yellow Woman.” She asks him who he is, but he tells her that she already guessed his name and his purpose last night. The narrator argues that she isn’t really Yellow Woman like she said but a woman from the pueblo, and he is a stranger named Silva.
The man’s assuredness suggests that he knows something the narrator does not. Her reaction when he calls her “Yellow Woman” informs the reader that these two people don’t know each other even though they have just spent the night together. Although the narrator argues that her name is not Yellow Woman, she doesn’t give her other name, so both Silva and the reader continue thinking of her simply as Yellow Woman.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Reality and Myth Theme Icon
Time, Storytelling, Prophecy Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Silva continues to address the narrator as Yellow Woman, though she argues that they couldn’t possibly be the ka’tsina spirit and Yellow Woman from the old stories. The narrator then gets lost in thought, remembering her grandfather telling Yellow Woman stories, particularly one about characters called Badger and Coyote. She thinks about how Coyote tricks Badger so that he can keep Yellow Woman to himself, and just then Silva’s voice cuts in, calling her to him.
The narrator’s conversation with Silva allows the reader to slowly piece together their conversation from the night before and adds mystery to both Silva and the narrator’s identities. As the narrator refuses to believe that they could be mythological characters, her thoughts about the old stories interrupt the storyline, and then, just as quickly, Silva’s voice cuts into her thoughts. In this way, the narrative continues to weave between the narrator’s present and the old myths.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Reality and Myth Theme Icon
Time, Storytelling, Prophecy Theme Icon
Native American Culture, Identity, and Experience Theme Icon
As she moves into his embrace, the narrator thinks again about Yellow Woman, wondering if she had an ordinary identity and family life in addition to her role as the Yellow Woman of myths. The narrator’s thoughts are again interrupted as Silva pushes her into the river sand.
Though the narrator thinks about Yellow Woman in the third person, she is describing herself and wondering if she could be both the woman from the pueblo and the mythical Yellow Woman. Again, her present situation echoes Yellow Woman’s relationship with the ka’tsina spirit, whom Silva claims to be.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Reality and Myth Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire Yellow Woman LitChart as a printable PDF.
Yellow Woman PDF
Immediately, the Yellow Woman story enters the narrator’s thoughts again, and she thinks about how Yellow Woman left to live with the ka’tsina spirit for many years before returning to her home with twin boys. The narrator asks Silva if he knows the story. He pretends not to know what story she’s referring to and pulls her closer. She considers the parallels between her current experiences and the Yellow Woman story but declares that she does not have to act as Yellow Woman did. She doesn’t have to go with him because such things don't happen anymore.
The narrator’s thoughts become increasingly enmeshed with the Yellow Woman mythology as she struggles to determine the degree to which she has agency in the situation. If she is, in fact, Yellow Woman, that means she is also tied to Yellow Woman’s fate. Here, the narrator suggests that the Yellow Woman mythology functions as a type of prophecy. She argues—trying to convince herself more than Silva, it seems—that she couldn’t possibly be Yellow Woman because those stories took place a long time ago.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Reality and Myth Theme Icon
Time, Storytelling, Prophecy Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Silva doesn't argue with her but simply says, “Let’s go,” and pulls her along with him. The narrator explains that she eventually stopped resisting and hoped that they would encounter another person who could confirm that she and Silva are just ordinary people and not mythical figures.
Silva’s calm authority again reinforces the idea that perhaps he already knows they’re going to leave together regardless of the narrator’s protestations. However, the narrator mentions initially resisting his pull, which suggests that Silva’s actions are more akin to abduction than seduction. She also wishes for someone else to confirm their ordinariness, indicating that she feels unable to determine her identity (or Silva’s) for herself.
Themes
Time, Storytelling, Prophecy Theme Icon
Native American Culture, Identity, and Experience Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Silva and the narrator ride north on horseback and the narrator describes the change of scenery as they climb higher. Silva doesn’t speak but sings a soft mountain song as they go. The narrator’s thoughts wander to her family and she wonders what her mother, grandmother, husband, and the baby are doing at home. Her focus abruptly shifts to describing Silva’s mountain home, made of lava rock and mud and set high up above her familiar ground.
The emphasis on the natural surroundings demonstrate the narrator’s connection to the land—she recognizes familiar sights while taking note of the unfamiliar landscape. The narrator recognizes Silva’s singing as a mountain song, suggesting that the two share a connection that may be cultural, or it may be more fundamental—perhaps even spiritual.
Themes
Identity Theme Icon
Native American Culture, Identity, and Experience Theme Icon