Yellow Woman


Leslie Marmon Silko

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The River Symbol Icon

The river—and water imagery more generally—permeate nearly every scene of this story, making the river the most complex symbol within the text. The river is the setting for the story’s opening, the guiding path for much of the narrator’s journey, and symbolizes not only the narrator’s connection to home, but the constant presence and evolving nature of storytelling that is central to the narrative. Yellow Woman first meets Silva, the supposed ka’tsina mountain spirit, as she is following the river, and they spend the night next to the river making love. Like the lens of folklore through which the character see one another and themselves, the river brings them together. In the morning, when Yellow Woman questions his identity and insists that he cannot be ka’tsina, Silva washes his face in the river, almost as if to demonstrate that his face is clear and uncovered—he isn’t hiding his identity. As Silva and Yellow Woman ride farther north into the mountains, Yellow Woman loses sight of the river, and this distance makes her somewhat disoriented; she no longer sees her home, and imagines that she sees towns in the distance where in fact there are none. After Silva tells her to ride back up the mountain, Yellow Woman rides until she spots signs of the river, which guides her back home again. In this way, the river guides her in and out of her experiences as the mythical Yellow Woman.

The Yellow Woman stories weave in and out of the narrator’s mind just as the river winds through the story’s landscape. Like the stories, the river is a constant and familiar presence in the narrator’s life. Both the stories and the river have shaped the people and communities around them over time, and remain central to the narrator’s personal and communal identity.

The River Quotes in Yellow Woman

The Yellow Woman quotes below all refer to the symbol of The River. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity Theme Icon
Part One Quotes

But I only said that you were him and that I was Yellow Woman—I’m not really her—I have my own name and I come from the pueblo on the other side of the mesa. Your name is Silva and you are a stranger I met by the river yesterday afternoon.

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), Silva/Ka’tsina
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Four Quotes

I saw the leaves and I wanted to go back to him—to kiss him and to touch him—but the mountains were too far away now. And I told myself, because I believe it, he will come back sometime and be waiting again by the river.

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), Silva/Ka’tsina
Related Symbols: The River, The Mountains
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:
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Yellow Woman PDF

The River Symbol Timeline in Yellow Woman

The timeline below shows where the symbol The River appears in Yellow Woman. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
Time, Storytelling, Prophecy Theme Icon
The narrator wakes up next to the river at sunrise and notices the sounds and wildlife moving around her. A man is asleep... (full context)
Identity Theme Icon
Reality and Myth Theme Icon
...Woman of myths. The narrator’s thoughts are again interrupted as Silva pushes her into the river sand. (full context)
Part Three
Native American Culture, Identity, and Experience Theme Icon
...have been more. She continues riding downhill until she reaches the plain and spots the river. She gets off the horse and sends it back up the mountain. (full context)
Part Four
Time, Storytelling, Prophecy Theme Icon
Native American Culture, Identity, and Experience Theme Icon
The narrator follows the river back toward the pueblo. She stops to drink the river water and sit in the... (full context)