Yellow Woman

by

Leslie Marmon Silko

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Themes and Colors
Identity Theme Icon
Reality and Myth Theme Icon
Time, Storytelling, Prophecy Theme Icon
Native American Culture, Identity, and Experience Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Yellow Woman, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Reality and Myth Theme Icon

For most of the story, the narrator is in a dream-like state, taking in the details of her surroundings but constantly doubting her senses. Reality blends indistinguishably with myth and mysticism during the time she spends with Silva. In the end, she decides to tell her family a version of the truth—that she was kidnapped by a Navajo rather than by a mountain spirit. By making the narrative a blend of realism and mythology, Silko blurs the boundary between reality and myth and suggests that no such boundary actually exists.

At various moments throughout the story, the narrator’s senses compete to shape her present reality. Her knowledge of her home—and who she is in that home on the other side of the mesa—conflict with her feelings as Yellow Woman connecting with the mountain spirit. Additionally, her proximity to certain spaces seems to influence her perception of reality. At Silva’s house in the mountains, she sits in silence and explains, “I drowsed with apricots in my mouth, and I didn’t believe that there were highways or railroads or cattle to steal.” When she wakes from her drowsing, she sees ants, which remind her of her family in the present, small and far below her. Like the ants, her family and community live on and “under” the ground—in houses made of bricks from the earth. In the mountains—above and away from that familiar world—she slips easily between myth and reality. Silva claims to be able to see the whole world from his spot on the mountain, where his vision is unobstructed, but the narrator cannot see her pueblo. Later, when riding down the mountains with Silva, she thinks she spots a town in the distance, but he tells her that there isn’t a town there. She saw what she expected to see and her eyes fooled her. Silva’s embrace of both the mythical and the real seems to give him a sense of clarity that the narrator lacks. In contrasting Silva and the narrator’s perception in this way, Silko further dismantles notions of a boundary between the mythical and the real, suggesting that those who seek to establish such a boundary (like the narrator) only end up clouding their vision.

Depending on one’s perception of their encounter, Silva oscillates between the roles of abductor and seducer. At times he uses physical force to take the narrator with him, and at times she fears violence from him. At other moments, she thinks of him fondly and misses him, imagining him waiting for her until they meet again one day. Her feelings about their interactions ebb and flow depending on how immersed she feels in the Yellow Woman mythology. The more she believes in their roles as Yellow Woman and ka’stina, the more their relationship feels appropriate—since their story is, after all, legendary. But when she clings to the other reality that she’s merely a woman from the pueblo with a family, a husband, and a child, the relationship feels wrong.  At times, the narrator claims to openly resist Silva, showing that his behavior is forceful. She says, "I walked beside him, breathing hard because he walked fast, his hand around my wrist. I had stopped trying to pull away from him, because his hand felt cool and the sun was high, drying the river bed into alkali.” The narrator explains, “he pulled me around and pinned me down with his arms and chest. ‘You don’t understand, do you, little Yellow Woman? You will do what I want.’ And again he was all around me with his skin slippery against mine, and I was afraid because I understood that his strength could hurt me. I lay underneath him and I knew that he could destroy me.” This moment in particular makes their relationship appear more like assault than a romantic affair. In the very next moment, however, she describes her tender feelings towards him, as “a feeling” overcomes her. After they are separated and the narrator makes her way home, she misses Silva and believes that he will be waiting for her again one day. Her initial resistance to Silva perhaps was more of her resistance to the mythology, and in trying to push him away, she had been seeking an arbitrary boundary between the mythical and the real. Now that she is free to return to her “real” life, however, she looks forward to blending the mythical and the real in the story she plans to tell her family.

At the end of the story, the mystical and realistic threads seem to join in harmony. The smells and sounds of home greet her when she returns to her family, reminding her and the reader that her family exists in a reality of highways, pickup trucks, and Jell-O. She keeps her Yellow Woman story to herself not because she doesn’t believe it, but because perhaps that isn’t a story her family would understand as real. She wishes her grandfather was around because he liked Yellow Woman stories. Like Silva, perhaps her grandfather could also “see the whole world” since he, too, seems to have accepted that the mythical and the real exist in harmony. The narrator’s choice to tell her family that she was abducted by a Navajo suggests that she knows it would be easier for them to accept that than it would be for them to believe that she had gone away with a mountain spirit. Living with a fixed boundary is more comfortable for them. Thus, her story once again demonstrates that the difference between myth and reality often depends on one’s perspective and willingness to relinquish control over boundaries.

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Reality and Myth ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Reality and Myth appears in each chapter of Yellow Woman. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Reality and Myth Quotes in Yellow Woman

Below you will find the important quotes in Yellow Woman related to the theme of Reality and Myth.
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:

I was wondering if Yellow Woman had known who she was—if she knew that she would become part of the stories. Maybe she’d had another name that her husband and relatives called her so that only the ka’tsina from the north and the storytellers would know her as Yellow Woman.

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), Silva/Ka’tsina
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

“I don’t have to go. What they tell in stories was only real then, back in time immemorial, like they say.”

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), Silva/Ka’tsina
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

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. Because she is from out of time past and I live now and I’ve been to school and there are highways and pickup trucks that Yellow Woman never saw.

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), Silva/Ka’tsina
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Two Quotes

“I don’t believe it. Those stories couldn’t happen now,” I said.

He shook his head and said softly, “But someday they will talk about us and they will say, ‘Those two lived long ago when things like that happened.’”

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), Silva/Ka’tsina (speaker)
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

From here I can see the world.

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), Silva/Ka’tsina (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mountains
Page Number: 55
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:

I decided to tell them that some Navajo had kidnapped me, but I was sorry that old Grandpa wasn’t alive to hear my story because it was the Yellow Woman stories he liked to tell best.

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Grandfather
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis: