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.
Time, Storytelling, Prophecy Theme Icon

The tradition of oral storytelling is central to many Native American traditions, and the Yellow Woman stories are popular folklore among the narrator’s Pueblo community, particularly with her family. In “Yellow Woman,” stories are shown to have a certain power over characters that verges, at times, on the prophetic. Throughout the text, the narrator searches for her identity and argues that she, a modern woman living in a time with highways, pickup trucks, and railroads, couldn't also be a mythical character since things like that don't happen in the modern world. Silko uses the narrator's resistance to the mythology as a voice for modern readers' disbelief of old folktales, but shows that despite modern advances, stories are just as important and powerful as ever. The narrator suggests that if she is, in fact, the Yellow Woman from the myths, that means she is also bound to Yellow Woman’s fate. As she gets swept along in her romantic affair with Silva, the alleged ka’tsina mountain spirit, her memories of the Yellow Woman stories that her grandfather told blend together with her current experiences, creating a nonlinear storyline and placing the stories parallel with events in her present. For the narrator, the Yellow Woman stories function like a prophecy that dictates her present and future—such that, even if she chooses not to believe her place in the story, she is powerless against the story's prescriptive influence.

The Yellow Woman mythology interrupts the story so that the tales that happened supposedly long ago are intertwined with the present narrative. By weaving the old stories in, Silko creates a nonlinear story and demonstrates that time can be experienced in different ways and sequences. Breaking from a rigid linear composition of time, Silko writes a more circular story to better capture her character’s cyclical, timeless journey. Immediately after claiming that the ka’tsina and Yellow Woman stories can’t be about her and Silva, the narrator remembers her grandfather telling Yellow Woman stories, specifically the one about Badger and Coyote. As Coyote makes his way back to Yellow Woman, Silva’s voice cuts in and beckons to the narrator, thereby creating a link between him and the Coyote, as well as between the narrator and Yellow Woman. The narrator finds herself in a storyline very similar to that of Yellow Woman but refuses to believe that she is Yellow Woman because she doesn’t belong to “time immemorial.” Silva reminds her that, someday, the present moment will be long ago for someone else, and that all stories start somewhere—in other words, stories are not confined by time, and the stories people tell about long-ago times are likely to be repeated in different iterations throughout history.

At the beginning, the narrator isn’t sure whose story she’s in, and she feels powerless, simply going along with events as they occur. As they lay by the river, the narrator explains, “This is the way it happens in the stories, I was thinking, with no thought beyond the moment she meets the ka’tsina spirit and they go.” Though she is clearly thinking beyond the moment, the narrator cannot yet say for sure that she is not Yellow Woman and follows the storyline that has been laid out for her. She thinks of the Yellow Woman stories almost like memories and doesn’t resist the events happening in her present because to her it feels as though they have already happened. In this way, the stories she knows from her childhood become like a script for her to follow, or even a type of prophecy dictating her own life. She reasons that if she isn’t Yellow Woman then she should be immune to Silva’s charms and free to return to her family. But since she remains unsure about her identity (and therefore her control over the narrative) she follows the person who seems sure about his own identity and allows him to control the events. She says, “I did not decide to go. I just went. Moonflowers blossom in the sand hills before dawn, just as I followed him.” Again, she presents the story of Yellow Woman as a kind of fate against which she herself is powerless.

It is only after Silva sends the narrator away that the forces keeping them together seem to slacken. She rides until she sees signs of the familiar river, and then follows the river to make her way home. When she comes across their first meeting place, the narrator experiences a strong urge to return to Silva, but she doesn’t, knowing that he will be waiting for her again in the future. As she imagines what her grandfather’s reaction to her disappearance would have been, she thinks about how Yellow Woman always comes back eventually. Just as the prophetic forces of the Yellow Woman stories compelled her to leave with Silva, they brought her back home, and she feels sure that one day the ka’tsina will beckon to her again.

The narrator’s deference to the Yellow Woman myths and her struggle to determine her relationship to them demonstrate Silko’s preoccupation as a writer with the power stories can hold over people. When experiencing the same storyline as Yellow Woman, the narrator explains that she never chose to go with Silva. She went as blossoms bloom before dawn: she had no choice in the matter, it simply happened. Though she is the narrator of this story, the overlapping Yellow Woman mythology overpowers her control of the narrative, and eventually it seems that she accepts her place in it. Though she returns to her family life and offers them a story befitting a modern, skeptical audience, her final thoughts about wishing to share her story with her deceased grandfather forge a connection between her and the old traditions he represents. The narrator exists in the modern world but has experienced for herself the undeniable influence of times long ago on her own unfolding life—as history and storytelling guide her fate.

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Time, Storytelling, Prophecy ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Yellow Woman related to the theme of Time, Storytelling, Prophecy.
Part One Quotes

“You are coming with me, remember?” He sat up now with his bare dark chest and belly in the sun.

“Where?”

“To my place.”

“And will I come back?”

He pulled his pants on. I walked away from him, feeling him behind me and smelling the willows.

“Yellow Woman,” he said.

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), Silva/Ka’tsina (speaker)
Page Number: 52
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:
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:

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.

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), Silva/Ka’tsina (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

Silva had come for me; he said he had. I did not decide to go. I just went. Moonflowers blossom in the sand hills before dawn, just as I followed him.

Related Characters: Yellow Woman/Narrator (speaker), Silva/Ka’tsina (speaker)
Page Number: 57
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: