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Yellow Woman in Silko's Storyteller

Critically acclaimed Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) epitomizes the tradition of storytelling. Silko’s book Storyteller is a collection of prose and poetry filled with visual imagery which highlights dramatic themes and events within her compositions. Feminine characters find a link between reality and spirituality in “Yellow Woman” and “Cottonwood,” two stories found in Storyteller.

Silko characterizes Yellow Woman as a female spirit fueled by a connectedness with nature and the power of femininity. Yellow Woman’s authority is strengthened by an awakened passion from deep within the everyday woman. The narrator, who is nameless, struggles with this power and two identities or worlds: one is her contemporary life as a housewife and mother, and the other is the traditional pueblo heritage in Laguna. This heritage is abundant with legend and oral tradition, which she now realizes as she crosses over—or becomes part of—the reality of the story. Her experiences are a narrative that now becomes a part of the larger stories passed on by generations of oral tradition, therefore fulfilling her place or identity in the pueblo.

The woman struggles with her identity, but the brief affair she has enables her to feel empowered again. She becomes her oral tradition when she accepts the role of Yellow Woman, and recognizes that Yellow Woman may be hidden in all women. Through the reflections of the narrator, it becomes evident to the reader that Yellow Woman is caught between two worlds. Is her encounter a transgression or an act of heroism as she embarks on this journey to blend two worlds together? The man at the riverbank, or kachina spirit, already reveals one character owning elements of two realities. The tone of the story tells the reader that the pueblo culture is matrilineal rather than male dominated as in Western culture. This Native American culture values fertility, which further strengthens the significance of the female sexuality and hierarchy in society.

As the story progresses, this woman accepts that the two worlds are a part of each other and this concept comes to fruition in the story “Cottonwood.” The moral reveals a self-sacrificing heroine who gives of herself so that her people will not go hungry. In the Western male-dominated society, it is the male who serves as hero to provide for his family or community. It is interesting to note the theme of a woman dominant society highlighted again when the heroine says her grandfather chose “Yellow Woman” as his favorite story. The protagonists are women—Yellow Woman and Spider Woman—the women who facilitate events for the greater good of their people. Not only does the narrator take Yellow Woman’s place in the stories, she steps into her grandfather’s shoes; she is the storyteller who will renew the Pueblos’ traditions through her telling of the story.

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