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Yellow Woman

Essay by   •  November 3, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,122 Words (5 Pages)  •  2,835 Views

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Often times in literature, authors use symbolism to drive home salient, prominent points, ideas or assertions. A very popular symbolic medium used is color. Black, typically used to represent dread, filth, dirt, and darkness. Or white, used to represent pureness, cleanliness, or innocence. Red, commonly used to symbolize love, or passion, romanticism. While reading, Leslie Marmon Silko's story, "Yellow Woman," I had difficulty determining what symbolic meanings or ideas were behind the color yellow, knowing that colors, in literature, historically hold meaning. Immediately I began to question if the word yellow had any racial, or social or cultural connections. Knowing that using color as an identity marker could be offensive, in "Yellow Woman" it was non-problematic. Although referring to someone or labeling them as belonging to a particular color is typically deemed derogatory, historically and socially; in "Yellow Woman," it was a cultural necessity or choice and still held negative connotations.

The color yellow holds a very large significance to the Keres people of Laguna and the Acoma Pueblos in New Mexico. The color not only holds religious importance but social, and economical importance as well. Yellow serves as the color of women, it is feminine. Women have their faces painted yellow at death such that upon their arrival to the spirit world, they'd be recognized as a woman. Culturally, these people tell stories, called Yellow Woman stories. They are about a huge variety of things, including power, retaliation, or behavior that is atypical of Keres and Acoma people. In Leslie Marmon Silko's story, "Yellow Woman" we have a protagonist who embodies almost every virtue of the Keres and Acoma people's Yellow Woman tales.

Silko's decision to use Yellow Woman as her protagonist was a distinct conscious choice, to bring awareness to the limitations of the women of the Keres people. The Oxford English Dictionary defines yellow as, "Of the colour of gold, butter, the yolk of an egg, various flowers, and other objects; constituting one (the most luminous) of the primary colours, occurring in the spectrum between orange and gold" (OED). Based off of this definition, one may be lead to believe that color yellow, symbolizes value, things of worth. This is not exclusively the case in Silko's "Yellow Woman." There are some things in conflict about the word/color yellow and the way it functions as a title for these tales about Keres tribe women. Therefore despite the luminous, the valuable, and richness given to the word yellow, based on the definition in the OED, we cant fully rely on that definition or the historical context of the word to fully comprehend the conflicts of women of the Keres people.

One of the most notable negative connotations and conflicts is definitely sexism and the restriction of women. The presence of sexism through "Yellow Woman" become more prominent as my claim was further justified by Allen, in her essay, "Kochinnenako in Academe: Three Approaches to Interpreting a Keres Indian Tale." She states,

"Many Yellow Woman tales highlight her alienation from the people: she lives with her grandmother at the edge of the village, for example, or she is in some way atypical, maybe a woman who refuses to marry, one who is known for some particular special talent, or one who is very quick-witted and resourceful. In many ways Kochinnenako is a role model, though she possesses some

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