Characterized by Actions in the Book, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris

Often times a character in literature is characterized by his or her actions, since many people believe that actions speak louder than words. However, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water provides a different way of characterization, since characters can be compared and contrasted through their register; the way that they describe their surrounds and feelings. For example, the three main characters of the book, Rayona, Christine, and Ida are all very keen to detail, which is shown by their use of metaphors and similes.

But despite this similarity, they are different in how they describe these details. Furthermore, their unique interpretations and analysis of events plays a large role in the story. This distinctiveness is well supported by the three different views we are given of events in this story. Therefore, the three main characters of A Yellow Raft in Blue Water are strongly characterized by the similarities and differences in their register and language.

There are many subtle similarities in the language and thoughts of Rayona, Christine, and Ida.

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They all are very observant, and are do not to miss a detail when they describe a person, or an event. For example, after Rayona reads the letter to Ellen, she is overcome by emotion, and uses similes in saying that “I keep staring at the letter, and it’s Mom reading in my head, like in the movies or on TV when the voice of the person who wrote something…” (Dorris 81). Rayona makes the reader relate and know exactly what she is thinking.

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The way that she does this will become important later on.

Christine is just like Rayona, since she doesn’t leave out any details when describing Dayton’s letter, especially since she had just found out that her brother had died and “Pictures raced through my mind like snapshots, a newsreel of Lee’s face…” (Dorris 193-194). Christine, like Rayona, wants the reader to know the rush of what she is feeling, and she does a very good job of conveying it. Christine also uses a simile, just as Rayona did, which is yet another similarity of their language. This is important since it could just be the author, Michael Dorris, using literary tools to his advantage. However, Christine and Rayona are family, so it is possible that Rayona just takes after her mother. But how does Ida fit into the braid?

Ida is as, if not more descriptive than her half-sister and niece, which can be seen in her reaction to Willard’s heart-braking statement. After Willard says that Ida is neither beautiful nor smart, she describes her emotion by thinking, “His voice droned on, but I lost the sense of meaning. I heard only the beginnings of his statement, again and again. The air in the little room was dry and unmoving. Yellow mums withered on stiff stalks, their pots wrapped in colored foil” (Dorris 350). Ida is able to see the big picture, describing every detail just as Rayona and Christine did. However, Ida paints this picture with a different brush than Christine and Rayona.

Even though these three characters describe the actions of other people in a similar way, each with a good amount of detail, the specific way that they describe them is different. While Christine and Rayona are very apt to using other items or events to help better describe someone or something, Ida is very straight forward and only uses her direct surroundings. In the first of the textual evidences above, where Rayona says “Mom reading in my head, like in the movies or on TV when”, she uses a simile to get her point across. Christine also uses a simile to describe what happens in her life, when she says “raced through my mind like snapshots, a newsreel”, she uses the word ‘like’ to compare. But in Ida’s case, she just describes the general state of the environment, when she says “The air in the little room was dry and unmoving. Yellow mums withered on stiff stalks, their pots wrapped in colored foil”. This is a very lucid depiction of what is going on, which works just as well as Rayona or Christine’s method, but is different. This says a lot about Ida, because after Willard she decides to never become emotionally attached to anyone. Ida’s language proves that she is quick to make decisions, obstinate, and when she eventually decides to withdraw from the world, it can be said that Ida is emotionless. However, this is not all, because Ida, Rayona, and Christine reveal more about their inner selves when they interpret other characters’ actions and speech.

When the three main characters are talking to each other, or even other people, there is sometimes a case of misunderstanding, or misinterpretation on someone’s part, and this happens because of a difference in language. The best example of this is how the stories of Rayona and Christine are slightly different. For example, while reading Rayona’s part, the audience is made to believe that Christine is a bad person. However, later on in Christine’s part, the reader finds out that it is not completely her fault that she is such a bad mother. It becomes apparent that Christine was not raised by such a good mother either. She was also was deeply scarred by Lee’s death, which is seen in the excerpt of Christine thinking how “Pictures raced through my mind like snapshots, a newsreel of Lee’s face…”(Dorris 193-194). Even though this is not an excuse, it can be seen that, because Rayona does not know her own or Christine’s past, she miscast Christine as a completely bad mother. And during Rayona’s story it also seems like Ida is a compassionate, caring mother, and a good person; however later on in Christine’s part our view is slightly different. Christine puts it into her head that Ida is a bad mother, because Christine does not want to accept the fact that she herself is just as bad a mother. However in Ida’s part one learns again that, despite being “not beautiful… not very smart” (Dorris 350), Ida was the one that Willard could say “when no one else cared for me, she was there” (Dorris 350). Ida is a good person, and because of Christine’s bad illustration of Ida, it can also be seen that Christine may be so insecure with herself that she is blaming her faults on other people.

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water contains many similarities and differences that are found in the registers of the main characters. These characters, Rayona, Christine, and Ida, all are very good at depicting a scene through speech and thought; however some do it differently than others. Because of this, there were many links throughout the story, and it brings the reader to see things that even actions can not show. But if the reader digs deeper, it also becomes apparent that the characters’ register also reveals misinterpretations that are critical to the story. Therefore, the three main characters of A Yellow Raft in Blue Water are powerfully distinguished by the resemblances and differentiations in their language.

Cite this page

Characterized by Actions in the Book, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris. (2022, Apr 06). Retrieved from

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