Monday, September 15, 2014

(Yellow) Woman

In Storyteller, Leslie Marmon Silko references many of the well-known characters seen again and again in Pueblo stories. One of the most used is Yellow Woman, also known as Kochininako or Kochinnenako. Silko uses the concept of Yellow Woman throughout her stories, including the short story Yellow Woman, but also in several other poems. The yellow woman is supposed to represent any and all women. They are not supposed to be perfect, women are supposed to live and be happy, and more than anything Yellow Woman represents what a woman can be: anything she wants. As a writer who often utilizes feminism, Silko includes the character of Yellow Woman to invoke a sense of empowerment and courage in her readers.
Laguna culture has always been a society based on the passing down of stories through generations. The stories of yellow woman have been included for as long as oral traditions have been documented (Allen 226). While they vary greatly in content, there are some elements that remain consistent in all of the stories. Yellow Woman is not a specific persona, but in a sense she embodies all women in one character. Paula Gunn Allen, a literary critic specializing in Native American feminism, describes how yellow is a color closely related to women, such as pink would be in modern European culture (226). The obvious repetition in her name highlights the importance of Kochininako’s gender. Yellow Woman’s significance begins with her gender identity; she is unarguably a strong woman. While there are several different kinds of stories involving Yellow Woman, some are more common than others. Many include meeting with native spirits in human bodies, in others she acts as a typical house wife who does jobs around the home, while others have her embracing qualities stereotypically seen in men. No matter what the situation, Yellow Woman always stands out to the reader as a resilient female character.
An essential constant in Yellow Woman stories is that the point of view is typically from Kochininako’s perspective (226). This emphasizes the importance of her ideas and experiences. These experiences mirror the lives of individual women all over the world, particularly because her identity changes in almost every version of the stories recorded. Yellow Woman varies not only in Silko’s poems, but in others from Laguna culture. Kochininako often embodies one or more qualities that make her an outsider in her own culture (Allen 227). However, rather than this uniqueness setting her apart from the typical conformists ideas in Laguna culture, she is often able to help not only herself, but also her society (Allen 227). In Silko’s poem, Cottonwood Part Two: Buffalo Story, Kochininako is taken by the buffalo people and does not want to leave. Her disappearance results in Arrowboy finding her and killing the buffalo people, including Yellow Woman. In turn, she provides the whole clan with buffalo meat: “Nobody would be hungry then./ It was all because/one time long ago/our daughter, our sister Kochininako/went away with them.” Her escape from typical behavior results in an overall success for her people.
Silko often displays feminism in unique ways throughout her poems. She was raised in the Laguna Pueblo culture and was told many of the Yellow Woman stories during her childhood. While she has foundations with the traditional Indian ways, she also has several white ancestors, isolating her from her peers. Due to her upbringing, she did not learn the traditional Laguna Pueblo language creating a gap between herself and “typical” Native American women. Silko uses Yellow Woman stories as inspiration for herself and her readers. The fact that Yellow Woman is unique and that uniqueness is highlighted in a positive tone is motivating to any woman struggling with herself and society. Does any woman truly know who they are? In the story, Yellow Woman, the woman states: “I was wondering if Yellow Woman had known who she was—if she knew that she would become part of the stories.” Do any of the great female minds know that one day people will respect them, worship them, or even aspire to be them? Silko uses Yellow Woman to give women across the world hope. The reader can escape with her and do things they usually would not do. She is anyone we want her to be, or more importantly anyone we want to be. She escapes her dull marriage to be with the exciting man. She shoots as well as the men in her tribe. She helps save the Earth and bring back the sun. These ideas, while seated in traditional values are just as important today as when they were originally told. They inspire women to be anything they hope to be. In addition, these stories are constantly changing and are hardly ever the same each time they are orally told (Allen 228). Silko uses this idea to show that women in society are changing as well; she shows us that we are all Yellow Woman. Kochininako teaches the reader to be confident in his/herself, despite being different than the customary norm.

Works Cited

Allen, Paula Gunn. “The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions.” Beacon Press, 1986.


  1. First, I might try some rephrasing or reworking of the sentences in your first/ intro paragraph. Some of them seem to get a little confusing and perhaps run on a bit. However, I would not change your thesis at all because it is very clear and concise; I think it conveys the point you want to make in your paper and it gives the audience a solid foundation on which to base their reading of your essay.
    You do a wonderful job selecting and talking about the specific quotes you used to support your argument. For example, the first quote about the color yellow was very relevant and I believe you expanded on the quote in ways that made your argument clear. I especially liked the part at the end of the second paragraph where you talk about yellow woman as being a resilient female because of the different types of women she portrays. This idea is really strong and valuable to your argument; I would consider expanding on it in a possible revision. You may also want to expand on the Buffalo man example you used. I think you bring up an interesting point in that Kochininako almost acted like a sacrifice for her people. You may want to bring up how this is an especially empowering moment for readers as you mentioned in the thesis.
    I personally thought your concluding paragraph was really well done. You tied all of the loose ends together to create a very cohesive, well thought out paper. I can tell you put quite a good deal of thought into it, and it really came together. The one thing I would suggest is perhaps trying to include another source in a possible revision. Are there any articles that have opposing views on Yellow Woman’s character? I think your paper would lend itself nicely to this sort of back and forth of opinions, and I also think you would do a really strong job of explaining your argument against someone else’s. Overall, really well done!

  2. We've already discussed your research - it's not as focused upon the Laguna themselves as we might like, but it's a starting point. Delving deeper to find good sources would likely be part of any revision.

    You are juggling several ideas. Maybe the strongest piece of evidence you offer is the passing discussion of the color yellow, emphasizing that Yellow Woman stands in for all women, or for femininity as such. This is good material.

    I don't disagree, obviously, that Silko is a feminist. But what does it mean to be a feminist for her, in this book? Are the yellow woman stories feminist? What is the relationship between Silko's idea of feminism and her idea of femininity? Clearly you understand that the concepts are different, but you aren't really wrestling with the relationship (whatever it is) between the two.

    I like that you went to Cottonwood Story - but you're not yet engaged with the thorniest parts. After all, this is a rebellious woman who is *sacrified* so that her people may survive, which seems like a glaring rift between femininity and feminism. Or maybe that's my preconceptions talking, but if you revise you'll need to try to both deepen your research *and* wrestle with the problems these stories & poems pose for your (understandable and likely correct) desire to make Yellow Woman into an exemplary woman - but exemplary for what? For feminism or feminity? Or do you want to try to unite them?