Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
When Christine rents Christine and Little Big Man at Village Video, she describes the movies as Rayona’s inheritance, but they come to stand as more than just physical gifts. Christine chooses the videos specifically because they are films that show the kind of tough determination that Christine hopes Rayona sees in her. When Christine is gone, the movies remind Rayona of her and become surrogates for her physical presence. When Christine, Rayona, Ida, and Dayton watch the films together, they create a final memory of unity and come to stand for family harmony as well. Christine picks the movies with ambitious goals, yet they exceed even her expectations and shape the legacy they are supposed to symbolize.
Rayona finds a torn letter on the ground while she is doing custodial work at Bearpaw Lake State Park. The letter becomes Rayona’s symbol of the perfect family. In fact, the piece of paper Rayona finds is just a fragment that does not say too much, but the basic ideas it includes—having parents on good enough terms that they will sign a letter together—are so foreign to Rayona that she magnifies them into the rosiest portrait imaginable. Only when Rayona has breakfast with her mother at a diner several weeks later does she throw the letter away, a gesture that indicates that Rayona has finally found peace with her real family.
References to braids are made subtly throughout A Yellow Raft In Blue Water, and they become a symbol of how the lives of different family members, like the different parts of the story, can overlap and form a more complete whole. The most prominent of these references is the one that ends the novel, when Father Hurlburt and Ida go up to her roof on the night that the world is supposed to end and she starts braiding her hair in the darkness. Dorris ends the novel with this image because it is an apt symbol for the novel itself. The stories told by Rayona, Christine, and Ida are all part of a greater story, and this story can be told in full only if their narratives are looked at together. Therefore, Dorris uses the image of the braid—three strands of hair that are woven together, pulled one over the other and merged—to illustrate further how his novel and the lives of its characters overlap and complement each other.