Literary Qualities

“Lullaby” is told from the third-person-restricted point of view. That means that, although the narrator is not a character in the story, the perspective of the story is entirely from that of the main character, Ayah. An old woman in the present tense of the story, Ayah thinks back on key events in her life. The story thus interweaves the present time of the old woman sitting outside, then going to look for her husband at the local bar, with her memories from childhood through old age. The story is told in non-chronological order, jumping from one time period or incident to another and back again, reproducing the old woman’s thought patterns rather than a standard narrative flow of events from beginning to end.

Silko’s narrative style of interweaving the old woman’s memories of the past with her present circumstances creates a non-linear narrative, in which thoughts and memories circle back on one another. Silko uses her narrative to represent elements of the oral tradition even in the story’s ending; when she perceives that her husband Chato, lying curled up in the snow, is dying, Ayah sings a lullaby that her grandmother used to sing to her. This is an important element of the story, because Silko is particularly interested in the ways in which the oral tradition is passed on from grandmother to granddaughter.

In addition to the focus on traditions of oral storytelling, Silko also uses motif-a minor theme or element that recurs throughout the story, gathering significance with each new appearance-to exemplify major themes in the story. The blanket is a key motif in this story, as it links Ayah with her grandmother and her dead son Jimmie, in addition to associations with both life and death throughout her life. The blanket also reminds Ayah of happier times, sitting outside while her mother wove blankets on a big loom and her grandmother spun the yarn from raw wool. Here, the traditional handwoven blanket made from scratch by the women in the family serves as a metaphor for the passing of the oral tradition between generations of women-just as her mother and grandmother wove blankets in a traditional way, so Ayah carries on the tradition of weaving a tale in the style of the oral tradition. The old army blanket becomes even more significant at the end of the story, when Ayah wraps it around her husband as he lies curled up to die in the snow. The motif of the blanket is an important element of this story because it expresses Silko’s concern with the ways in which Native Americans can combine traditional with contemporary culture in order to create meaning in their lives.

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