American Mosaic, July 2011 FOCUS: Leslie Marmon Silko, “Lullaby” “Lullaby” is a short story that first appeared in a book entitled Storyteller in 1981. This was a book written by Leslie M. Silko that uses short stories, memories, poetry, family pictures, and songs to present her message. The book is concerned, in general, with the tradition of story-telling as it pertains to the Native American culture. Lullaby seems to be a story of tradition, change, death, loss and the tensions fostered as a result of them between the old couple in the story and the Anglo-American authorities of the time.
Throughout the story there are quite a few conflicts. Some are internal between Ayah and herself and others are external ones through Ayah, the white man, and Chato, her husband. The story is told by the main character, Ayah. She’s an old woman retracing tragic memories of life occurrences like the death of her son, Jimmie, in a helicopter crash during a war. She was not sure about what happened to him until a man in khakis drove up in a blue sedan and told her that he was dead and how he died. Jimmie was the one that taught Ayah to sign her name.
She regrets this greatly as she relays the loss of her other two children who were taken by white doctors because they were thought to have a disease, allegedly given to them by their grandmother. They were taken because, in fear of the white men who were yelling and pointing for her signature, she “signed” the children away. Later on, when they were brought to visit, it was apparent the children were forgetting their customs and language; further evidence of the completeness of her loss. These events seem to have severely alienated Ayah towards Chato as well.
Especially those specifically related to the children as indicated by, “She slept alone on the hill until the middle of November until the first snows came. Then she made a bed for herself where the children slept. She did not lie down next to Chato again until many years later when he was sick and shivering and only her body could keep him warm. ” Ayah also speaks of her husband’s work (Chato) as a fence mender for a nearby rancher. She took offense at the exploitation Chato endured at the hands of the rancher that employed im, and let him go without hesitation when Chato gets too old to work. As a result they lost their home when the rancher told Chato he [and “his old woman”] had to be out of the shack [they lived in] by the next afternoon. Despite Ayah’s immense sense of devotion to Chato it seems apparent that she sees him as a weak husband and resents him deeply for it. Though much of the story is of Ayah’s reminiscences, its present tense has Ayah searching for Chato. She finds him walking along the road late on a very cold night [seemingly] in a daze brought on by illness [and wine].
While resting together beside the road she wraps Chato in the army blanket Jimmie sent her thereby eliciting comfort from a symbol of one of her greatest losses. The lullaby she sings to him at the end of the story, as they lie together in the snow, is one that her grand-mother and mother sang to her as a child and seems to provide a sense of closure for her as she sings it. It is one of the last pieces of tradition she can cling to from her own culture as she waits for death to take her and her husband from under the cold, clear winter sky.