Study Guide

Ceremony

by Leslie Marmon Silko

Ceremony Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Tayo and Rocky join the Army because Rocky wants to join and because they both want to travel. However, the young men did not plan on seeing the Philippine jungle and the death that occurs there. Tayo cannot bring himself to shoot Japanese soldiers because they all resemble his uncle Josiah. Rocky is killed, and as the rain pours down incessantly, Tayo curses it and begs for it to stop.

Back at Laguna, New Mexico, Tayo sees the result of his curse. The land is dry, and nothing is growing. Tayo is as sick as the land. He keeps throwing up and cannot eat. Tayo’s family decides that he needs a healing ceremony, so the tribal healer, Ku’oosh, is called in to cure him. His ceremony, however, does not cure Tayo’s sickness. Ku’oosh, knowing that Tayo needs a special ceremony, sends him to a medicine man named Betonie.

Betonie cures with elements from contemporary culture, such as old magazines and telephone books, as well as with native ceremonies. He explains Tayo’s sickness to him. It is the witchery that is making Tayo sick, and it has the entire Native American population in its grip. The purpose of witchery is to prevent growth, and to grow is to survive. Betonie explains to Tayo that a new ceremony is needed and that he is a part of something much larger than his own sickness.

The Navajo medicine man makes a sand painting for Tayo to sit in to reorient him. When the ceremony is over, Betonie remarks that it is not yet complete. There are a pattern of stars, some speckled cattle, a mountain, and a woman whom Tayo has yet to encounter.

The speckled cattle are of Mexican origin, designed for the hard existence of northern New Mexico. Uncle Josiah bought them before he died, but when they were set loose to graze, they started south and kept moving, and neither Tayo nor Josiah can find them. Tayo realizes that part of his ceremony is to find these cattle.

He begins his search at the place where they last saw the cattle and soon meets a woman who lives in a nearby...

(The entire section is 829 words.)

Ceremony Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ceremony, Silko’s first published novel, won the attention of critics and other Native American writers, particularly N. Scott Momaday. Interestingly, the basic situation of Silko’s novel parallels that of Momaday’s House Made of Dawn. Both writers create protagonists who have been psychologically wounded by service in the Army during World War II and who encounter racism and brutality when they attempt to return to reservation life afterward. Although Momaday’s character eventually experiences a partial return to health, Silko’s main character, a “half-breed” named Tayo, fully overcomes his impulses toward violence by undergoing the traditional healing ceremonies of the past.

The novel continually pits the world of the white race against Indian culture, a contrast that is highlighted by Tayo’s experience as a soldier. Seen only as an American when he is in uniform, Tayo is treated well by white women and store owners, who are eager to help the boys at the front. Out of uniform, Tayo is relegated to the position of second-class citizen, either ignored or insulted by the same people who had been kind previously.

Tayo’s position is further complicated by the fact that he is not fully accepted in the Indian community either, because he has a Mexican father. The racism that contributes to his confused sense of identity also precipitates his breakdown: When he suddenly perceives a Japanese enemy to be no different from his Indian uncle, he collapses on the battlefield. His precarious mental condition is further jeopardized when his cousin Rocky, who has worked hard to assimilate himself into the mainstream culture, is killed in the war. Tayo returns to his aunt’s home on the reservation, convinced that he, not...

(The entire section is 722 words.)

Ceremony Summary

Part 1 Summary - Tayo's Alienation

Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony tells the story of Tayo, a mixed-blood Native American from the Laguna Pueblo reservation who is...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Part 2 Summary - Tayo's Visits to the Medicine Men

Eventually, a sympathetic doctor lets Tayo return to the reservation where his aunt and grandmother try to heal what the psychiatric hospital...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

Part 3 Summary - Tayo's Recovery

When Tayo returns home this time, he is even more determined to avoid his old friends and their self-destructive behavior. He gets sick of...

(The entire section is 384 words.)