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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 house. He ends up eating dinner and spending the night there. Later they make love. Tayo already had an experience like this one when, before the war, he went to the home of The Night Swan, Josiah’s lover, to tell her that Josiah could not make their appointment. After Tayo and The Night Swan made love, she said that he would remember this moment later.

While he is staying with the woman, he sees a pattern of stars in the north and decides to follow it. The search takes him to a mountain named for the swirling veils of clouds that cling to the peaks. On the mountain Tayo comes across the barbed wire of a ranch and finds the speckled cattle. He cuts the fence so they can escape toward Laguna. Two ranch hands catch Tayo but do not see the cattle in the distance. They are going to take him in but leave him when they see the tracks of a mountain lion. Still in search of the cattle, Tayo comes across a hunter with a freshly killed buck across his shoulders. The hunter suggests that Tayo’s cattle are probably down in the draw by his house. Tayo follows the hunter down to the house and meets the hunter’s wife, who is the same woman with whom he slept at the beginning of the search. The cattle are held in the woman’s corral; they came down off...

(This entire section contains 829 words.)

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the mountain the previous day. Tayo says good-bye to the woman and takes the cattle back to Laguna.

Upon returning, Tayo tells his grandmother that he is all right; the ceremony worked. He decides to stay with the cattle at the ranch rather than live among other people. There he again meets the woman, who this time calls herself Ts’eh, claiming that her Indian name is too long. They spend much time together, making love and talking. She teaches Tayo about plants and rain, and he is immersed in her love.

Ts’eh leaves and tells Tayo to remember everything she taught him. He takes a long walk and finds himself at the uranium mine. There he realizes the connection among all things of which Betonie spoke. He sees the mining and use of uranium as a sand painting created by witchery and used for destruction. In the production and release of the atomic bomb, from the first test explosion at Trinity site to the southeast to the top-secret laboratories in Los Alamos, the witchery joins everyone—Japanese, American, and Native American—into one clan united by one horrific fate. Tayo finally sees the pattern, the way all the stories fit together, and realizes that he is not crazy but is simply seeing things the way they truly are.


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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 Rocky, is the one who should have died.

Racism is also seen as a major contributor to the self-destructive behavior of other Indian veterans. Tayo’s friends retreat into alcoholism and repetitive recitations of their sexual exploits with white women; eventually they can feel good about themselves only when they commit violent acts of domination, reenacting the atrocities of war. Tayo himself falls victim to this temptation and stabs another veteran before embarking on his ceremonial journey toward psychological wholeness.

The process of healing provides another cultural juxtaposition: Tayo’s illness originally is defined and treated by white doctors, who attempt psychological explanations and scientific cures. Tayo’s stay in a mental hospital is described in images of whiteness; most tellingly, he feels immersed in a white fog. It is not until he goes through the ritual healing ceremonies of the Laguna that he realizes that his “craziness” may actually be a the result of special perception, the ability to realize the interconnectedness of seemingly unrelated events.

Through ceremony and story, Tayo comes to accept not only the power of traditional Indian ways but also the truth of ancient beliefs. Embarking on a journey to find his uncle’s stolen cattle, Tayo gradually senses his oneness with the earth and acknowledges that the earth gives of itself to humans out of love. Through this realization, he is able to overcome his hatred of humans—particularly the white people who are destroying the earth and one another—and his impulses toward violence.

Faced with the difficult test of stopping a brutal attack only by performing worse brutality himself, Tayo decides not to act and thus frees himself from the fear that he is as others have defined him: a drunken, lawless, incapable half-breed. With his choice, Tayo not only gains a sense of himself as an independent, strong individual but also recognizes the kinship among all peoples. His earlier confusion of the Japanese soldier with his uncle is transformed into the startling awareness that people are artificially divided and made to hate one another.

Symbolically, this recognition occurs near the site of played-out uranium mines in New Mexico; the weapon that defeated the Japanese had its origins on traditional Indian lands. Both Japanese and Native Americans have been victimized by the white race and have been deceived into fighting each other, but Tayo realizes that, ultimately, white people have injured the earth and themselves beyond repair or redemption. In realizing this, he affirms his Indian heritage and sees himself as the inheritor of Laguna traditions, traditions that teach him how to live fully after his dehumanizing military experience.