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Ceremony traces the journey of Tayo, an abandoned mixed-blood Laguna Indian, from mental fragmentation, alienation, and despair to spiritual wholeness, reconciliation, and peace. The novel not only describes a healing ceremony for the characters but also becomes a healing ceremony for the reader. His cousin Rocky’s death in World War...

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Ceremony traces the journey of Tayo, an abandoned mixed-blood Laguna Indian, from mental fragmentation, alienation, and despair to spiritual wholeness, reconciliation, and peace. The novel not only describes a healing ceremony for the characters but also becomes a healing ceremony for the reader. His cousin Rocky’s death in World War II has destroyed Tayo’s life; the sense that Tayo, as a prisoner of war with Rocky, killed his cousin will not leave him. It began when he cursed the rain in the Philippine jungles that worsened Rocky’s leg injury, eventually prompting the Japanese guard to shoot Rocky because the other prisoners could no longer carry him. Tayo believes that he created an irreparable breach between the human and natural worlds resulting in the drought on the Laguna pueblo, his uncle Josiah’s death, and the loss of Josiah’s spotted cattle. Only the reconciliation of those worlds will bring peace.

The novel moves from spring through one whole cycle of seasons to fall, from Tayo’s frightened, indistinct “white smoke” self to psychic and spiritual completeness. Memories of the war combine with memories of the Laguna pueblo. Japanese faces and voices resemble the Laguna people whom Tayo has known all his life. Jungle and high desert become one. When Tayo cursed the rain—the jungle rain, the New Mexico rain—he believed that her precipitated the suffering. The story that Leslie Marmon Silko tells, however, is much more that a World War II veteran’s struggle to become reintegrated into reservation life. Tayo’s experience reflects a cosmic disruption that can be repaired only when powers in the universe are appeased, which demands a unification of the genders. Yet it is not simply a matter of bringing together women and men. It also means bringing together female and male within each person, as well as the female and male forces informing everything in the universe.

Ceremony begins with a poem reflecting Laguna cosmology. The creator of all that exists, according to the Laguna people, is Thought-Woman, also known as Grandmother Spider or Spider Woman. From her mind came all things (“whatever she thinks about/ appears”), and the world was a product of her words (“as she named them/ they appeared”). The novel itself is Thought-Woman’s story of Tayo’s journey to find himself, a journey requiring an androgynous joining of genders. In the Laguna matrilineal culture, a person’s social identity—the clan to which one belongs— derives from the mother; religious identity and knowledge come through the father. It requires, then, both female and male to form an integrated self. Both the ceremony Tayo undertakes and the verbal ceremony Silko creates in her novel result in personal and cosmic healing. The narrator in the opening poem insists, “You don’t have anything/ if you don’t have the stories.” Tayo has lost them and must reclaim them; readers must allow Silko to relate them for the first time.They are stories of the power of the feminine life force in conflict with the deadly and destructive forces of war, witchery, and evil. They are stories ultimately of reconciliation and peace, if only for a time.

The half-white, half-Laguna protagonist, Tayo, engages in a healing ceremony initiated by his grandmother. When the medicine of the pueblo’s shaman, old Ku’oosh, is not powerful enough to heal him, Tayo is taken to the Gallup hogan of another mixed-blood, Betonie, a Navajo holy man possessing great wisdom. Living in a place cluttered with old calendars and telephone books from all the cities he has ever visited, smelling of roots, plants, and berries that hang in burlap sacks from the ceiling, green-eyed Betonie does not appear able to cure Tayo. Yet the man’s knowledge of both humans and the universe allows the healing process to begin. From this place, Tayo begins his journey that will lead to wholeness, a journey that has Tayo following Josiah’s spotted cattle into the mountains and eventually back to the Laguna pueblo. Along the way, he encounters white men, a beautiful and mysterious woman, and his old friends Emo, Pinkie, Harley, and LeRoy. All lead him and the world to reconciliation.

Context

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With the publication of House Made of Dawn in 1968, N. Scott Momaday initiated what has been called the Native American Renaissance. Many American Indian writers have said that his work not only validated their lives but also seemed to give them permission to write their own stories. Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony had a similar effect on many American Indian women writers. Yet Silko has objected to her writing being categorized by its ethnicity: “I think what writers, storytellers, and poets have to say necessarily goes beyond such trivial boundaries as origin. There’s also the danger of demeaning literature when you label certain books by saying this is black, this is Native American, and then, this is just writing.” Nevertheless, she has inspired others to follow the path that she has forged for them. Louise Erdrich is the most prominent among them, but the list also includes such writers as Paula Gunn Allen, Diane Glancy, Rayna Green, Joy Harjo, and Anna Walters.

While Ceremony offers a male protagonist and ostensibly concerns a man’s experience, Silko actually demonstrates the centrality of the feminine in the universe and in human existence. From Thought Woman’s mind came all things—women, men, this world, the four other worlds, and all creatures. Only in the unity of the feminine and the masculine can wholeness be achieved.

Places Discussed

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*Gallup

*Gallup. Northwestern New Mexico city on the Puerco River that is the seat of McKinley County. With Navajo communities to the north and west, Zuni to the south, and various Pueblo tribes to the east, Gallup is an important regional center for Indian arts and crafts, as well as an area headquarters for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The protagonist, Tayo, goes to Gallup to ask a medicine man named Betonie for a special ceremony. 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 as due to witchery.

*Laguna

*Laguna. Tayo’s home, the center of Laguna Pueblo culture, located about fifty miles west of Albuquerque, to which he returns after the war. Historically, Laguna Pueblo became one of the most cosmopolitan pueblos because of its position on a major east-west route that later included a train line; the pueblo is also the birthplace of author Leslie Silko.

*Philippines

*Philippines. World War II combat zone in which Tayo served before returning to New Mexico. Recalling that he was unable to fire upon Japanese soldiers because they seemed to resemble his uncle, Tayo begins the novel thinking himself insane and begins his quest to find a ceremony that will cure him of his madness.

*Mount Taylor

*Mount Taylor. Snow-capped New Mexico mountain northwest of Laguna Pueblo that is usually visible from the town. Known to the Laguna people as “Tsepina” (woman who walks in the clouds), the mountain is considered a holy place. Tayo eventually actualizes much of his personal ceremony in the wilderness area by the mountain.

*Paguate

*Paguate. Small village about six miles north of Laguna Pueblo that is believed, in Laguna cosmology, to be the Place of Emergence—the place where human beings emerged into the present world from the worlds below. Flooded underground uranium mines near Paguate represent an evil re-rendering of the natural landscape that Tayo struggles to overcome throughout the novel.

Historical Context

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Pueblo Indians
The people of the Anasazi tradition inhabit the area of what is now the Southwestern United States (from Taos, New Mexico, to the Hopi mesas in Arizona). They are named Pueblo, meaning "village Indians" in Spanish. They live in concentrated villages of buildings constructed from adobe local clay, and stone. These buildings are entered from the top floor. The buildings, often reaching to five stories, surround a plaza with a central kiva—a ceremonial place dug into the ground.

Of these people, the western Keres Tribe inhabits Acoma and Laguna. Acoma, perched atop a 400-foot mesa, has been continuously inhabited since at least 1075 AD. Laguna was established more recently. The Pueblo economy centered on a sophisticated system of dry farming and seed cultivation. The matrilineal culture had its labor division: men farmed and performed the ceremonial dances; women made intricate basketry, exquisite pottery, and built the houses. Government was carried on by consensus; warfare was avoided; and trade took place with the Plains tribes to the north and the empires to the south.

Around the time the novel was written, two tragedies struck the Laguna-Acoma communities in the 1970s. First, a teenage suicide pact led to funerals for a number of boys and girls in 1973. Second, a man murdered and dismembered two friends. The murderer then bullied another friend to borrow a car from which he scattered the parts. He later said that he found the ax irresistible.

Colonialism
Spanish rule began with Don Francisco Vasquez de Cornado in 1540. Soon thereafter, the tribes and their lands were recognized as subject to the King of Spain. This recognition is important, to this day as it supersedes, by international law, the claims of Mexico and then the United States. It was this charter that Silko heard discussed when Tribal officials charged New Mexico with land theft. The Spanish conquest brought Christianity, missionaries, and death to the Pueblos. To survive, they accepted baptism and Christianity as an extension to their religion.

The Mexican authorities came in the early 1800s. They demanded that the people speak Spanish, live in rectangular houses, adopt a representational government, enroll their children in Mexican schools, and, more drastically, accept individual land holdings owned by the male head of household. On the positive side, Catholicism was not as rigorously imposed and so indigenous religion regained some of its popularity.

The United States took over in 1848 when the Treaty of Guadeloupe-Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War. The Americans substituted English for Spanish and added the choice of Protestantism as a religion for the Pueblo people. The Americans also demanded that the people farm like Americans—who farmed like Europeans. This style of agriculture, however, depends on European or Eastern seaboard rainfall. The Pueblo crescent receives an annual rainfall of 13 inches (a proper amount for a desert). It was not long before the region was ruined economically. Since then, the Pueblo cities have been declared reservations and surrounded by white society.

World War II
By the start of World War II, every Native-American group had been relegated to reservations for at least 40 years. That was enough time for the boarding schools and missionaries to have broken many spirits and fostered a sense, among some, of patriotism for the United States. When war broke out, many young men saw enlisting as an opportunity to gain entrance into mainstream white society. The United States also saw a need for Native Americans. They became invaluable, cheap, and immediate code talkers. From the Pacific Theater to the European Theater the Native-American languages of the Lakota, Comanche, Navajo, Kiowa, and many others were heard over the airwaves. Strangely, it is difficult to know how many Native Americans fought in World War II because only the code talkers were 'racially' identified.

In addition to their language, the Native Americans possessed other resources. Vast amounts of plutonium, uranium, gold, oil, and other valuable deposits lie beneath the barren reservations of South Dakota, Oklahoma, and the Pueblo Crescent. On the Laguna reservation they dug up the materials needed for the research being done at Los Alamos, a mere 70 miles away. Trinity—test site for the A-bomb—was also close to the Pueblo reservation.

The Indigenous Revival
From N. Scott Momaday's Pulitzer Prize to the seizure of Alcatraz Island, Native Americans were on the move in 1969 and showed no signs of slowing. In 1970, the Cherokee nation formed a new constitution and took the first steps toward rejecting the American notion of race. Their constitution allowed membership in the tribal roles by virtue of ancestry. In 1970, they reclaimed the lands illegally stolen from them after they were removed to Oklahoma. Activists from the Cherokee nation were joined by hundreds of other Native Americans in their walk retracing the Trail of Tears. In 1975, the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes filed a claim for nearly the entire state of Maine.

The most notorious, feared, and militant group came from Minneapolis in the 1960s. AIM (American Indian Movement) led a caravan to DC in 1972. When the Nixon administration refused to meet with them, they took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building. Yielding to the threat of force, they absconded with tons of records. These records were given to their lawyers and used in law-suits against the FBI.

The tension that resulted led to the showdown at Wounded Knee. There the United States military surrounded AIM activists for 71 days. AIM won. The media presence kept fatalities to one. AIM also brought its one concern—the Laramie Treaty of 1858—to public awareness. The tie-ups in court, unfortunately, slowed down the Native-American activists by the late 1970s. By then the whole world was aware of the civil rights violations committed against Native Americans. This awareness was all the greater because of a march on the UN Conference on Indigenous Peoples held in Geneva in 1977. Prominent leaders from Canada, the Iroquois nation, Mexico, South America, and the Hopi nation were joined by AIM and paraded in under drum and song. There they made their speeches and met with world leaders. The American press corps boycotted the event.

Literary Style

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Style
An apocryphal story has it that when an Indian was praised for his poetry, he said, "In my tribe we have no poets. Everyone talks in poetry." There is no clear distinction between prose and poetry among people who have an oral tradition and a pictographic literature called codices (none but a handful of the codices remain). Silko took advantage of this and of her English language education to invent a written Pueblo style. By using the page itself, she mimics a pictograph in her opening quatrains. The blend of prose and poetry throughout the novel enable her to weave new events with old stories.

Silko's style also allows her to save the old stories by spreading them. The affinity she creates between herself and Thought-Woman, as well as Tayo and various story figures, allows her to tell many stories in one novel. The result is that many readers who know nothing about the Laguna Reservation feel like an old friend to the characters in the novel.

Stereotype
Stereotypes are employed throughout the novel, such as the archetype of the drunken Indian. But the novel uses these stereotypes about Native Americans to tell a powerful and potentially subversive story. The figure of the drunken Indian is used to illustrate how negative images of Native Americans have become ingrained in the American consciousness. In another instance, by making use of the clownish vets, she can warn America that not only are the Native Americans not defeated but they are making a comeback. All of this is done within the Pueblo style because, in fact, clowns are a big part of Pueblo ceremonies.

Part of the Pueblo technique of storytelling is the belief that the story exists in the listeners. This cuts both ways; part of the reason the novel succeeds is that white society expects Native Americans to include myth and ceremony in their explanations for the world. So while Silko can offer a solution for veterans, for example, she can also speak to mainstream whites because she is telling a Native-American story. Even her accusations of white America are done in a Native-American way—by a story about witches. Lastly, in an almost harmless way, Silko is telling Americans beforehand that Native Americans will get justice—all in good time.

Literary Techniques

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Silko once explained the Pueblo linguistic theory to an audience (found in Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit), and that theory explains the narrative technique of her novel:

For those of you accustomed to being taken from point A to point B to point C, this presentation may be somewhat difficult to follow. Pueblo expression resembles something like a spider's web—with many little threads radiating from the center, crisscrossing one another. As with the web, the structure emerges as it is made, and you must simply listen and trust, as the Pueblo people do, that meaning will be made.

Critics have lauded Ceremony's nonchronological narrative. Silko's purpose in using this technique for her story is to mimic, once again, the zigzag pattern of the Corn dance as well as to stay true to Thought-Woman. That is, the whole of the novel is a ceremony that the reader performs with every new reading. It is intended to blur the distinction between real time and "story time" in such a way that the reader is better able to empathize with the perspective of a traditional Pueblo like Grandma: "It seems like I already heard these stories before ... only thing is, the names sound different."

Additionally, the narrative is told in third person mixed with traditional narrative. The stories of Thought-Woman, the Gambler, and the witches provide context for the saga of Tayo within the larger context of the Pueblo story. The Pueblos see themselves as their language, as a story.

I will tell you something about stories .. . They aren't just entertainment. Don't befooled. They are all we have . . . all we have to fight off illness and death.

As such, there are no boundaries between the present ceremony Tayo performs and the whole ceremony the people perform to stay in balance with their belief system: "You don't have anything/if you don't have the stories."

Along with praise for her narrative technique, Silko is applauded for her close observation of human behavior. She remains true to life without idealizing her characters or setting. Her story is set in the depressed Laguna Reservation where, she says in passing, the orchards have been ruined by uranium runoff, drought is ruining crops, the Herefords are dying, and the young men are drunk. She pulls no punches in describing Gallup, and she makes no effort to idealize her characters.

Silko paints a realistic picture of society on the reservation after World War II. In doing so, however, she does not make the people out to be pathetic—Robert, Ku'oosh, Auntie, and Josiah are all respectable people. Nor does she make them into incredible heroes. Silko's characters are struggling to negotiate the best route of survival in a world that they perceive as being dominated by destructive forces. Finally, as a result of their trials and tribulations, these people have a wisdom they would like to share with the white world—if the white world would just pause to listen.

An apocryphal story has it that when a Native American was praised for his poetry, he said, "In my tribe we have no poets. Everyone talks in poetry." There is no clear distinction between prose and poetry among people who have an oral tradition and a pictographic literature called a codex (none but a handful of the codices remain). Silko took advantage of this to create a stylized written language for the Pueblos. She mimics a pictograph in her opening quatrains. The blend of prose and poetry throughout the novel enables her to weave new events into the traditional stories.

Silko's style also allows her to save the old stories by spreading them. The similarities she draws between herself and Thought-Woman, as well as Tayo and various other figures, allow her to tell many stories in one novel. The result is that many readers who know nothing about the Laguna Reservation feel like the characters in the novel are old friends.

Stereotypes are employed throughout the novel, such as the archetype of the drunken Indian. But the novel uses these stereotypes about Native Americans to tell a powerful and potentially subversive story. The figure of the drunken Indian is used to illustrate how negative images of Native Americans have become ingrained in the American consciousness. In another instance, by making use of the clownish war veterans, she can warn America that not only are the Native Americans not defeated, they are also choosing to have a voice in society. All of this is done with respect towards Pueblo tradition because, in fact, clowns play an important role in Pueblo ceremonies.

A feature of the Pueblo technique of storytelling is the belief that the story exists in the listeners. This cuts both ways; part of the reason the novel succeeds is that white society expects Native Americans to include myth and ceremony in their explanations for the world. Also, her criticisms of white America are related in Native American terms: the story includes references to witches. Finally, in a subtle way, Silko is telling Americans in Ceremony that Native Americans will get justice—all in good time.

Ideas for Group Discussions

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Silko tells the memorable story of a young Native American war veteran who tries to heal his emotional scars by searching for and returning to the traditions of his ancestors.

1. Silko refers to some of the environmental problems facing the Laguna Reservation after World War II. How do these problems affect the people's culture? How do they affect Tayo's ceremony? How does Silko illuminate these problems without documenting them and, then, how are they resolved, if at all?

2. Write an essay about the Pueblo theory of witchery. What types of behavior both in the story and in reality could be considered witchery? How does this theory help to spread responsibility while suggesting a solution to problems of greed, pollution, and hunger?

3. Silko suggests that the neglected Pueblo ceremonial traditions are not only useful but also essential to future survival. Think of some other religious traditions that either are out of use or corrupted. What value might they have, if any, once rejuvenated?

4. Without exception, the Native American people prophesied that the white man was coming. Those same prophecies also say that all things European will disappear. What do you think that means? Is it coming to pass?

5. Some cultures have definite patterns of recognition and "rites of passage." For example, the Plains Indians have a Vision Quest wherein a young person is "put out" on a hilltop, or laid in a shallow grave, with four days of water. This allows the adolescent to have a vision or receive a message about his future role in the community. Jews, on the other hand, acknowledge their adolescents with a Bar Mitzvah celebration. Modern secular culture has no similar rituals. In Ceremony, the young men saw enlistment in the army as a rite of passage into white society. Research the cultural function of "rites of passage." Are they needed? If so, what sort of ceremony could you envisage for celebrating the attainment of maturity in America?

6. While the rest of the nation has seen a drop in violent crime (by twenty-two percent), Native American reservations are experiencing a crime wave (up by eighty-seven percent). The baby boom on the reservation of the 1980s has translated into a large number of youths, and these kids and young adults are just beginning to imitate urban gangs in terms of culture, violence, and drugs. The U.S. Congress and President Bill Clinton proposed to spend additional millions on new prisons and law enforcement on the Native American land. Thinking about Ceremony, argue for an alternative solution to the infant gang problem. Then, do some research into alternative programs for Native American offenders: why are they underfunded and ignored?

7. Gather a number of brief accounts (cultural, historical, and archaeological) of the Pueblo Indians. Compare the ways in which the Native Americans of the Southwest are presented. Oftentimes these descriptions will include suggestions on when to visit reservations to see them dance. Given what you now know about Gallup, consider the ethics of this tourism. Is it ethical to encourage recreational gawking at Native Americans? What does this say about our culture in the 1990s?

8. The Mayans were one of three civilizations to invent the mathematical concept of zero. The Pueblo people developed several strains of corn. What other knowledge and resources did the Native Americans possess that were either stolen or buried (hint: research calendars, the material used for tires, and medical procedures)?

Social Concerns

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After decades of conflict with the U.S. Government, Native Americans were encouraged to leave their reservations for big cities during the 1950s and 1960s. Many did, but precious few were successful in large urban areas. In order to provide needed support and offer hope for themselves, these individuals formed political organizations such as Red Power and the American Indian Movement (AIM). Membership in these groups helped displaced Native Americans acquire pride in their culture, while also providing them with a network of support as they waged battles for their constitutional rights in courts and in towns across America. At the same time, Native American people found themselves returning to their traditions, and Native American activists inspired young people to learn as many of the old ways as they could. A Laguna woman who was part of this cultural renaissance became one of its most celebrated authors.

Her name is Leslie Marmon Silko and she had already gained attention with the publication of her first poetry collection, Laguna Woman, in 1974. In 1977 Silko issued Ceremony. This story illustrates the importance of recovering the old stories and merging them with modern reality to create a stronger culture. In the novel, a young man named Tayo, from the Laguna Reservation, returns from fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He is suffering from a battle fatigue that white medicine cannot cure. Through his struggle back to health, we learn that the way to heal the self, the land, and the people is to rediscover the neglected traditional ceremonies and our relationship to the earth. Noted for her nonchronological narrative and ability to blend poetry with prose, Silko has been praised as a master novelist.

The Pueblo people featured in the novel, also known as the people of the Anasazi tradition, now inhabit the southwestern United States, primarily in northern New Mexico. (The word "pueblo" means "village Indians" in Spanish.) Many live in concentrated villages of buildings constructed from adobe (clay bricks) and stone. These buildings are entered via ladders from the top floor. The buildings, often reaching to five stories, surround a plaza with a central kiva—a ceremonial place dug into the ground.

The Pueblo economy centered on a sophisticated system of dry farming and seed cultivation. The matrilineal culture had its labor division: men farmed and performed the ceremonial dances, while women made intricate basketry and exquisite pottery and built the houses. Government was carried on by consensus, warfare was avoided, and trade took place with the Plains tribes to the north and the empires to the south. Spanish rule began in the area with Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1540. With the Spanish conquest came Christianity, and in order to survive, many Pueblos accepted it as an extension of their religion.

In 1848, with the end of the Mexican-American War, the area came under the rule of the United States. Eventually, the Pueblo cities were declared reservations. By the start of World War II, every Native American group had been relegated to reservations for at least forty years, enough time to have fostered a sense, among some, of patriotism for the United States. When war broke out, many young men saw enlisting as an opportunity to gain entrance into mainstream white society. The United States military also saw a need for Native Americans, who became invaluable as code talkers, transmitting classified messages in code. From the Pacific Theater to the European Theater, the Native American languages of the Lakota, Comanche, Navajo, Kiowa, and many others were heard over the airwaves. Strangely, it is difficult to know how many Native Americans fought in World War II because only the code talkers were "racially" identified.

The Native Americans possessed many resources. Vast amounts of plutonium, uranium, gold, oil, and other valuable deposits lie beneath the barren reservations of South Dakota, Oklahoma, and the Pueblo Crescent. On the Laguna reservation, they mined the materials needed for the research being done at Los Alamos, a mere 70 miles away. Trinity—test site for the A-bomb—was also close to the Pueblo reservation.

By the mid-1960s, beginning with N. Scott Momaday's Pulitzer Prize, Native American peoples and their issues were gaining national attention. In 1970 the Cherokee nation formed a new constitution and took the first steps toward rejecting the American notion of race. Their constitution allowed membership in the tribal roles by virtue of ancestry. In 1970 they reclaimed the lands illegally stolen from them after they were removed to Oklahoma. Activists from the Cherokee nation were joined by hundreds of other Native Americans in their walk retracing the Trail of Tears. In 1975 the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes filed a claim for nearly the entire state of Maine.

The most notorious, feared, and militant Native American group came from Minneapolis in the 1960s. AIM led a caravan to Washington, D.C., in 1972, and when the Nixon administration refused to meet with them, they took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building. Yielding to the threat of force, they absconded with numerous records. These records were given to their lawyers and used in lawsuits against the FBI.

The tension that resulted led to a showdown at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. There the U.S. military surrounded AIM activists for 71 days, until worldwide pressure brought the conflict to an end. AIM was able to bring its major concern—the Laramie Treaty of 1858—to public awareness. By then, the whole world was aware of the civil rights violations committed against Native Americans. This awareness was made all the greater because of a march on the United Nations Conference on Indigenous Peoples held in Geneva in 1977. Leaders of AIM joined prominent leaders from the Iroquois and Hopi nations, Canada, and South America; together they paraded in under drum and song. There they made speeches and met with world leaders. The American press corps boycotted the event.

The story of Ceremony is set during the 1970s, a time when a pair of tragedies struck the Laguna-Acoma communities. First, a teenage suicide pact led to the deaths of a number of boys and girls in 1973. Second, a man murdered and dismembered two friends. The murderer then bullied another friend into borrowing a car from which he scattered the body parts. He later said that he found the ax "irresistible."

Literary Precedents

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After ten years of work, Silko published her second novel, Almanac of the Dead. This novel is more overtly political and reflects the hysteria surrounding illegal immigration, drug running, the CIA, and other issues of the 1980s. Like Ceremony, legends are interwoven with the present day as an ancient book is pieced back together after being smuggled out of the clutches of the book-burning Spanish.

Silko corrects some mistakes about her own biography and gives insights into her work in a book of essays, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (1996). In this collection, she tells of her fascination with photography, the ancient codices, and some of the historical events which influenced her novels.

Bibliography

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Allen, Paula Gunn. “The Feminine Landscape of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.” In Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs, edited by Paula Gunn Allen. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1983. A foundational essay that articulates the importance of the feminine in Tayo’s healing, written by a Laguna Pueblo writer and critic.

Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. A central work by one of the most important literary and cultural critics of American Indian writing and life. The seventeen essays contained in this collection range from discussions of myths and symbols to contemporary literature, from traditional family structure to American Indian feminism. Of particular interest is Allen’s essay devoted to Ceremony.

Coltelli, Laura. Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. A useful collection of interviews with major American Indian writers, including Leslie Marmon Silko. Includes a substantial discussion of Ceremony.

Garcia, Reyes. “Senses of Place in Ceremony.MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 10, no. 4 (1983): 37-48. An exploration of the sense of place embodied by Tayo at the end of the ceremony. Also shows the importance of language and story in reorienting Tayo into his “place.”

Larson, Charles R. American Indian Fiction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1978. An early but helpful critical study of American Indian writers. Provides a good overview of the literary context and tradition from which Silko writes.

Lincoln, Kenneth. Native American Renaissance. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. An excellent introduction to the writing of American Indians. Provides necessary background to understand key works. A thorough discussion of Silko’s Storyteller and Ceremony is included.

Manley, Kathleen. “Leslie Marmon Silko’s Use of Color in Ceremony.Southern Folklore 46 (1989): 133-146. Draws upon anthropology and Laguna mythology to explore the meanings of various colors in particular settings.

Nelson, Robert M. “Place and Vision: The Function of Landscape in Ceremony.Journal of the Southwest 30 (1988): 281-316. A detailed examination of landscapes and Tayo’s movement through them to reach his ultimate healing. Discusses the relationship between particular figures and particular landscapes. This essay is especially thorough and useful in interpreting the novel.

Ruppert, James. “The Reader’s Lessons in Ceremony.Arizona Quarterly 44 (1988): 78-85. Ruppert suggests that the reader, like Tayo, experiences the fusion of story and reality and can ultimately learn the same lesson Tayo learns, namely, that the world is unified through appropriate storytelling.

Swan, Edith. “Laguna Symbolic Geography and Silko’s Ceremony.” American Indian Quarterly 12, no. 3 (Summer, 1988): 229-249. A thorough discussion of Laguna spiritual beliefs and symbols. Colors, animals, myths, and landscape are all explained in detail.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 600

Sources
Peter G. Beidler, review in Native American Quarterly, Vol. 3, No 4, Winter, 1977-1978, pp. 357-58.

Hayden Carruth, "Harmonies in Time and Space," in Harper's Magazine, Vol. 254, No. 1525, June, 1977, pp. 80-2.

Elame Jahner, "All the World's a Story" in Prairie Schooner, Vol. 51, No 4, Winter, 1977-1978, pp 415-6.

Charles R. Larson, "The Jungles of the Mind," in Washington Post Book World, April 24, 1977, p. E4.

Frank MacShane, "American Indians, Peruvian Jews: 'Ceremony'," in The New York Times Book Review, June 12, 1977, pp. 15, 33.

Ruth Mathewson, "Ghost Stories," in The New Leader, Vol LX, No. 12, June 6, 1977, pp. 14-15.

James Ruppert, "The Reader's Lessons in 'Ceremony'," in Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 1, Spring, 1988, pp 78-85.

Leslie Marmon Silko, "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective" in Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, Simon & Schuster, 1996, pp. 48-59.

For Further Study
Thomas Berger, Little Big Man, Fawcett, 1964.
Written by a man known for his probing satire about America, the novel is the life story of Jack Crab— the only living survivor of Custer's Last Stand. The novel and the film (with Dustin Hoffman, 1970), were part of a general redress of the image of the Indian. Custer, in this version, is not the Hollywood hero but the more historically accurate eccentric who lost all his men and himself in a battle with the Lakota lead by Crazy Horse.

Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, an Indian History of the American West, Holt, 1970.
History books were being rewritten both as a reaction to the rise in minority consciousness caused by the era of Civil Rights and as a further catalyst to political activism. This volume tells a story very different from the more patriotic story 'how the West was won.' For example, such battles as the 1890 Wounded Knee event, is revealed to be the massacre of Big Foot's band of 300 old men, women, and children.

Arthur S. Flemming, Indian Tribes: A Continuing Quest for Survival, a Report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1981.
Eight years after the siege at Wounded Knee, a long overdue report was issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. It found that most violations of Native-American rights are the direct result of public ignorance and misinformation (e.g. though "an entire volume of the U.S. Code is devoted to Indian Law" it is a rare Law School that notices even the oversight). Furthermore, the report found that greed—not racism—accounts for the backlash which erupts whenever treaty rights are asserted or upheld in court.

Tom Holm, Strong Hearts, Wounded Souls: Native American Veterans of the Vietnam War, University of Texas Press, 1996.
Some 43,000 Native Americans served in the Vietnam War but their contributions went undocumented until Tom Hotel began his interviews. He reflects on those interviews to explore the role of war and warrior, how their tribal customs sustained them in war, and what happened to them when they returned. Fortunately, many Native-American Vietnam Vets had different experiences from their white counterparts because many Tribes were ready with ceremonies to heal the trauma of the "white path of peace."

Gertrude Simmons Bonin, "Impressions of an Indian Childhood," in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. H, 1989.
The woman who could arguably have been the first Native-American novelist, had not circumstances prevented her, was Gertrude Simmons Bonin (a.k.a ZitkalaSa, 18761938). Those circumstances were, quite simply, the needs of her people. She was a violinist, short story writer, progressive reformer, labor rights advocate, and secretary of the Society of American Indians (the first all-Indian run organization agitating for Indian rights). Her autobiographical pieces are a fascinating read.

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