Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 700 words.)