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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1779

Evil The Pueblo concept of reciprocity did not allow for evil. They believed that because all things were interconnected, they simply had to keep up their end of the bargain. For example, when a hunter takes a deer, he sprinkles cornmeal to the spirits. If the dances and ceremonies are...

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Evil
The Pueblo concept of reciprocity did not allow for evil. They believed that because all things were interconnected, they simply had to keep up their end of the bargain. For example, when a hunter takes a deer, he sprinkles cornmeal to the spirits. If the dances and ceremonies are done, the crops will be plentiful.

However, the Pueblos gradually found they needed an explanation for those evils which violated this theory of reciprocity. They did not alter their cosmology by adding a devil. Instead, they attributed evil to witchery or the manipulation of life's elements to selfish and violent ends. Furthermore, Native-American people out of touch with the stories of the people or wanting to replace those stories are the ones that use witchery and, therefore, only Native-American medicine and story can undo witchery. One story about witches explains that Native Americans wear the skins of other animals in order to become that animal for a time.

In the novel, witchery is at work before the war when the young men were convinced they had to enlist in order to prove themselves patriotic Americans. Then, the uniforms, like skins, provided a taste of life as a white American. But the uniforms were taken back. Rather than return to their people and renew contact with the earth, they sit in the bar and tell stories about the witchery—about how much better it was chasing white women and killing "Japs." Thus their connection with the Corn Woman remains broken. Emo embodies witchery as he encourages them in their storytelling. He manipulates his friends to hate Reservation life, to remain angry and drown in alcohol.

Tradition
The central theme of Silko's novel is the relationship of the individual to the story of the community. For Tayo to be cured of the war witchery, he must remember his people's story and renew his connection with the land and its governing deities. In one specific instance, he is shown a cliff face painting of A'moo'ooh. T'seh explains, "Nobody has come to paint it since the war. But as long as you remember what you have seen, then nothing is gone. As long as you remember, it is part of this story we have together."

Religion
The three central figures in the Pueblo cosmology are Thought-Woman, Corn Mother, and Sun Father. They are interrelated and interdependent. Thought-Woman opens the novel and is considered responsible for the story. Thought-Woman created the universe by speech. She made the fifth world (the earth) and the four worlds below where the spirits of the dead go. She appears throughout Pueblo mythology and throughout the story. Tayo must make contact with her, with the people's story, in order to bring a story to the elders inside the kiva. He tells them he has seen her. "They started crying/the old men started crying...."

Corn Woman is perhaps the most important deity because corn is essential to the people's economy. Corn Woman is interchangeable with mother earth. She represents growth, life, and the feminine powers of reproduction. She is honored by prayer sticks and offerings of blue and yellow pollen (Tayo fills animal tracks with yellow pollen). Dances in her honor are done in a zig-zag or lightning pattern. Large dances include everyone but only men perform small dances. The Corn dance is done to bring rain, to assure abundant crops, and to increase fertility. The female powers support and grant according to his performance. A male protagonist as a sacrificial intermediary performs the small dance in the novel—Tayo is the fly. Throughout the novel, from the entrance of Harley and the weaving journey astride a donkey, Tayo performs a series of zig-zags. He also finds zig-zags on the supportive T'seh's blanket.

The story about Corn Woman involves an evil Ck'o'yo magician. The moral of this story is that if the Corn Alter is neglected and offerings are not given, the life processes supporting the people will not function. This story brings us to the last deity Sun Father. He is a creative force unleashed by Thought-Woman to interact with Corn Woman. He represents masculine powers and light and it is his job to awaken the rain clouds. The offering to Sun Father is com meal—a product of Com Woman. Tayo's link with the Sun Father occurs when Old Ku'oosh brings him blue cornmeal. Auntie feeds him, and he is able to keep it in his stomach. Tayo's ceremony mimics the story of the Sun Father but rather than bring back the rain clouds he must bring back the cattle, thereby bringing prosperity back to the family.

Racism
One of the most divisive questions facing Native Americans today is: who is Native American? This question might seem odd, but because there is so much at stake—Native-American Tribes are explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution as sovereign nations, and the U.S. Congress must negotiate treaties as they do with any sovereign nation—the United States government has kept the question confused.

By recognizing only those persons with a certain quantum of a specific Nation's blood as tribal members, the notion of ancestry became a significant issue in the Native-American community. In the late 1960s ancestry almost replaced the notion of race as the determining factor for census purposes. This would have greatly diminished the racial wrangling that has perplexed America. Doing so would also have allowed Native Americans to realize they were not a handful but a group of some 30 million—an incredible electoral force.

Be that as it may, because blood quantum notions are so strict, the U S. government counts very few Native Americans. So, a person who is one quarter Irish, one quarter Mohawk, one quarter Ibo, and one quarter Lakota—but raised as 100% Pueblo—is not a Native American. Furthermore, the U.S. government has only recently recognized some tribes. For example, though Tucson was built around the Yaqui village of Pasqua, it was only in 1973 that Congress recognized the Yaqui as Native Americans.

This tension is everywhere in the novel. Tayo is a half-breed (his biological father was white) who was given up by his mother to be raised by his Auntie. Emo constantly reminds him of this because Emo wanted to be white (so did Rocky). But Tayo reminds him of the truth, "Don't lie. You knew right away. The war was over, the uniform was gone. All of a sudden that man at the store waits on you last, makes you wait until all the white people bought what they wanted." But even though they all know it, even though Tayo is a Native American despite what the government might say, there is too much self-hatred. This is the result of the boarding schools that taught them that Native Americans were savage people. "They never thought to blame white people for any of it; they wanted white people for their friends. They never saw that it was the white people who gave them that feeling and it was white people who took it away again when the war was over."

Night Swan adds to this complexity when she tells Tayo that mixed breeds are scapegoats. People always blame the ones who look different. "That way they don't have to think about what has happened inside themselves." Emo and Auntie's dislike of miscegenation runs counter to the custom of the Pueblo who judge by actions not appearance. As the end of the novel suggests, the people's survival depends on these mixed breeds like Tayo and Betonie who are able, by force of circumstance, to blend the old and new to tell a more relevant story.

Narrative
Silko once explained the Pueblo linguistic theory to an audience (found in Yello 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, criss-crossing 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."

Not knowing the above theory, critics have lauded Ceremony's non-chronological narrative. Silko's purpose in using this technique for her story is to mimic, once again, the zig-zag 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 be fooled./ 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."

Realism
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 run-off, 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.

So a realistic picture is painted of society on the reservation after World War II. However, in doing so, 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.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1212

The Pueblo concept of reciprocity did not allow for evil. The Pueblo believed that because all things were interconnected; for example, when a hunter takes a deer, he sprinkles cornmeal as a gift to the spirits. However, the Pueblos gradually found they needed an explanation for those evils that violated this theory of reciprocity. They did not alter their cosmology by adding a devil. Instead, they attributed evil to witchery— the manipulation of life's elements to selfish and violent ends. Furthermore, they believed that Native American people who are out of touch with the stories of the people or want to replace those stories are the ones that use witchery. Therefore, only Native American medicine and story can undo witchery.

One story about witches explains that Native Americans wear the skins of other animals in order to become that animal for a time. In Ceremony, witchery is at work before the war when young Native American men were convinced they had to enlist in the military in order to prove themselves patriotic Americans. The uniforms—like skins—provided a taste of life as a white American. But the uniforms were taken back. Rather than return to their people and renew contact with the earth, the men sit in the bar and tell stories about the witchery— about how much better it was chasing white women and killing "Japs." Thus their connection with the Corn Woman (also known as Corn Mother) remains broken. Emo (a fellow veteran) embodies witchery as he encourages them in their storytelling. He manipulates his friends to hate reservation life, to remain angry, and drown themselves in alcohol.

The central theme of Silko's novel, however, is the relationship of the individual to the story of the community. For Tayo to be cured of the war witchery, he must remember his people's story and renew his connection with the land and its governing deities. In one specific instance, he is shown a cliff-face painting of A'moo'ooh. T'seh explains, "Nobody has come to paint it since the war. But as long as you remember what you have seen, then nothing is gone. As long as you remember, it is part of this story we have together."

The three central figures in the Pueblo cosmology are Thought-Woman, Corn Mother, and Sun Father. They are interrelated and interdependent. Thought-Woman opens the novel and is considered responsible for the story. Thought-Woman created the universe by speech. She made the fifth world (the earth) and the four worlds below where the spirits of the dead go. She appears throughout Pueblo mythology and throughout the story. Tayo must make contact with her, with the people's story, in order to bring a story to the elders inside the kiva. He tells them he has seen her, and "They started crying/the old men started crying...."

Corn Woman is perhaps the most important deity because corn is essential to the people's economy. Corn Woman is interchangeable with Mother Earth. She represents growth, life, and the feminine powers of reproduction. She is honored by prayer sticks and offerings of blue and yellow pollen (Tayo fills animal tracks with yellow pollen). Dances in her honor are done in a zigzag or lightning pattern. The Corn dance is done to bring rain, to assure abundant crops, and to increase fertility. The female powers grant favors according to the dancer's performance. Throughout the novel, beginning with Harley's entrance to his weaving journey astride a donkey, Tayo performs a series of zigzags. He also finds zigzags on T'seh's blanket.

The story about Corn Woman involves an evil Ck'o'yo magician. The moral of this story is that if the Corn Altar is neglected and offerings are not given, the life processes supporting the people will not function. This story brings us to the last deity—Sun Father. He is a creative force unleashed by Thought-Woman to interact with Corn Woman. He represents masculine powers and light, and it is his job to awaken the rain clouds. The offering to Sun Father is corn meal—a product of Corn Woman. Tayo's link with the Sun Father occurs when Old Ku'oosh brings him blue cornmeal. Auntie feeds him, and he is able to keep it in his stomach. Tayo's ceremony mimics the story of the Sun Father.

One of the most divisive questions facing Native Americans today is: Who is Native American? This question might seem odd, but because there is so much at stake—Native American Tribes are explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution as sovereign nations, and Congress must negotiate treaties with them as they do with any sovereign nation—the U.S. government has kept the question confused. By recognizing only those persons with a certain quantum of a specific Nation's blood as tribal members, the government made the notion of ancestry a significant issue in the Native American community. In the late 1960s, ancestry almost replaced the notion of race as the determining factor for census purposes. This would have greatly diminished the racial wrangling that has perplexed America. Doing so would also have allowed Native Americans to realize they were some thirty million strong—an incredible electoral force. Be that as it may, because blood quantum notions are so strict, the U.S. government counts very few Native Americans. For example, a person who is one-quarter Irish, one-quarter Mohawk, one-quarter Ibo, and one-quarter Lakota—but raised as fully Pueblo—is not classified as Native American. Furthermore, the U.S. government has only recently recognized some tribes. For example, though Tucson was built around the Yaqui village of Pasqua, it was only in 1973 that Congress recognized the Yaqui as Native Americans.

This tension is everywhere in the novel. Tayo is a half-breed (his biological father was white) who was given up by his mother and raised by his Auntie. Emo constantly reminds him of this because Emo wanted to be white (so did Tayo's cousin Rocky). But Tayo reminds him of the truth, "Don't lie. You knew right away. The war was over, the uniform was gone. All of a sudden that man at the store waits on you last, makes you wait until all the white people bought what they wanted." Even though Tayo is a Native American despite what the government might say, he is filled with self-hatred. This is the result of the boarding schools that taught them that Native Americans were savage people: "They never thought to blame white people for any of it; they wanted white people for their friends. They never saw that it was the white people who gave them that feeling and it was white people who took it away again when the war was over."

Night Swan adds to this complexity when she tells Tayo that mixed breeds are scapegoats. She believes that people always blame the ones who look different: "That way they don't have to think about what has happened inside themselves." Emo and Auntie's dislike of miscegenation runs counter to the custom of the Pueblo, who judge by actions not appearance. As the end of the novel suggests, the people's survival depends on these mixed breeds like Tayo and Betonie who are able, by force of circumstance, to blend the old and new to tell a more relevant story.

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