Themes

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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.

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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...

(The entire section contains 2991 words.)

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