Leslie Marmon Silko Analysis

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Leslie Marmon Silko’s ancient Laguna Pueblo traditions involve oral narrative storytelling, but she writes in English and in multiple genre forms—novel, nonfiction prose, poetry, photography. Reflect on the genre choices that she has made in particular texts and how effective those choices may have been in conveying her putative meaning.

A number of Laguna Pueblo myths are interpolated within the narrative structure of Ceremony, most notably in “Hummingbird and Fly” and “[The Witchery Convention].” How do the traditional stories provide insight into the events of the novel, especially in an understanding of Tayo, the protagonist?

Comment on the importance of Mt. Taylor in Ceremony. In Laguna Pueblo, the mountain is referred to as Tse-pi-na, the Woman Who Walks in the Clouds. Does the female character who identifies herself as “Ts’eh” to Tayo bear comparison to Ts’its’tsi’nako (Thought-Woman) or to Tse-pi-na (Mt. Taylor/Woman Who Walks in the Clouds) or to both?

Should Hattie be understood as a caring and altruistic figure who seeks the betterment of Indigo in Gardens in the Dunes, or is she attempting to indoctrinate culturally a bereft young woman who has been separated from her family and tribe?

Discuss how each of the following characters has an initial understanding of a personal relationship with the land and how that understanding is altered in the course of the work: Tayo in Ceremony, Sterling in Almanac of the Dead, Edward in Gardens in the Dunes, and Leon in “The Man to Send Rain Clouds,” from Storyteller.

How do the articles in Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (1996) and even the letters in The Delicacy and Strength of Lace (1986) provide insight into some of the critical and thematic concerns that Silko describes in her imaginative fiction?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Leslie Marmon Silko is known most widely for her novels, including Ceremony (1977), Almanac of the Dead (1991), and Gardens in the Dunes (1999). An early collection of poetry, Laguna Woman (1974), established her as an important young Native American writer, and most of the lyric and narrative poems in that book are integrated with the autobiographical writings and short stories that make up Storyteller. Silko has also adapted, with Frank Chin, one of her short stories into a one-act play of the same title, Lullaby, which was first performed in 1976. Silko has also written screenplays; in one, she adapted a Laguna Pueblo myth, “Estoyehmuut and the Kunideeyah” (arrowboy and the destroyers), for television production in 1978. Earlier, she wrote a screenplay for Jack Beck and Marlon Brando that depicted, from a Native American viewpoint, the expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1540 (the script was sent to Hollywood in 1977 but was not produced).

Several of Silko’s critical essays and interviews provide useful insights into her short fiction, as does her correspondence with the poet James Wright, which is collected in The Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Letters Between Leslie Marmon Silko and James A. Wright (1986). Two particularly useful essays are “An Old-Time Indian Attack Conducted in Two Parts,” published in The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature (1979), and “Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective,” published in English Literature: Opening Up the Canon (1981). Silko’s interviews often supply autobiographical and cultural contexts that enhance the understanding of her work; among the most insightful is the videotape Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems (1978), which offers Silko reading from her work and is interspersed with her commentary on Laguna culture. Her nonfiction works include Sacred Water: Narratives and Pictures (1993) and Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today (1996). A collection of Silko’s work and related material is housed at the University of Arizona library in Tucson.

Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Leslie Marmon Silko, along with Louise Erdrich, N....

(The entire section is 2,846 words.)