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Leslie Marmon Silko


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Jungle rain had no beginning or end; it grew like foliage from the sky, branching and arching to the earth, sometimes in solid thickets entangling the islands, and, other times, in tendrils of blue mist curling out of coastal clouds. The jungle breathed an eternal green that fevered men until they dripped sweat the way rubbery jungle leaves dripped the monsoon rain. It was there that Tayo began to understand what Josiah had said. Nothing was all good or all bad either; it all depended.

One of the most important lessons Tayo learns in the course of the novel is that everything has both its positive and its negative aspects. This moment of realization comes early in the novel, as Tayo, newly returned to the reservation, remembers the most traumatic moments of his service in World War II, which include Rocky's death, at least in part from gangrene caused by the effect of the wet conditions on his wounds. Although this lesson is stated within the first fifteen pages of the story, its wording is key. Tayo does not understand the lesson; he only begins to understand it. It will take the rest of the novel for Tayo to come to a full comprehension of the intricate interrelations of all things. Although the message is simple, almost cliché, it cannot be taken lightly nor learned easily. Not only can the rain, so desperately prayed for on the desert reservation, be as bad as it is good, so also can whites, so detrimental to the Native American customs, also be an integral element in the ceremony that cures Tayo and his community. Although Josiah dies before Tayo returns from the Philippines, his teachings are among the most important in Tayo's life. As a child, Josiah was Tayo's male role model. Josiah initiated Tayo into Native American cosmology and also into the need to adapt to the ever-changing world, with the help of simple age-old lessons such as this one.

The word he chose to express "fragile" was filled with the intricacies of a continuing process, and with a strength inherent in spider webs woven across paths through sand hills where early in the morning the sun becomes entangled in each filament of web. It took a long time to explain the fragility and intricacy because no word exists alone, and the reason for choosing each word had to be explained with a story about why it must be said this certain way. That was the responsibility that went with being human, old Ku'oosh said, the story behind each word must be told so there could be no mistake in the meaning of what had been said; and this demanded great patience and love.

Tayo returns home from the war both sick with malaria and deeply troubled on an emotional level. His stay at the Veteran's Hospital does little to help with the latter problem. Once home, as soon as he is well enough to get out of bed, Tayo's Grandma arranges for him to see the medicine man, Ku'oosh. Ku'oosh begins his ceremony by repeating to Tayo the names and locations of the places that are sacred to the Laguna, and the basis of their understanding of the world. With Spider Woman as one of the most important figures in Pueblo mythology, the metaphor of the web is most appropriate for describing their world-view. Throughout the novel, animals and plants serve as symbols of the deep connection the Pueblo people have with the natural world.

Although the entire novel is written in English, we have been informed that in this section Ku'oosh speaks to Tayo "using the old dialect." Although we read English words, it is insisted upon that these are only a translation of the original language in which Ku'oosh's words are uttered. In addition, in that language the particular choice of individual words is of prime importance. As this is insisted on, the reader is reminded that although we can read and understand Ceremony, it does not offer us complete access to every element either of the original story or, more significantly, of Laguna culture.

Here they were, trying to bring back that old feeling, that feeling they belonged to America the way they felt during the war. They blamed themselves for losing the new feeling; they never talked about it, but they blamed themselves just like they blamed themselves for losing the land the white people took. They never thought to blame the 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 the white people who took it away again when the war was over.

After they return to the reservation, the young men who fought in World War II often meet at the bars on the reservation line to drink and reminisce. As Tayo accompanies Harley to the bar, shortly after his first session with Ku'oosh, he remembers the last time they went, along with Leroy and Emo, on a similar outing. Emo and Tayo have never gotten along well, however, and on that occasion, under the influence of alcohol, Tayo became so disgusted and infuriated with Emo that he stabbed him in the stomach with a broken beer bottle. This quote demonstrates the elements on Emo's vision that set Tayo off.

In this passage, Tayo, and the narrator as he (or she) is aligned with Tayo, expose Emo's reaction to Tayo's identification of internalized racism. Even in the face of Tayo's analysis of the phenomenon, Emo provides a classic example of internalized racism. He believes the point of view of the white racists. He blames himself and the other victims of racism for being its cause. For the brief period when they wore the US Army uniforms, Emo and the other Native Americans were able to escape from much of the racism, which had always plagued their lives. Emo, and many others who internalize racism, does not see that there is a systemic problem, and only wishes desperately to recapture the one moment when it did not operate as usual. As a result, Emo is not able to understand that when he put on the uniform, it was not he who changed but the whites' perception of him. He does not recognize the racism that leads whites to mistreat Native Americans, be it in the form of unfair land deals or the denial of equal access to respect and jobs after the war. As Tayo and the narrator evaluate Emo's internalized racism, they show it to be almost as detrimental to Native Americans as is the racism of the whites.

"How did you know I'd be here?" He said, still watching the cattle. She laughed and shook her head, "the way you talk!" she said. "I was here almost a week before you came. How did you know I'd be here? Tell me that first."

After being helped by a woman on his search for Josiah's cattle, Tayo dreams of her almost constantly. Then, the following summer, Tayo goes out to the ranch to care for the cattle and the new calves. When he arrives at the ranch, he finds the woman camped nearby. From her first appearance in the novel, she has offered Tayo almost magical assistance. Here, she confirms her role as one of his teachers, reminding him of the complexity of the world. Her words underline the cyclical nature of all things. Discovering who came in search of whom is like determining whether the chicken or the egg came first. She also points to the existence of designs greater than the plans or intentions of any one person. Tayo has been dreaming of meeting her for months, since she will play an integral role in the completion of the ceremony that the medicine man Betonie has already outlined. However, without any planning or communication, their meeting cannot have been consciously or mortally organized by either of them.

Old Grandma shook her head slowly, and closed her cloudy eyes again. "I guess I must be getting old, " she said, "because these goings-on around Laguna don't get me excited any more." She sighed, and laid her head back on the chair. "It seems like I already heard these stories before—only thing is, the names sound different."

The last lines in the prose section of Ceremony, Old Grandma's words, refer most directly to the information that Emo killed Pinkie, but the FBI called it an accident and simply asked Emo to leave town. However, symbolically, her statement is meant to be applied to the entire book. It affirms the cyclic nature of Laguna cosmology. Although the world is seen to change, it does not progress in a straight line, but rather constantly curves back on itself, so that the new repeats and connects with the old to the point where even the terms past and present are only somewhat applicable. Throughout the novel, the poems and the prose sections share plot lines, so that they are also the same stories with different names. In this way, Silko shows that her book is also part of the cycle. Having Grandma comment explicitly on the phenomenon also underscores the Native American's self-awareness. Old Grandma's words are not the result of the confusion of old age, but of an understanding of the way the world works.

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