Skip over navigation

Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

Section 3

Section 2

Section 4

Summary

In the army, the men had regular pay, and in their uniforms white women danced with them without worrying about their being Indian. But when the other guys press Tayo to tell his war stories, Tayo sums up the experience of Indians in the war and after it in bleak terms: as long as they were in uniform they were not discriminated against, but as soon as the war was over and they shed their uniforms, the discrimination returned. As he talks, Tayo looks at Emo and realizes that Emo is furious at him for ruining their good time. Emo is angry with Tayo because he blames himself and the other Indians for losing the respect of the whites after the war; he does not think to blame the whites. Emo and the other guys go on drinking to try to recapture the feeling of belonging that they had during the war. Tayo gets quiet, and when he begins to cry the guys pat him on the back, thinking he is crying for Rocky and what the Japs did to him. But actually, Tayo is crying for them and there situation right there in the bar.

Tayo does not hate the Japanese soldiers. They always reminded him of his friends and family. Tayo remembers how after the flood knocked Rocky out of their hands, one of the Japanese soldiers picked him up again, covered him in a blanket, and shot him in the head, while Tayo screamed. The corporal tells Tayo that Rocky was already dead; Tayo will never know for sure.

Tayo wakes up in the shade with Harley, recovered from the sunstroke. He looks out at where the spring still flows and remembers gathering water from it with Josiah during the drought when he was a boy. As they gathered water, Josiah explained to him how every part of nature was important and that the old people said droughts only happened when people forgot.

As Tayo and Harley drink from the spring, Tayo thinks "maybe this wasn't the end after all." A poem tells the story of Pa'caya'nyi who came from Reedleaf town up north and asked the people if they wanted to learn some new magic. He brought his mountain lion, made an altar, and struck the wall and made water and a bear come from it. Everyone believed his magic so much that they forgot their mother corn altar. But Pa'caya'nyi's magic was just a trick. Mother corn was so angry at being neglected that she left, taking the plants and the grass, and the rain clouds with her.

Tayo and Harley finally arrive at the bar. Tayo settles himself in to get drunk and remember Rocky. Tayo remembers when he and Rocky killed a deer. He touched the deer when it was still soft and warm. When Rocky began to gut it, Tayo covered its eyes, out of respect as the people said you should. Rocky was becoming ever more skeptical of the old ways, as he excelled at school and his teachers told him not to be held back by the people at home. Both Rocky and Auntie were ready to sacrifice the old ways, which they saw as the only way to succeed in the white world. Rocky gutted the deep while Josiah and Robert came and performed the rituals to appease its spirit. When they returned to the village, there would be more ceremonies, which Rocky would avoid, disapprovingly.

Harley keeps feeding Tayo beer, remembering somewhat nervously what happened the last time they came to the bar. Harley kept telling the others to leave Tayo alone, but they continued bothering him until Tayo jumped up, broke a bottle, and shoved it into Emo's stomach. Tayo reassures Harley that he won't do the same to him.

The poem/story of Pa'caya'nyi continues, with the people realizing that they need to ask forgiveness and discovering Hummingbird who tells them that three worlds down there is plenty to eat.

Analysis

The narrative does not progress in a neat linear fashion. Although we do follow Tayo from his return to the reservation through some unspecified period of time until he is cured, the temporal succession of the episodes in the novel does not correspond to the progression of real time. Rather, the episodes in the novel are narrated as Tayo thinks of them. With one of Tayo's problems being his inability to neatly separate and categorize his memories, the order of the episodes in the novel is equally confusing. The narrative shifts back to Tayo's time in the Philippines, to his early days back on the reservation, and to his childhood at unpredictable and often un-marked moments. In addition to reflecting Tayo's own mental state, these shifts represent the cyclical nature of life, and the ways in which the past and the present are intimately, but often strangely, related.

In this section, we find the narration of two bar scenes intertwined. In the primary narrative, Tayo and Harley go to the bar. In the secondary narrative, Tayo remembers an earlier moment when he, Harley, Emo, and Leroy went to the same bar. These two narratives are also interrupted by stories from Tayo's childhood and by poems. While some of the poems in the novel stand alone or are picked up only a few times, one in particular will be continued throughout. This is the story of Pa'caya'nyi and how the people were tricked by his witchery into abandoning their mother corn, which resulted in a great drought. In the course of the poem, the people search for a way to get their mother and the rain back. Similarly, Tayo feels that he has caused the drought on the reservation, and his recovery will be intimately linked to the ending of the drought.

Racism plagues the Native American population. In the 1940s and 1950s, when the novel is set, racial segregation was still widespread in the United States, and racist attitudes were widely tolerated, even sanctioned by the state. The result of years of institutionalized racism for much of the Native American population is its internalization. Tayo describes the problem of internalized racism as he points out that his friends never think to blame the whites for the way they were treated before and after the war, but instead blame themselves.

Although Tayo is plagued with many of the same cultural conflicts as his friends, he has always maintained a certain belief in the Native American traditions. In some ways, this makes his experience much more difficult. Tayo could not easily succeed in the school system like Rocky. He cannot simply drown his troubles in idealized memories of the war with Harley, Emo, and Leroy. However, Tayo' s belief in the old ways also offers him a chance to be cured in a way much more profound than that achieved in drunkenness. His experience at the spring is the first indicator that his belief in the stories he was told as a child can help him in the present.

More Help

Previous Next
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko -- Summer Reading

by samjoerg, September 05, 2013

summer reading assignment

Thanks.

by itrey3, September 19, 2013

Thanks to whoever took the time to write this. Could be redone though. Seems a little sloppy.

Louise Erdrich!?

by mhillebrand, December 07, 2013

She should be included in that unfortunately short list of major Native American authors. Big oversight, in my little opinion. Apart from that, I am very grateful for these notes - helping me study for Praxis II English!

Follow Us