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Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

Section 5

Section 4

Section 6

Summary

On the way back from signing up for the army, Tayo remembers that the family understanding has always been that Rocky will one day leave, but that Tayo will stay at home to help. At this realization, Tayo is reminded of the great feeling of loss he had at his mother's death. Josiah and Grandma think Tayo should go with Rocky, and so Auntie has to agree.

While they were in high school, Josiah invested in a herd of cattle. He bought them in Sonora, Mexico, from Ulibarri, a cousin of Night Swan, his Mexican girlfriend. Josiah was sure that the Mexican cattle were a better investment than the Herefords that others tried to raise because they were used to the desert. He tried reading books that the agricultural (ag) extension office sent him, but he found they were only suited to big farms away from the desert. Tayo loved the idea of the cattle because Josiah included him in the plans. Rocky mistrusted it because he believed the scientific books of the ag extension. Auntie mistrusted the idea because it was connected to the Mexican girlfriend.

A week later, the cattle are delivered to the Laguna reservation. Josiah lets them out near an area where the grass is still green. A week after that, when they return to check on the cattle, they find that they have broken through a fence and moved south. The men are woe to keep track of the cattle, but the animals continue to move slowly south and are very difficult to round up. As they get closer to Mexico, Josiah decides to brand them. He is able to catch and brand them, but they continue heading south. Josiah does not want Auntie and Grandma to know of his troubles.

The story/poem continues. Fly appears in the jar, and Hummingbird says they will go together. They go four worlds down and find everything growing and beautiful.

One day when Josiah goes to Lalo's store to get bootlegged beer, he sees a Mexican woman and falls in love with her. He returns the next day, and Night Swan invites him upstairs with her. She dances flamenco for him and tells him of how she used to dance and make men love her when she was younger. Night Swan is a grandmother now, and says that now when she dances it is for her granddaughters. But when the drought struck in Mexico, she moved north, and stopped near the Laguna reservation and Cubero because she liked the look of the mountain. At first, the Cubero women were upset because they imagined their husbands were going to see her, but they relaxed when they realized Josiah was with her every night. When Auntie finds out about Josiah and Night Swan, she is outraged, saying that it will bring shame on the family and upset old Grandma. But old Grandma doesn't mind people gossiping about her family as long as she has better gossip about them, which she usually does.

Tayo continues to help Josiah keep the cattle on Laguna land and to check on the sheep. They spend the summer this way, while Rocky relaxes. He has a football scholarship to college. After dinner, Josiah goes to visit Night Swan. Auntie compares Josiah's wandering to their old dog, which was hit by a car while it was following a bitch in heat. Tayo remembers how Josiah comforted him at his mother's funeral.

Having heard from Josiah that during dry spells holy men ride to the mountains and study the skies, Tayo gets up before dawn in the morning and rides to the canyon with the spring, concocting little rituals, and praying for rain. He watches the spider drink and thinks about the old stories, which he continues to believe at least to some extent, despite what his teachers tell him. On the way home, he sees a hummingbird. The next day it rains.

Josiah asks Tayo to take a note to Night Swan, since he won't be able to visit her that night. All summer, Tayo has felt Night Swan watching him. He is nervous. She invites him upstairs, and they make love. As he leaves, she tells him she has been watching him because of the color of his eyes, and Tayo comments that the kids have always teased him for having Mexican eyes. Night Swan tells him that people are just afraid of change and think that those who look different are to blame instead of realizing that change is all around. She also tells him to remember this day for later.

Analysis

As with Emo's accusation of Tayo for loving the Japanese, we see with Auntie's mistrust of Mexicans that any alliance between the non-whites is problematic. They are as aware of the differences between them as they are of any common differences or problems they may have with the whites. Nonetheless, as they have long inhabited the same land, there is a certain bond between the Native Americans and the Mexicans. The bond is symbolized in the Mexicans' provision of bootlegged alcohol to the reservation; the Prohibition on alcohol is the United States is in effect.

In this section we have the first clear indication of where the novel is set, other than on a reservation in drought-wracked land. The reservation is in Arizona, near the border with the Mexican state of Sonora. The border between Mexico and the United States was not drawn with any concern for tribal boundaries, and so in fact the people on the two sides of border often share a common ancestry. However, in Mexico interracial children were so commonplace for such a long time, that most of the people in the lower classes have some degree of mixed ancestry, while in the United States racial segregation was more widespread. For this reason, when Night Swan recognizes that she and Tayo have the same color eyes, she indicates their common biracial status.

Josiah's cattle serve as another symbol of mixed ancestry. First, they are Mexican cattle bought by a Native American. In addition, Josiah breeds them with Herefords. The mixed offspring will, Josiah hopes, demonstrate the Mexican cattle's resilience to drought and the Hereford's rich milk and meat production. Josiah consults the US texts on cattle but finds them inapplicable to his situation, symbolizing the more general failure of the western scientific tradition to account for and to pertain to the specificities of the Native American experience. Josiah and Tayo care for the cattle together, so that they also become a symbol for Tayo's status as a productive member of the family.

Night Swan is the first of two symbolic women in Tayo's life. In addition to being Mexican and of mixed race, Night Swan is someone who has traveled in search of water, and she is a sexy older woman. She is in perfect control of her sexuality; aware of its power, is careful with it. Night Swan seduces Tayo to teach him a lesson about difference and change.

Tayo's affinity with Hummingbird from the poem and his role as the messenger who can return the rain is confirmed. Even as a young boy, he succeeded in following the traditions he learned from Josiah to bring back the rain. Essential to this moment's foreshadowing of the end of the novel is the way in which Tayo is able to invent a new ceremony based on the tidbits of tradition, which he has learned.

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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!

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