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Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

Section 6

Section 5

Section 7

Summary

Tayo leaves Harley in the bar and goes to get menudo (a Mexican soup) in a nearby shop. The man in the shop is killing flies, and Tayo remembers when he killed flies as a young boy and Josiah told him how important the fly is to his people. Tayo heeded his uncle, but in the jungle, when he saw flies crawling all over Rocky, he killed them.

When Tayo returns to the bar, Harley is gone. Tayo walks to Cubero, to Lalo's bar, which closed down during the war but still looks the same. He has not returned to the spot since the night with Night Swan. That September, he and Rocky enlisted. Tayo heard that she left after Josiah's funeral. Tayo walks all the way back to Casa Blanca and sleeps in the barn behind Harley's grandpa's house; he sleeps all night without dreams.

Fly and Hummingbird go see their mother. They ask her for food and storm clouds. She tells them to have old Buzzard purify the town.

Tayo tells Robert that he is feeling better and is ready to take on some responsibilities at the ranch. Robert informs him the other members of the community want him to get help. Tayo understands that they want him to leave, that they have always wanted him to leave. He starts to feel terrible again.

Gallup is a town where white people go to get drunk and Indians visit as quickly as possible. A large number of half-breeds live in Gallup. Once a year, there is a great Ceremonial there. A young boy, who could be Tayo, lives with his mother under the bridge in Gallup. He eats scraps and sleeps under tables at the bar while she goes off with men. She builds a shack under the bridge where they live until some white men come and throw bottles at the women, who retaliate. All of the women are arrested, the shacks are destroyed and burned, and the boy is left alone.

Fly and Hummingbird go to old Buzzard with an offering and ask him to purify the town. Old Buzzard requests more offerings.

Robert and Tayo arrive in Gallup; old man Ku'oosh knows another medicine man there, Betonie, who might be able to help Tayo. Betonie lives above the ceremonial grounds, which were built by the white mayor and town council of Gallup to house a yearly tourist show featuring performances by a great number of paid Indian dance groups, and booths selling Indian crafts. The place makes Tayo feel sick.

Robert leaves Tayo alone with the medicine man. Tayo notices that the medicine man has green eyes like him; the medicine man's grandmother was Mexican. His hogan (house) is filled with things collected by generations of medicine men and women, mixing together things from the Indian and the white worlds, in order to remember and to keep track, Betonie explains. Tayo is afraid of Betonie, but he is also drawn to him. He begins to tell him of his experiences before, during, and after the war. Betonie listens and asks questions. Then he tells Tayo that he must complete the ceremony. However, he explains that the ceremonies also must change, as they have been changing to fit the shifts in the world ever since they were first invented. As Tayo listens, he realizes that this is the sort of cure the white doctors tried to prevent him from experiencing. As they eat dinner, Betonie's helper, Shush, comes out. He seems strange, and Betonie explains that he wandered off and joined the bears when he was young, and although Betonie was able to save him, he remains a little different. Tayo is afraid Shush may be a witch, but Betonie explains that witches are people who dress up in animal skins, and that the animals can tell they are not like them, while Shush is one of those who simply thought he was a bear, changing his attitude but never his appearance.

Analysis

Paradoxically, although whites discriminate against Native Americans, in Gallup refusing to pay them subsistence wages or to allow them to keep even the humblest of homes, they also flock to admire their traditions. The Gallup Ceremonial is representative of the ways in which the whites treat Native American culture as a commodity, with complete disrespect for actual Native Americans. Traditional dances are performed completely out of context, for the benefit of an audience instead of for their ceremonial purpose. Vastly different tribes and traditions are brought together for one Ceremonial, so that the whites can group them all together into the category "Indians" and not consider them as individuals. The Gallup Ceremonial promotes the notion of the Native American as a "noble savage," a creature who is well intentioned, even possessing certain admirable qualities, but slightly less than human and completely uncivilized.

Ever since the ceremony with Ku'oosh, Tayo has begun to have experiences, which he feels are curing him. He begins to draw on the lessons taught him during his youth, from the stop at the spring he and Josiah used to visit, to the return to Lalo's bar, which Night Swan predicted. But just as Fly and Hummingbird go to their mother with an offering and are sent back to perform another step in the ceremony, so is Tayo told to do the same.

While Ku'oosh fits a traditional image of medicine man, living on the reservation, with as little contact as possible with the white world, and completely steeped in tradition, Betonie is different. Ku'oosh realizes that Betonie's familiarity with the white world may allow him to cure those affected by it. Betonie does not fear or resent whites, but neither does he admire them. Tayo at first mistrusts Betonie's connection with the white world, but he soon comes to realize that Betonie sees the white world as part of the Native American world.

Betonie is the first person to whom Tayo opens up completely about his experiences. Betonie also explains Native American traditions to Tayo, bringing him back into his culture by allowing him to understand and therefore feel more a part of it. Although Tayo realizes that the kind of cure Betonie will offer is inimical to the one the white doctors prescribed, Betonie's explanations of Native American views also fit more easily with white interpretations of the world than do some of the other stories. For example, the story of a boy who becomes a bear demonstrates a transformation that white culture sees as impossible. However, Betonie explains that the boy does not actually, physically, become a bear, but rather that he thinks he is a bear and therefore acts like one and is accepted by the bears as one of their own. To say that the boy became a bear is not incorrect, but it is only one way of expressing the situation. Betonie is able to manipulate the traditional Native American ways of expressing things, as well as the white ways of expressing things. This allows Betonie to show that their world views are not as completely different from one another as Tayo may have thought and also allows Tayo to feel the ways in which his education at the white schools and his participation in World War II were not symbols of abandonment of his people, but only provided different forums for learning.

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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.

1 Comments

5 out of 6 people found this helpful

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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