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Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

Section 7

Section 6

Section 8

Summary

Tayo tells Betonie about Emo, suggesting that maybe Emo is right: maybe the whites have taken everything from the Indians. But Betonie explains that first of all the whites only think they own the land, but in fact no one can own the land. Then he explains that the whites are only the invention of Indian witchcraft and tells the story of how at a great conference of witches white people were created and let loose on the earth like a plague.

Tayo, Betonie, and Shush ride to the foothill of the Chuska Mountains to spend the night in a small hogan. Looking around, Tayo realizes that he is in the highest spot in the world, measured not in miles but in importance.

Betonie tells the story of a young man who goes off to hunt deer and is captured by Coyote. His family goes after him and finds him, but he has been almost completely taken over by Coyote. They take him to the Bear People, who help them to perform a ceremony to save the young man. As he tells the story of the ceremony, Betonie performs the same ceremony for Tayo, painting a picture of the ceremony of which he tells, with Tayo sitting in the middle of it. Shush and Betonie chant prayers of Tayo as they cut his scalp, and they sing about his journey away and their hopes for him to come back. After that first portion of the ceremony, they bring him into the hogan for the night and feed him Indian tea. Tayo dreams about Josiah's speckled cattle.

Tayo awakens, and Betonie sits near him and tells him a story of long ago. The Indians knew something was wrong and rode around, until a group of young men found a light-skinned Mexican girl with hazel eyes tied up in a tree. They took her down and, knowing that they should not, brought her home. Then they realized they had to send her back but did not know how, so they brought her to the medicine man, Betonie's grandfather Descheeny. He told her he would not touch her and would send her home, but she replied that her people would not accept her back, so he took her as a wife. His other wives were upset because their traditions dictated that they should not touch "alien things," so Descheeny moved with her to a winter house below the mountains.

Descheeny knew she would come before she arrived, and he decided that he needed to work together with her in order to create a ceremony that could cure the world of the whites, who were working to end the world. Descheeny realized that now they all needed to work together, even making use of things from the whites. The Mexican girl also had come to work with Descheeny. She was the daughter of a Spaniard and Root Woman. When they saw the color of her eyes, they left her to die on a trash pile and made Root Woman leave the village. Root woman left, but she took the girl with her.

Fly and Hummingbird come back to the people for tobacco for old Buzzard, but there is no tobacco, so they go back to the fourth world below and ask their mother where they can get tobacco. She tells them to go ask caterpillar.

Analysis

Betonie's story of the invention of whites completely shifts the hierarchy in which people are seen. Not only are whites part of the Native American world, they are in invention of it and, furthermore, a malicious invention of its witches. Thus although whites wield a certain destructive power over Native Americans and the world, they are placed in a completely inferior status, not created equally with the Native Americans and all other people of color. If they are an invention of the Native Americans, they can also control the whites and their destruction. But this does not mean that whites can be the simple pawns of Native Americans. Even the witches who created them do not know how to eradicate them. Betonie can only work out a ceremony that will stop their destructive power.

Betonie's simultaneous telling of the story of an old ceremony and performing of a new ceremony confirms the words of the poems at the beginning of the novel, which stated that stories contain, and are themselves, ceremonies.

The story of Betonie's grandfather, Descheeny, confirms the alliances between Mexicans and Native Americans. The character of Root Woman shows that Mexicans are in fact of partially Native American ancestry. The Mexican girl is not just a tool that Descheeny uses in his ceremony; she has come to find him as much as he has come to find her, and they collaborate in the ceremony. The Mexican girl is the second in the series of powerful women figures in the novel. She stands on equal ground with Descheeny from the moment she mocks his offer of protection when she is first brought to him. This is a woman who needs the collaboration, not the protection, of a man.

Like Tayo and Night Swan, Betonie and the Mexican girl have hazel eyes. In addition to being biologically viable, the presence of the marker of difference in the eyes in particular is of great symbolic importance. The particular color of these characters' eyes is also symbolic. Hazel is green-brown color, mixed between a light color common to the eyes of whites and a dark color common to the eyes of Native Americans. We find not only light eyes on a dark face as a marker of mixed ancestry, but mixed eyes in a dark face, a doubling of the markers of mixing.

Eyes themselves have great symbolic value. Eyes are often considered the windows to the soul, and, thus, mixed color eyes would reflect a soul which truly combines the various cultures. Eyes are of course the agents of sight, of visual perception. What one sees with dictates of what one sees and how one sees it. With hazel eyes, these characters are able to see, to perceive, and to understand both the white and the Native American worlds. They perceive both worlds simultaneously as insiders and as outsiders to them, allowing them to comprehend their positive and negative aspects.

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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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