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Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

Section 8

Section 7

Section 9

Summary

The Mexican woman bore Descheeny a girl child, who she gave to Descheeny's daughters to raise. In time, the girl child bore a child of her own, Betonie, who was raised by his grandmother the Mexican woman.

Tayo feels that the ceremony has begun to cure him, but Betonie warns that in order for a true cure the ceremony will have to continue for a long time. When Tayo tries to pay Betonie, Betonie refuses the money and tells Tayo, "This has been going on for a long time now. It's up to you. Don't let them stop you. Don't let them finish off this world."

Tayo leaves Betonie's the next morning. He rides with a trucker a little way. When he gets out at a gas station to buy some food, Tayo sees white people clearly for the first time in his life. He decides to walk home, but after a few minutes Harley and Leroy drive by and stop to pick him up. They have been drinking and carry bottles of wine and beer along with a woman from another tribe, Helen Jean. At first, Tayo resists their offers of wine and leans out the window watching grasshoppers but after a while he joins in, trying to feel nothing. The go to the Y bar and continue drinking. Helen Jean begins flirting with a Mexican sitting at another table. When she leaves to join him, Tayo is the only one sober enough to notice.

Helen Jean is from Towac. She went to Gallup to find a job and make money to help out her family, but although she knows how to type, she is only offered a job cleaning a movie theater for seventy-five cents an hour and cannot even afford to pay rent for her room. Then her boss begins to expect sexual favors, and she quits. Desperately in search of someone who can loan her rent money, she goes to the bars in town she knows the Indians hang out at, and they invite her in to have a drink with them. She tries to continue looking for work but is drawn back to the bars where they guys are always happy to see her, to tell her their war stories and to help her out with a little money at the end of the night. At first she tries to hold out and not have sex with the men in return for the money, but she is not able to withstand their advances for long. She promises herself that this time with the Mexican will be different.

Tayo falls asleep at the bar and is woken when Leroy and Harley get into a fight. He puts them into the truck and drives them home. On the way, Harley throws up, and Leroy urinates. When he stops the car Tayo gags and vomits, trying to rid himself of all of his past. The scalp ceremony rids Tayo of the memories of the Japanese that have been haunting him, but not of everything to which he has been exposed. Like in an ancient story, just having touched and seen certain things can haunt you. Tayo decides to try to follow some of Betonie's advice and to figure out how to call himself back to his people.

A long poem tells of Ck'o'yo Kaup'a'ta the gambler who tricked everyone who came his way into losing his or her life. He even captured the rain clouds, which he could not kill, but which he could keep prisoner. After three years their father the sun went looking for them. He finds his grandmother Spider Woman who tells him how to outsmart the gambler, and the Sun wins back his children, the clouds.

Tayo ends up at a woman's house. He tells her he is looking for his uncle's cattle. She allows him to water his horse and invites him in for supper. She tells him he can see the stars that night. Tayo had waited all summer until September when he saw the stars Betonie had told him about. He had followed them to this place, and when he stepped out on the porch he saw them.

Analysis

Although most of the novel is focused on the particular experiences of Native American men after World War II, a few vignettes, the one in a previous section of a mother and son in Gallup, and this one of Helen Jean also consider the specifics of women's situations. While the men have to deal with the aftermath of their experience as soldiers, and often with alcoholism, the women confront abject poverty where often their only resource is their own bodies. While the men who leave the reservation may find work, albeit greatly underpaid, doing menial or hard labor, the women are not even offered that much. Most often, although they leave the reservation with the best intentions of finding a decent job and sending money back home to help, they find that the only work they can obtain is prostitution. The stories of the women are not developed in any length, but their presence in the novel shows a concern for the range of experiences of men and women, and for the ways in which femininity as well as masculinity are affected by the contact between Native American and white cultures.

Although Tayo has embarked on a ceremony, his transformation is slow and incomplete and does not separate him completely from his past life. Tayo's joining up again with Harley and Leroy is representative of the situations throughout the novel where it is often difficult to separate the good from the bad. In fact, most situations have both positive and negative aspects that cannot be separated from one another. In this case, the friendship Harley and Leroy offer Tayo is a wonderful thing, contributing to his sense of belonging in his community and to his understanding that his reaction to the war is a common one. However, Harley and Leroy are not able to move beyond their drinking to find a true cure for themselves, and they draw Tayo back into their escape mechanism. And then, as they show Tayo the end result of their resorting to alcohol—a total lack of self control—Harley and Leroy point him back onto the right path.

The story of the gambler demonstrates that no single party is to blame in the creation of a bad situation. The gambler is only able to play with those who are willing to gamble. People are shown to be willing to gamble when they feel that they have nothing left to lose. Although he kills them, in that very act the gambler shows them that they still possessed something of value. While he is powerful, the gambler is not invincible, and with the right tools he too can be tricked.

The woman at whose house Tayo spends the night is the last of the key women figures in the novel. In this scene and in the next in which she appears, she is not given a name. In this way, she acquires a more universal, symbolic value. She is not just one particular woman, but, as she is simply called "the woman," she is representative of all women and embodies all womanhood. Tayo notes her resemblance to an antelope, which again reinforces her symbolic value: she is also the spirit of female animals. Although she feeds and houses Tayo, the woman is in no way subservient to him.

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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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