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Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

Study Questions and Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

Discuss Silko's use of Laguna words in the text.

Laguna names appear primarily in the poem sections. They are used for people and places, as well as for a few chants. The very first word in the book, after the title, is a Laguna name, "Ts'its'tsi'nako." This is immediately translated into English, "Thought-Woman," and a few lines below is further explained, "the spider." The placement of this name implies that the original language of the story is Laguna and that the story is being translated for a non-Laguna audience. Interestingly, after this first one the Laguna words are rarely translated into English. The first translation can be seen to serve to let the reader know that these words do have English meanings, which then underlines the fact that the English-speaking reader does not know what the other Laguna words mean. At one moment in the novel, when Ts'eh tells Tayo her name, but specifies that it is a nickname, Tayo comments explicitly on the use of Laguna names in his community. His observation, that many Laguna shorten or abandon their Laguna names in favor of names that are more easily assimilable to English, offers a way to analyze the disparity between the use of Laguna names in the poem and prose sections.

2.

Discuss the use of the spring as a symbol in Ceremony.

The spring is a source of the water that is so essential to the drought-wracked Laguna land. Josiah first shows Tayo the spring which even during the most severe of droughts continues to produce water. In this way, the spring symbolizes that nature always provides the means to survive through a drought. As a teenager, Tayo remembers the stories Josiah has told him about rain ceremonies, and he goes to the spring to create his own. It works. In this instance, the spring represents the ancient sacred places of the Laguna, and Tayo's ability to use them. Tayo returns to the spring as he and Harley ride through the desert. At the spring, he recovers from heatstroke and, remembering his earlier visits, regains hope for the future. The continued existence of the spring over the years Tayo was away at war, symbolizes the ways in which nature ignores the individual traumas of any one person's life. The spring's ability to give Tayo hope for the future also symbolizes nature's resiliency and the cycles in which the rain comes and goes and comes again.

3.

How does alcoholism affect the characters in the novel?

Although parts of the novel are set during Prohibition, alcohol is always readily available in bars along the reservation line. The fact that none of the bars are situated inside the reservation marks alcohol and alcoholism as problems imported by whites. The men who are most affected by alcoholism are those who have returned from fighting in World War II, which reaffirms the idea that it is not a problem indigenous to the Native Americans.

Without any effective cure, either from the white doctors or from the old ceremonies, for the anguish created by the meeting of white and Native American cultures, especially in warfare, many of the Native American men self-medicate with alcohol. As Tayo explains, alcohol dulls some of the pain and anger the veterans feel. However, alcohol is not a viable solution to the problem. For women, it is part of the slippery path into prostitution and destitution, as in the cases of Tayo's mother and of Helen Jean. For men, it is an agent of internalized racism and of deadly apathy, and it is an enabler of violence that inevitably turns on themselves. Alcohol repeatedly is presented to Tayo as a distraction from his ceremony. While he is eventually able to leave the bars, his buddies are not. The result is deadly for each man involved.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. What do animals symbolize in the novel? Consider what real animals appear in the story as well as the use of animals in metaphors. Discuss any special importance of specific animals.

2. What role do Mexicans play in Ceremony? Think about how Mexicans are similar to and different from Native Americans, and why is it important for certain characters to be Mexican.

3. How is old age presented? Consider which characters are old and if we know their age. What does their age do for them? What does it allow them to do for others?

4. How does repetition function in Ceremony? Think about formal (sentence structure, rhyme, etc.) as well as thematic repetition. Consider both small and large scales, such as the repetition of sounds in a single sentence or the repetition of ideas in the prose and poetry sections.

5. Discuss the importance of dreams. What does Tayo dream about? How does Tayo's relationship to his dreams change in the course of the novel?

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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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