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Although Ceremony is clearly a Native
American novel about the adverse effects white people have on Native
American culture and on the world in general, the Native Americans
in the story are not idealized, nor are they wholly positive characters.
Along with Emo, Auntie is one of the most negative characters in
the book. In addition to embracing some of the more destructive
elements of white society, Auntie also adheres to Native American
tradition in a destructive manner.
The eldest daughter of Grandma, Auntie, whose given name
is Thelma, will be the next matriarch of her family. As such, she
feels responsible to the community for her family and especially
her younger siblings. However, Auntie is more concerned about how Laura
and Josiah's actions will affect the respect the community gives
to her family and what gossip they may cause to be spread, than
she is with their welfare. Similarly, she follows the letter rather than
the spirit of Native American traditions, leading her to condemn
completely any relationship outside of the community. In addition
to this blind adherence to Native American social mores, Auntie
is a devout Christian who thrives on a narrow interpretation of
the concept of martyrdom. In Auntie's understanding of martyrdom,
she will gain the respect of her peers if she is seen to suffer
for the sins of others. It is in this spirit that she raises Tayo,
rather than out of any love for him or any sense of the Native American
concept of family, which is not limited to nuclear (mother, father,
and child) units.
Although Auntie is a highly problematic character who
causes all sorts of unnecessary problems in Tayo's life, she is
not demonized. Although she does not do it out of love, she does
raise Tayo. She causes difficulty, but not ruin. Her mistreatment
of Tayo is attenuated by the rest of her family. Auntie's misunderstanding
of both Native American and Christian traditions is the result of
the same clashing of cultures that affects everyone in the novel.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Ceremony!