Tayo embodies the confluence of Native American and white cultures, both present in his ancestry, and in his experience, which brings him from the reservation, to the US army, to the Philippines, to a Veteran's Hospital, and back to the reservation. Carrying the signs of the cultural mixing in his green eyes often makes Tayo bear the brunt of a whole society's confusion at the ways in which the world is changing. Especially since he never knew his father and was abandoned by his mother at the age of four, Tayo encounters great difficulty in negotiating his mixed identity and experience. This is exacerbated by his Auntie who raises him with the constant reminder of his difference. Like most of his peers, Tayo is educated in white-run schools. Unlike his friends, however, he often finds the white ways of life faulty and continues to respect and to believe in the Native American traditions he learns from his family as well. Tayo is prepared to serve as a bridge between the older and younger generations of Native Americans.

World War II interrupts Tayo's life, as it does to most Americans of his generation. He comes of age on the battlefield, amidst tremendous death and destruction. His awareness of the connections among of all people and all things makes it incredibly difficult for Tayo to kill in a war he does not understand, in a place far from his home. The majority of the Native American men who return from World War II drown their trauma in alcohol, full of confused anger. Tayo, however, is more sad than angry. Painfully aware of the ways in which Native Americans were and are mistreated by whites, Tayo is not interested in glorifying his time in the army. These characteristics allow him to respond to the help the medicine men Ku'oosh and Betonie offer.

His lifelong desperation to belong in his family and his community, along with his deep-seated belief in the power of the old traditions, allow Tayo to take up the challenge offered by Betonie and to undertake the completion of the ceremony, which can cure both himself and his people. Although he often falters along the path, Tayo's acceptance of the Native American mythical world allows him to benefit from the aid of accidents, animals, spirits, and the elements.