Nonlinear Narrative Structure

The Native Americans of the Pueblo see time as cyclical rather than linear. Silko produces a text that emphasizes this notion by using a nonlinear narrative structure. In most of Western literature, narrative proceeds in a temporal succession from beginning to end and from earlier to later. Although features such as analepsis (shifting back in time) and prolepsis (shifting forward in time) are standard, they are generally clearly marked and take up much less of the time and space of the novel than does the primary narrative. In Ceremony, on the other hand, it is often difficult to distinguish between primary and secondary narratives, or between past and present. Silko switches back and forth from Tayo’s childhood to his time in the Philippines to various moments after his return, following no order except the order of thematic connections between the different events. The entire novel is narrated in the past tense, so whether an event actually occurred before Tayo’s birth or in the midst of the ceremony, it appears to happen at the same time. The effect of this is to recreate a Pueblo sense of time, where all things are cyclic and where their immediacy is related not to how long ago they happened but to how important they feel in the present.

The Combination of Poetry and Prose

Silko’s use of poetry invokes the rhythmic, communal storytelling patterns of the Native Americans, while her use of prose belongs to a Western narrative tradition. By combining the two in her novel, Silko asserts that the form as well as the content of the story is about the blending of the two cultures. Thematically, white and Native American cultures clash with each other more often than they complement each other, but the prose and poetry weave together easily. In many ways, they tell the same story; “only thing is,” as Grandma says at the end, “the names sound different.” The entire stories sound different as well, as versification (the division of the verses), rhyming, alliteration (the repetition of the first letter of a word), and repetition give the poems a distinctive rhythm. The poem at the end of the novel completes the line on the page before the first prose section, enclosing the entire novel within a poem. In other words, just as whites are said to be an invention of Native American witchcraft, so is a Western form of storytelling shown to be contained within a Native American form of storytelling.