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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.
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Ceremony!