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Ceremony

Further Study

Study Questions

Further Study Study Questions

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.

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.

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.