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Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko Essay

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Updated: Sep 16th, 2019

Ceremony is a novel by a native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko belonging to the Laguna Pueblo tribe. As a work of historiographic metafiction, the novel Ceremony combines the features of a work of fiction with claims for historical significance of this work.

The storytelling techniques and symbols were used by Silko in the novel Ceremony for expressing the main idea of restoring the national identity of Native Americans by renewing their connection with traditional spirituality.

Analyzing the storytelling techniques used by Silko in her novel Ceremony and the main ideas expressed in it, it can be stated that this novel is a work of historiographic metafiction.

On the one hand, the recurrence of embedded texts based on traditional myths and legends of Native American culture different from Western prose make this novel intriguing and fascinating for modern readers. On the other hand, depiction of the real life historical setting after the World War II can be regarded as a claim for historical significance of this text.

Tayo, the main protagonist of half-white/half Pueblo origin, is a culturally and morally ill veteran of the World War II who lives in-between the two worlds, the first one of Native American culture and another one of the aftermath of the military conflict when the contribution of Native Americans was understated.

Therefore, Silko’s novel can be regarded as an attempt to adapt the rituals of ancient culture to modern circumstances to heal the wounds of the oppressed people. In an opening poem, the narrator, the so-called Thought-Woman denies the individual authorship of the novel.

Moreover, the narrator defines the genre of this work of literature not as a novel but as a tribal source, emphasizing the historiographic value of this work.

The storytelling in Ceremony functions as not only a method of restoring and documenting the sequence of historical events, but also as a link between Tayo’s memories and his identity, between humans and nature. Tayo, who restores the memories of his origins and past experiences, reestablishes his national identity which was ruined because of the invasion of the whites.

The issues of renewing and reconsidering Native American identity are central to the plot lines of Ceremony. It is rather symbolical that the psychiatrist who treats Tayo after he returns from war makes attempts to relieve his pain by blocking his memories.

“Visions and memories of the past did not penetrate there, and he [Tayo] had drifted in colors of smoke, where there was no pain, only pale, pale grey of the north wall by his bed” (Silko 15). However, this particular intervention is only one of examples through which whites tried to deprive Native Americans of their culture and national identity.

The blocked stories in Tayo’s memories are perceived by the protagonist as being absent. His soul and mind seem to be separated from his ghost-like body which does not obey Tayo. The protagonist cannot scream at the doctor when he wants to and cannot express his emotions in any other ways.

“Tayo felt weak, and the longer he walked, the more his legs felt as though they might become invisible again” (Silko 16). The illusion of invisibility is closely related to the loss of national identity by indigenous people.

After the treatment at Euro-American hospital, Tayo is considered as nobody by the psychiatrist because he has lost his national and personal identity and cannot reach to the outside world. Tayo’s searches for his personal identity are intertwined with the process of his treatment. To restore his memories and renew the link between him and earth is the only way for curing Tayo.

Completed only by the end of the novel, the ceremony as one of Native American rituals enables the main protagonist and his people to restore their national identity and save the Native Americans’ community. As it can be seen from the novel under analysis, the intervention of the white population into the life and traditions of Native Americans can be regarded as the biggest evil in their history.

Coming to the territories inhabited by indigenous population, the whites took away the land which according to the beliefs of Native Americans cannot be regarded as somebody’s property. Additionally, the whites brought other evils, such as alcoholism which has become widely spread among the Indigenous population.

What is even more dangerous, Indians have lost their connection with earth and their national traditions. Tayo, as well as his childhood friends, tries to relieve his pain by leading an alcoholic lifestyle which can be regarded as an attribute of the invasion of the whites.

These are only Tayo’s grandmother and one of the indigenous medicine men Betonie as representatives of older generation who believe in Tayo’s ability to return to traditional spirituality and heal his wounds. It is significant that the ceremony completed by the main protagonist saves him.

Therefore, the main conclusion which can be drawn from the novel by Silko is not to fight against the white oppressors, but to accept their presence and to live more or less symbiotic with aggressors by preserving the attachment to native traditions and spirituality.

By combining the legends and discussion of modern problems faced by Tayo as one of the Native American veterans of the World War II, Silko shows the devastating effects of the invasion of the whites into the life of Indians and emphasizes the importance of returning to their traditional spirituality for restoring their national identity and healing their wounds.

Works Cited

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko." September 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ceremony-by-leslie-marmon-silko-2/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko'. 16 September.

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