Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|
Ceremony

How do you heal after experiencing major trauma? It certainly isn't easy. In Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony (1977), a young Laguna man named Tayo has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after fighting in World War 2. He slowly finds a way to heal by reconnecting to his culture's stories, traditions, and land. Through this narrative, Silko passes down some of the myths, lessons, and values of her Laguna culture.

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Leslie Marmon Silko is an American author who draws upon her Laguna Pueblo Native American heritage as well as her experiences growing up on the outskirts of a Laguna Pueblo reservation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Silko's childhood inspired the setting of Ceremony, which takes place on a reservation near Albuquerque.

In her written works—Ceremony included— Silko incorporates aspects of her Native American culture, such as traditional myths, lessons, and values, to pass down her ancestors' teachings. Ceremony is the book that Leslie Marmon Silko is best known for today.

Ceremony Summary

Tayo, a half-Laguna Pueblo Native American and half-white man, is returning home from World War II. His experiences as a soldier have damaged his psyche. In particular, he is torn apart by the pain of losing both his uncle Josiah and his cousin Rocky during the war. Tayo has spent some time in a Veteran's Hospital and is now well enough to return to his remaining family, though he is not yet fully well.

Ceremony, a landscape of highland desert and mountains in New Mexico, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The reservation that Tayo lives on is near Albuquerque, New Mexico.

At home with his Auntie, her husband Robert, and his Grandmother, Tayo remembers that, while in the Philippines during the war, he prayed for the rain there to stop. Now Tayo finds that there is a drought that has been plaguing the reservation his family lives on. Tayo can't help but feel that his prayer in the Philippines caused the drought.

Drought is a real threat today to Laguna communities, as it hurts their crops, livestock, and economy. In Ceremony, Silko uses this real-world threat as a parallel to a lack of connection to cultural traditions and the land.

Tayo begins spending time with some of his old friends who live on the reservation: Emo, Pinkie, Harley, and Leroy. Though this helps Tayo to realize that he isn't alone in dealing with the negative effects of the war, it ends up making him feel worse. His friends are trying to deal with their experiences by getting drunk and talking fondly of their time as soldiers because they had garnered respect while in uniform—something they feel they cannot get otherwise. Tayo disagrees with how they glorify war; this angers the others, especially Emo.

Eventually, Tayo's grandmother decides that the best way to help Tayo recover is by having Ku'oosh, a medicine man, perform a traditional ceremony. It helps, but not completely; Ku'oosh explains that the ceremonies that were developed in the past have been less effective in healing modern ailments. Because Tayo needs to heal from a modern war, Ku'oosh says he might need a new ceremony. Ku'oosh tells Tayo to go to Betonie, the medicine man in another town. Betonie tells Tayo that to be fully healed from what he did during the war, Tayo must help heal the world. Tayo can accomplish this by performing a new ceremony to help heal the damage that white people have caused to the land.

Betonie instructs Tayo to recover Josiah's cattle and end the drought that has dried out the reservation for years. Tayo journeys first on foot and horseback as he searches for the lost cattle. Along the way, he meets a mysterious woman who houses him overnight; that night, Tayo dreams of the cows he is searching for. The next day he finds them fenced in on a white man's land; he cuts a hole in the fence through which he can lead them home.

Then, Tayo is attacked and wounded by white men. He is saved when he hears the distant singing of a Laguna hunter who takes him home to recover. It turns out that the hunter is the brother of the woman Tayo spent the night with before. The woman helps Tayo to recover the cattle.

As time passes, Tayo begins to heal more and more while he cares for the herd of cows. Despite this, his healing still isn't complete—and neither is his ceremony. He falls in love with the mysterious woman, whose name is Ts'eh. She gathers many plants and helps Tayo to recognize his growing connection to and love of the natural world.

Ceremony, a steer walking in the desert, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Returning his uncle's cattle to his family's home is part of Tayo's ceremony.

Eventually, Ts'eh explains that Emo has been plotting to get rid of Tayo; Emo has hated him since he criticized Emo for idealizing the war. Tayo goes on the run, hiding until he finds his old friends Leroy and Harley. Feeling safe with them, Tayo gets into their car; however, before long it becomes clear that these friends intend to betray him and hand him over to Emo. Tayo escapes from them and shelters in a uranium mine; while there, he thinks about the destruction and killing caused by the white man's atomic bomb. Emo and Pinkie soon arrive and begin to torture Harley for losing Tayo. Though tempted to kill Emo, Tayo realizes that doing so would undo all the healing he has undergone.

Tayo makes it through a night in the mine without giving in to violence, completing his ceremony. He then returns to Ku'oosh to tell the story. The medicine man reveals that Ts'eh is actually the Reed Woman, A'moo'ooh, who has the power to make the rain return and end the drought. Though both Leroy and Harley are later found murdered and Emo gets away with it, Tayo is finally healed.

In traditional Laguna culture, time is not considered linear or moving forward in a straight line; rather, it is seen as circular. In this way, things that happened in the past can be just as important and pressing as things in the here and now.

Can you point out any parts of the novel that don't happen in chronological order? What do you think this adds to the book and its themes?

Ceremony Characters

  • Tayo: The protagonist of the story. After fighting in World War II and losing an uncle and a cousin to the war, Tayo has PTSD. In an attempt to heal, he visits traditional Laguna medicine men and sets off on a journey to complete a ceremony that will heal him.
  • Josiah: Tayo's uncle. He took care of cattle before the war, but when he was killed his herd was taken by a white man.
  • Rocky: Tayo's cousin. He was killed while fighting in World War II.
  • Auntie: Tayo's aunt. She lives in Tayo's family home and is involved in sending Tayo to the medicine men.
  • Robert: Auntie's husband. He lives in Tayo's family home.
  • Grandma: Tayo's grandmother; she lives in Tayo's family home. It is her idea for him to visit a medicine man.
  • Ku'oosh: The medicine man that Tayo visits first. Though his ceremony helps, it does not completely heal Tayo. At the end of the book, Tayo returns to him to tell the story of his ceremony.
  • Betonie: The second medicine man that Tayo visits. He tells Tayo that to heal fully, he must perform a ceremony to help heal the world.
  • Ts'eh: A mysterious woman who assists Tayo on his journey to recover Josiah's cattle and later warns him of Emo's plot. It is revealed that she is actually the Reed Woman, a mystical being who can end the drought.
  • Emo: A childhood acquaintance of Tayo's. He dislikes and eventually plots to kill Tayo.
  • Harley: An old friend of Tayo's. He intends to hand Tayo over to Emo and is tortured and killed when Tayo escapes.
  • Leroy: An old friend of Tayo's. He intends to hand Tayo over to Emo and is then killed when Tayo escapes.
  • Pinkie: Emo's henchman. He helps with Emo's plot to kill Tayo.

Ceremony Symbols

The symbolism in Leslie Marmon Silko's novel, Ceremony, helps to clarify the text's themes. Two important symbols Silko uses are the gut and the atomic bomb.

The Gut

In Ceremony, Silko writes that the gut is where you hold stories and traditions. From there, you can digest them slowly over time, and the lessons and values that come from them nourish you. Throughout the story, Tayo is aware of his stomach. Sometimes it feels empty; other times he feels it processing food. These occasions reflect Tayo's digestion of Laguna stories that nourish and assist him along his journey to healing.

The Atomic Bomb

When sheltering in the uranium mine near the end of the novel, Tayo begins to think about the war and the atomic bombs used in it. Silko draws parallels between the indiscriminate killing of the bombs and the destruction that has been wrought upon the Laguna people and culture. This ties into Tayo's decision to resist the urge to kill Emo. Tayo decides against resorting to violence and destruction, which would only undo the healing that he had already done.

Ceremony Themes

In Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko addresses several important themes in her Laguna culture. Some of these themes are storytelling, tradition, and connection to nature.

Storytelling

In Laguna culture, storytelling is more than just entertainment. Stories are a way to pass down lessons, values, and traditions. The characters in Ceremony frequently compare stories to medicine and other things essential to a person's life. Silko emphasizes this further when she explains that Tayo, like others from the Laguna culture, is losing his tie to their stories. For example, at the Indian School, Tayo is taught that believing in such stories is ridiculous. On the other hand, the Laguna culture teaches that passing down stories is their best defense against the dominant culture stamping them out.

Traditional Laguna stories are featured throughout Ceremony, emphasizing the lessons that Tayo learns through his experiences. Silko further underlines how critical storytelling is when, after spending a night in the mine and resisting violence, Tayo returns to his town's medicine man to tell the story of his ceremony.

Tradition

One of the things that Tayo must do in order to heal is to reconnect with tradition. Some of the younger Laguna people, including Tayo's old friends, have started to feel that the old traditions are not useful in the modern day. While some people have chosen to forgo the old ways, Tayo finds healing in strengthening his relationship with his heritage.

Part of this traditional heritage is ceremony.

The people nowadays [...] think the ceremonies must be performed exactly as they have always been done [...] But long ago when the people were given these ceremonies, the changing began, if only in the aging of the yellow gourd rattle or the shrinking of the skin around the eagle's claw, if only in the different voices from generation to generation, singing the chants. You see, in many ways, the ceremonies have always been changing.” (Ceremony, “Sunrise”)

This quote shows that, rather than being relics of the past, traditions and ceremonies can change and adapt to the world as it is now. They can have meaning and value in the present, as well as provide a link to ancestors. By telling the story of his own ceremony, Tayo is weaving himself into the traditions of his Laguna ancestors and healing.

Connection to Nature

The natural world and all its inhabitants are important in Laguna culture, as well as the connection that a person feels to them. Leslie Marmon Silko addresses this theme in Ceremony by making it an integral part of Tayo's recovery. Early in the story, Tayo begins to process his experiences differently when considering his relationship with nature. He remembers a time that he hunted a deer; instead of seeing himself as an aggressor killing his prey, he views it as the deer giving itself to him out of love. This highlights that Tayo is part of a relationship with nature. His people love and respect the deer, and the deer love and provide sustenance for them in return.

Ceremony, two deer standing in grass, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Thinking about the deer's love helps Tayo to reconnect to nature.

Tayo comes to realize that he had felt disconnected not only from traditions but from nature. As he feels connected once again to the natural world and traditions, Tayo's pain over the deaths of Josiah and Rocky begins to heal. Where he had previously felt their deaths as a complete loss of them, Tayo now feels reconnected to Josiah and Rocky through the love that they shared. Silko also compares this to how nature survives even when humans destroy parts of it.

Ceremony Quotes

The following quote suggests that, like the cattle he cares for, Tayo needs a connection to nature to be fully himself. Eventually, Tayo's awareness of the natural world is strengthened, and he does begin to heal.

Cattle are like any living thing. If you separate them from the land for too long ... they lose something.” (Ceremony, “Sunrise”)

In the quote below, Silko contrasts traditional Laguna culture with the lack of connection to the nature of the dominant culture in her novel. She writes,

…they grow away from the earth then they grow away from the sun then they grow away from the plants and animals. They see no life [...] they see only objects. The world is a dead thing for them the trees and rivers are not alive the mountains and stones are not alive. The deer and bear are objects They see no life.” (Ceremony, “Sunrise”)

In the quote below, Leslie Marmon Silko illustrates how Tayo heals as his connection to nature and tradition is restored. He realizes that everything is connected—every person, animal, and part of nature. His ancestors, traditions, and past are all integral parts of his present story and that of the greater world. His view on life becomes much more hopeful.

As far as he could see, in all directions, the world was alive.” (Ceremony, “Sunrise”)

Ceremony - Key Takeaways

  • Ceremony is a novel by Leslie Marmon Silko.
  • Silko‘s writing is inspired by her Laguna Pueblo Native American heritage.
  • Symbols used in Ceremony include the gut and the atomic bomb.
  • Some of the book's major themes are storytelling, tradition, and connection to nature.

References

  1. Fig. 1 - Public Domain: https://pixabay.com/photos/sun-clouds-desert-albuquerque-3633736/
  2. Fig. 2 - Public Domain: https://pixabay.com/photos/cow-cattle-desert-livestock-beef-2429350/
  3. Fig. 3 - Public Domain: https://pixabay.com/photos/deer-wild-forest-grass-nature-usa-2924068/

Frequently Asked Questions about Ceremony

Tayo has PTSD after fighting in World War II. 

Rocky was killed while fighting in World War II. 

Helen Jean is a woman that Leroy and Harley pick up at a bar. 

Leslie Marmon Silko wrote Ceremony as a way to connect with and preserve some of her Laguna Pueblo culture. 

The end of Tayo's ceremony in Ceremony is spending a night in a uranium mine and resisting his urge to kill Emo. 

Final Ceremony Quiz

Question

Who wrote Ceremony?

Show answer

Answer

Leslie Marmon Silko

Show question

Question

In what year was Ceremony published?

Show answer

Answer

1977

Show question

Question

Which of the following are major themes in Ceremony?

Show answer

Answer

Sisterhood

Show question

Question

Which of the following are important symbols in Ceremony?

Show answer

Answer

The gut

Show question

Question

What inspires Leslie Marmon Silko to write about Laguna culture?

Show answer

Answer

Her own Laguna heritage.

Show question

Question

Why does Leslie Marmon Silko write about Laguna traditions?

Show answer

Answer

She wants to pass on some of the things her ancestors taught her. 

Show question

Question

What is wrong with Tayo?

Show answer

Answer

He suffers from trauma after fighting in World War II and losing two family members to the war. 

Show question

Question

Why does Tayo think he is to blame for the drought on the Laguna reservation?

Show answer

Answer

While fighting in the Philippines, he prayed for the rain to stop. 

Show question

Question

What does Betonie tell Tayo to do?

Show answer

Answer

Perform a ceremony to help heal the world in order to heal himself. 

Show question

Question

Who warns Tayo of Emo's plot against him?

Show answer

Answer

Ts'eh

Show question

Question

Who planned to betray Tayo and hand him over to Emo?

Show answer

Answer

Tayo's childhood friends Harley and Leroy. 

Show question

Question

Why does Emo torture Harley?

Show answer

Answer

Because Harley lost Tayo instead of delivering him to Emo.

Show question

Question

Why does Tayo decide not to kill Emo in the mine?

Show answer

Answer

He realized that it would undo all the healing he had done. 

Show question

Question

Who is Ts'eh really?

Show answer

Answer

The Reed Woman, A'moo'ooh, who can bring rain and end the drought. 

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Ceremony quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.