Leslie Marmon Silko’s book Ceremony was initially released by Viking Publications in March 1977. The ceremonial customs and oral traditions of the Navajo and Pueblo people served as the inspiration for the title Ceremony.
Ceremony Novel Summary
“Ceremony” by Leslie Marmon Silko is a novel that explores the struggles of a mixed-race Native American veteran named Tayo who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving in World War II. The story takes place in the Laguna Pueblo reservation in New Mexico and follows Tayo as he seeks to heal from his trauma and find his place in the world.
The novel weaves elements of traditional Laguna Pueblo culture and storytelling with Western literary techniques, creating a unique and powerful narrative. Through Tayo’s journey, Silko explores themes of identity, memory, colonialism, and the power of storytelling.
Tayo is initially unable to find peace or belonging in his community, and he turns to alcohol and drugs to numb his pain. However, with the help of his Auntie and a medicine man named Betonie, Tayo begins to undergo a spiritual and emotional healing process.
Throughout the novel, Silko interweaves traditional Laguna Pueblo stories and mythology, highlighting the importance of oral tradition and the power of storytelling in Native American culture. Ultimately, Tayo is able to find a sense of wholeness and connection by reconnecting with his culture and embracing his own unique identity.
Overall, “Ceremony” is a powerful and beautifully written novel that explores the complexities of Native American identity and the legacy of trauma and colonization.
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Ceremony By Leslie Marmon Silko Summary
Tayo, a World War II veteran who returned to his Laguna Pueblo tribe through a veterans hospital, should indeed devise a plan to heal his psychological anguish and distress and restore rain to his community. Ceremony blends together both poetry and prose to tell both Tayo’s personal narrative and the communal narrative of his tribe.
Tayo was driven insane by the shock of believing he spotted his uncle Josiah’s image in the group of Japanese troops he was told to kill and then witnessed his cousin Rocky’s death. He spends some time recovering in a soldiers’ hospital before being able to go back in with his family—his grandmother, his aunt, and her spouse Robert. After his mother, who had given birth to him with an unidentified white guy, abandoned him permanently when he was four years old, he was raised by this family. In addition to his family’s anguish from losing Rocky, Tayo must also deal with his ongoing grief over the passing of his beloved uncle Josiah.
He also struggles with remorse about a prayer he said in the Philippines’ jungles against rain, which he believes is to blame for the drought that has been destroying the reserve for the last six years. Tayo learns that he isn’t lonely as he slowly recovers. Harley, Emo, Leroy, and Pinkie, his old buddies who also served in the military, struggle with comparable post-traumatic stress disorder and are using alcohol as a medicine. Little solace comes from the companionship of his friends. His old colleagues talk about the greatness of the war and the respect they achieved for participating in it, walking in that uniform.
Tayo is disturbed and enraged by these stories solely because they remind him of the extreme prejudice that white people, who they yet pretend to adore, have against Native Americans. When Tayo starts to lose faith and wishes he could return to the VA hospital, his grandma summons Ku’oosh, the medicine man. Ku’oosh conducts a ceremony for soldiers who have died in combat for Tayo, but both he and Tayo worry that the customs of the past do not apply in this current circumstance.
The ceremony of Ku’oosh aids Tayo but does not completely heal him. It makes him reflect on his past, particularly the summer time prior to when he joined the army. Despite Auntie’s best efforts to keep the two sons apart, Tayo and Rocky grew close and joined the army together the summer after graduating high school. That summer, Night Swan, a Hispanic woman who lived close to the reserve, captured Josiah’s heart. He bought a flock of Mexican cattle on her advice, and Tayo helped him care for them. That summer, a drought took place as always. Tayo creates a rain ceremony in the spring after learning the traditional tales of how to end droughts.
Rain falls the next day. Josiah is prevented from seeing Night Swan by the rain, which also benefits the livestock and the crops. He requests Tayo to deliver a note to her. While delivering the note, Tayo is enticed by Night Swan. Ku’oosh sends Tayo to the neighboring town of Gallup to look for a different medicine man, Betonie, who is more knowledgeable about the issues brought on by the encounter of white cultures and the Native Americans, realizing that his ceremony wasn’t sufficient for Tayo. Tayo tells him what’s bothering him, despite his skepticism of Betonie’s peculiar ways and particularly strong link to the white world. As they are being told, Betonie says that a new ceremony needs to be created and performed to which Tayo agrees.
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When he conducts the ancient ceremonies, Betonie recounts Tayo stories about them. Next Betonie tells Tayo legends about his grandfather Descheeny and the start of the building of a new ceremony to prevent the harm that the whites, a product of Native American witchcraft, are causing to the earth. Informing Tayo that the event has not yet been over, Betonie sends him back home. Tayo briefly adopts their way of life when he runs into Harley and Leroy on the return trip, but he soon moves on and pays attention to the warning indications Betonie gave him while he looks for Josiah’s cattle. Tayo finds a woman’s home by following the stars.
Tayo ascends into the mountains after spending the night with Ts’eh. He discovers a white guy’s field fenced in with Josiah’s animals. The cattle flee to the pasture’s distant reaches as Tayo enters it, and Tayo spends the entire night seeking them. Tayo begins to surrender as morning draws near when one mountain lion approaches him. Tayo commemorates the mountain lion by going to the cattle on its tracks. Two white patrolmen locate Tayo just as he leads the livestock out of the pasture. The patrolmen detain Tayo despite not knowing the cattle have vanished and been aware of his transgression.
But, they find the mountain lion footprints before they’re able to bring Tayo to town, so they let him go hunting instead. Tayo leaves as it starts to snow. Tayo is aware that doing this will obliterate both the mountain lion’s and his cattle’s traces, making the patrolmen’s efforts pointless. Tayo encounters a hunter, who stays with Ts’eh while traveling down the mountain. She has herded Tayo’s cattle when they get back to her house, where she keeps them until Robert and Tayo bring a cattle truck to collect them.
Tayo feels better after going home with Josiah’s cattle. But the drought continues, and Tayo is aware that the ceremony is still incomplete. He visits the family’s ranch where the cattle are kept and discovers Ts’eh.
Together, they enjoy the summer, but as it comes to an end, Robert stops by and informs Tayo that Emo has indeed been gossiping about him. Soon after, Ts’eh alerts Tayo to the fact that white police and Emo are after him. She instructs Tayo on how to escape capture before she departs. Tayo successfully avoids the police by following Ts’eh’s directions. He runs into Harley and Leroy while still evading Emo. Tayo discovers that Harley, Leroy, and Emo have banded together too late to act. Tayo discovers himself at an isolated mine site after taking off again. Tayo recognizes that this is the final stage of the ceremony, the one where he combines a component of white culture, which in this case is the mine.
The ritual will be finished as soon as he spends the night there. Emo and Pinkie will show up soon. Tayo must watch them torment Harley from a hidden spot while controlling his want to murder Emo just to save Harley. Tayo makes it through the night with the aid of the wind. He reverts to Ku’oosh after leaving his house. After learning of Tayo’s ceremony, Ku’oosh declares that Ts’eh was actually A’moo’ooh, who had blessed Tayo and his ceremony, putting an end to the drought and stopping the annihilation of the whites. To complete the rite, Tayo spends one final night at Ku’oosh’s house before heading back home.
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What I Mean…
Wars destroy not only human lives but also their mentality and even the peace of those who survived. The protagonist here is one such war veteran who has been suffering from mental stress after the world war and we see his journey to the moment he discovered peace.