American Paradoxes in Ceremony

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Mary Knoob

1991 Prompt
Ceremony is Leslie Marmon Silko’s coming-of-age novel of a Native American man who must confront his ethnic heritage in order to mature and discover his purpose in life. Tayo, the main character must deal with two conflicting obligations and influences. His first obligation is to his Native American heritage, as his family members urge him to keep the ceremonies alive. He is also obligated to protect himself from friends, haunting memories from his past and authorities. The conflict between these obligations in Tayo’s life are eventually resolved by his ability to integrate past and present, illuminating the theme that is necessary to draw on one’s past to resolve the problems of today. Silko illustrates this meaning through the characters and actions through the integrations of myths, stories, songs and poems into the novel and by emphasizing the Native American view of time as circular in nature.

Tayo’s character is best described as conflicted. He must cope with flashbacks and nightmares from the Vietnam War, and his hospitalization for mental problems. For a time he turns to alcohol as a release from his problems, and Silko uses this experience as an opportunity to represent the problems on an Indian Reservation, especially alcoholism. With help from Josiah and Medicine Men, Tayo begins to learn more about his ethnic heritage and starts to feel the obligation to participate in the Laguna Pueblo Ceremonies. However, Tayo is hesitant to commit himself to the influences of the past, and often escapes by drinking and picking up women with his friends. These experiences develop into his other obligation, to protect himself from friends who turned against him. The only influence that Tayo does commit to is Ts’eh, the woman he met after being beaten by white ranch hands. He spends a summer with her, living in a a cave and learning important traditions from her. She teaches him about gathering herbs and flowers for...
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