Twentieth-century American fiction firmly locates narrative in the individual consciousness. Yet it also presents an image of the self struggling for autonomy and meaning against the bonds of history or the emptiness of the present. Examine the construction of the self in the work of one of the authors on the syllabus.
What do we have to understand by self-knowledge? What do we have to know about the self? The answer to the question “who am I?” implies some precise opinions. I am Mr. A, Mr. B. A person defined by its culture, I am a body; I am my social role and my character. For others, the question “who am I?” means more: I am a person with its moral qualities, a soul, a spirit, I am a man, and I am a composition. Or even better, I am myself, I am my past. Each of these definitions corresponds to a form of self-knowledge.
Having a mix of Laguna Pueblo, Mexican, and White ancestry, the Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko leans her work on identity, tradition and history. In her books, Silko deals with many issues related to American Indians. Besides, her half-breed character in Ceremony, can be perceived as a projection of her own person. Indeed, Alan R. Velie said in Four American Literary Masters that Silko revealed that living in Laguna Pueblo society as a mixed blood from a prominent family caused her a lot of pain. It meant being different from, and not fully accepted by either the full blooded Native Americans or White people. In such situation, identity references are sufficiently confused and disordered. The story of Tayo is a story of refiguring identity. This deconstruction of his social status as an outsider, a role he has internalized on from his early childhood, involves an intense and painful confrontation with both his Pueblo and White legacies. These conflicting fragments of identity are united within himself. What about self-knowledge? Does Tayo possess a feeling of belonging? It leads to analyse how identity is initially defective. Then, we will try to show how this evolution is difficult and full of pitfalls. And finally, we will have a closer look at Silko’s narrative, how this one is dedicated to the construction of the self.
To say “I am Laguna Pueblo” means giving to oneself an identity by a cultural definition. It means marking and showing the individual who distinguishes and identifies my person to a culture I am proud to represent, by opposing myself to others. It means proclaiming a belonging. The main character of the novel Ceremony, Tayo, is not able to declare this sense of belonging. He embodies the confluence of Native American and white cultures, both present in his ancestry, and in his experience. He is completely confused and it is clear that he encounters a great difficulty in negotiating his mixed identity and experience. These difficulties rose in childhood, or even when he bore. Indeed, Tayo represents the result of a union between two culturally opposite people. Tayo will never know his white father, and her Native-American mother will abandon him at the age of four. Carrying the signs of the cultural mixing in his green eyes, Tayo bear the brunt of two historical societies. And it is useless to underline that their mutual history is luxuriant and full of problems: European explorations, colonial revolts, resistance, removals and reservations… Identity and belonging are also constructed through education. But along his childhood, Tayo is raised by his Auntie with the constant reminder of his difference from the others, he does not belong entirely to the community, he is not entirely one of them. In the whole book, Auntie never called Tayo by his name: “They’re not brothers,’ she’d say, ‘that’s Laura’s boy. You know the one.’ (…) She could maintain a distance between Rocky, who was her pride, and the other, unwanted child”. (p 60) Initially, his identity was manifestly bandy-legged because he is the son of a white man and a Native American woman. He...
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