Leslie Silko Ceremony 1977 Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Leslie Silko's Ceremony is a highly informative and insightful work that offers a closer glimpse into the lives of Pueblo people and their culture. The author focuses on the various ceremonies and traditions that are considered essential for spiritual and physical healing in such traditional societies. The story revolves around the disease that Tayo has contracted during wartime and that appears to consume him completely. Through Tayo and two other young men Rocky and Emo, Silko has tried to reveal the inferiority complex that Pueblo youth suffers and the desperation with which they seek access to the world white. These three young men from Laguna enlist in the Army to achieve their ultimate goal of being a part of the white world and so when the recruiter informs them that, "Anyone can fight for America, even you boys."(p. 64), the three young men are naturally ecstatic. But their dreams, hopes and aspirations are rudely shaken and shattered by their experience in the army during the Second World War. Rocky dies on the battleground, Emo turns to alcohol to erase painful memories and Tayo becomes a victim of severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

"He couldn't vomit any more, and the little face was still there, so he cried at how the world had come undone, how thousands of miles, high ocean waves and green jungles could not hold people in their place. Years and months had become weak, and people could push against them and wander back and forth in time." (18).

This sparks off his quest for a cure and much to his surprise, the white world fails miserably in providing an effective medicine.

Tayo realizes that the cure that veterans had succumbed to was anything but a 'cure'. It was an illusion, which was only pushing them deeper into the pits of misery and sickness. Veterans had chosen to resort to drinking and sharing stories about witchery of the world that did nothing to decrease the pain. Tayo tried this cure and it only made him feel physically and spiritually ill so he turns to traditional chants and ceremonies. Ku'oosh is an old man who tries to heal him but his ceremony proves ineffective as he concludes:

"Some things we can't cure like we used to . . . not since the white people came." (38)

Tayo is left with absolute no options. It appears that both the modern and traditional medicines have failed him and he wonders if there is any cure for him. The answer arrives in the form of two people who practice traditional ceremonies and understand the significance of nature and derive power from it. Montano is the woman who teaches Tayo about nature and traditional ceremonies and equips him with power "emanating from the mesas and arroyos. . . [replacing] the rhythm that had been interrupted long ago."(227) She is the symbol of Corn Mother.

When you read Native American literature, the first thing that you might notice is the unusual narrative style that makes an intricately woven plot even more complex. The skillful use of various literary devices to merge prose with poetry spins an intricate web around the main story thus adding to its complexity and giving narration a deeper meaning than is apparent on the surface. This style of narration is however quite befitting for the type of stories one comes across in Native American literature as they are certainly not easy to grasp considering they connect spiritual world with the material one through their own native rituals. This is exactly what we see in Leslie Silko's novel ceremony where the author has carefully woven a web to unfold her main story and objectives. The author is trying to re-establish a link between man and his spiritual world. Man needs the support of the world around him and in order to establish a real connection with the greater force of the world outside, it is important to purge one's self of witchery of the material world.

In the very beginning of the novel, we are told that Tayo is suffering from some kind of Post-traumatic stress disorder, which doesn't affect any part of his body except his stomach. Had he been psychologically affected by the war, some other parts of his body especially his brain should have suffered too. In fact in all such cases it is always either some psychical organ or mind but never the stomach. So what does stomach depict? It depicts the center of human existence. It is through this center that other parts of the 'being' are affected. Thus stomach represents the center of the web, from where, various branches emerge to intricately weave an important net.

From the first few chapters, we come to learn that something is seriously wrong with Tayo's stomach. Upon closer analysis, readers come to understand that Tayo has been keeping too many stories in his stomach, which must be purged before he can be completely healed.

"The pain was solid and constant as the beating of his own heart. The old man only made him certain of something he had feared all along, something in the old stories. It took only one person to tear away the delicate strands of the web, spilling the rays of the sun into the sand, and the fragile world would be injured." (38).

In other words, all the problems that he encounters are somehow affecting the center of his being and in order to cure himself, he needs to take those stories out and understand each one of them. Tayo's stomach plays an important role in the novel because it is the cause of all action. The lies that the protagonist has been fed since early childhood have now caused major digestion, which results in chronic vomiting fits. But the web cannot consist of the center alone. The problem with Tayo is that he is keeping everything inside and his failure to establish link with the world is causing health problems that could even lead to his death. This link signifies reconciliation with the world around one's self. Tayo has been told too many fabricated stories that have somehow disconnected him from the spirit of various things around him. The stomach is in fact symbolic of Tayo himself who is the center of his own existence and needs to carefully reestablish a link with his past, his heritage and culture in order to become a whole and healthy person.

Betonie, the medicine-man, explains that since the entrance of the white men, the world has become a complicated place where traditional practices no longer work if they are not combined with new ceremonies. He tries to provide Tayo with an awareness of the world surrounding him in order to awaken his sense of association and connection that the white world had taken away.

At one time, the ceremonies as they had been performed were enough for the way the world was then. But after the white people came, elements in this world began to shift; and it became necessary to create new ceremonies. I have made changes in the rituals. The people mistrust this greatly, but only the growth keeps the ceremonies strong. [126]

Silko shows that we need to spin a web around us if we truly want to connect with spiritual world. The ceremony itself is not important, it is the preparation for the ceremony that makes all the difference. One needs to be aware of this web or else he is likely to remain in an unhealthy state of mind and body all his life. This belief is evident from Night Swan's words when she tries to convince Tayo that he is on the right path. Speaking of those who had fed Tayo all the lies, she says: "They are fools. They blame us, the ones who look different. That way they don't have to think about what has happened inside themselves." (99) In other words, Night Swan wanted to make Tayo understand that his problem is not unique, similar kind of troubles are experienced by many but very few are bold enough to take a step and do something about it. Those who forget the significance of spinning a web remain disconnected and detached from the rest of the world.

Silko appears to believe that it is not just the human beings who exist in a web, but everything in this world is somehow connected with something bigger and larger than itself. Cattle and sheep cannot exist if detached from their web because it is the net of association that provides them with a sense of belonging.

"Cattle are like any living thing. If you separate them from the land for too long, keep them in barns and corrals, they lose something. Their stomachs get to where they can only eat rolled oats and dry alfalfa. When you turn them loose again, they go running all over. They are scared because the land is unfamiliar, and they are lost..."(74)

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