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Ceremony (Leslie Marmon Silko)

March 17, 2010

It’s been almost a decade since I first read this book, and I remember it being a lot more confusing than it was this time around (it’s really weird to read something that you know confused and eluded you at one point in time, but to enjoy it and find it a doable read). Guess that means I’ve picked up some knowledge and maybe even some skills over the years. 🙂

Okay, so what I was really intrigued by in this book was the symbolism. Josiah’s cattle — a tough, smart breed of animal that will survive the toughest conditions; a breed native to the land and adaptable to boot — have so many ties to the Native Americans in the novel that the connection is impossible not to make. Silko presents a very specific perspective on the situation: Native Americans must be willing and able to adapt, and must not forget their culture (which also must remain adaptable) if they are going to find a way to survive in this nightmare world created by the white people. In other words, she maintains the point of view that the culture is essential, but that the world has changed and the culture must change to survive in that world. She’s not assimilationist by any means, but she’s not preservationist either. The characters, especially Tayo, have to come to terms with the way things have changed, and to find ways to make the culture continue to be relevant to their lives.

Okay, so there’s also this odd thing with blue going on here. I feel like I’m missing something after having recently read Vizenor (whose two novels I’ve read are saturated with blue) and now coming across these female characters in blue dresses with blue shawls and blue shoes and blue doors and blue blankets. Is there any kind of cultural significance with regards to this color, or is this just a coincidence? I mean, Vizenor and Silko are not affiliated with the same tribes, so this seems a bit of a stretch. Well, it’s something for me to look into in the future, and to puzzle over in the present.

Finally, this novel (like Momaday’s House Made of Dawn) focuses on a Native American man who has just returned from fighting in World War II, and is struggling to find a way to live again. While Momaday’s Abel, like Silko’s Tayo, is initially unable to find a niche and turns to alcohol as a quick fix, both characters find some degree of hope for their futures — Tayo more so than Abel. Silko’s novel is much more openly critical of the social and historical role American colonizers played (and continue to play) with regards to Native American life and culture. In fact, there are moments in Ceremony where the narrative becomes almost hostile toward white people, explaining their existence as the result of witchery and likening them to a destructive plague or force that is running its course but will ultimately be forced to recede once again.

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