Ceremony - Search for Identity

Jan 23, 2020
folder_opencategory: Literature

The novel Ceremony was written by Leslie Marmon Silko in 1977. Silko is a Native American writer who earned fame composing novels and poems in a Native American Renaissance style. The novel is narrated in the traditional storytelling manner evident in Pueblo culture. This paper analyses such implication of the novel as search for identity. This theme is showed by demonstrating the progression of the main character Tayo from a broken young man into a solid person.

At the beginning of the novel, Tayo is depicted as a person who has lost his identity. He has just returned from the World War II having sustained serious injuries. He is taken to VA hospital in Los Angeles. However, he leaves the hospital still being traumatized. The author says “for a long time he had been white smoke” (Silko, 2006, p. 45). Additionally, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. This trauma has affected his psychological and emotional order, where memories of surviving as a prisoner of war in Japan keep haunting him. He has difficulties returning to his normal life, as well as adapting to his environment. He is always haunted by the horrific memories of World War II. He tries to fight these memories. However, the sound of Japanese in Philippines keeps coming back to his mind. The author says “he could get no rest as long as the memories were tangled with the present” (Silko, 2006, p. 78). These memories make his life in the Laguna Pueblo reservation hard. In order to escape from this suffering, Tayo resorts to alcoholism. He seems to enjoy the company of Harley, a drunkard with no sense of humanity, who has also returned from the war. He becomes increasingly violent where one day he fights with his old friend to the point of almost killing him. This event depresses Tayo even more. The author shows various occasions where he cries due to feelings of worthlessness. He has completely lost his identity and has to reaffirm himself in the society.

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Additionally, he has to deal with the challenge of bi-culturalism. Tayo is a half Native American and half Caucasian. The native people are referred to by the name of Pueblo Indians. Moreover, they have their own areas of residence. The native Indians have their negative perceptions of the whites. The author says “they blamed themselves for losing the land to the white people” (Silko, 2006). Tayo explains to Betonie that the whites think they own all the land. He also says that the whites are nothing but the invention of the Indians witchcraft. He describes a great conference of witches, which led to the creation of the white people. Josiah says “only humans resisted what they saw outside themselves” (Silko, 2006, p. 78). Since then the whites have destroyed the earth completely as a plague. They are also perceived to be of inferior culture. Tayo has no sense of belonging nor does he feel secure in both black and white world. Thus, he is torn between the two. Additionally, he has to deal with family and friends who think that they know the cure for his depression and illness. The family and friends do not seem to understand that his problem is deeply rooted. Therefore, Tayo has an additional task of seeking identity in terms of culture and enhance the relationship with relatives.

The search for identity gains momentum after family and friends realize that his situation is getting out of hand. Betonie and Shush decide to help Tayo recover. They go for a ride to Chuska Mountains. At this point, Tayo feels that he is the most powerful person in the world in terms of importance. Betonie also tells a story of a deer and a young man thereby helping him to perform a traditional spiritual ceremony. The night after the ceremony, Tayo does not dream about the war, but dreams about Josiah spotted cattle. Additionally, Tayo can see white people clearly for the first time. The author remarks “Being alive was all right then: he had not breathed like that for a long time” (Silko, 2006, p. 198). However, the ceremony does not completely cure him and separate from his past life. This is evidenced by Tayo deciding to follow Herley and Leroy into the bar. However, the author shows the difference between Tayo who has been undergoing the ceremony and Harley who is also sustaining post-traumatic stress disorder. Tayo is overcautious and does not engage in unruly behavior compared to Harley. This instance shows that the search for identity presents many challenges and drawbacks. However, there is hope that Tayo is progressing well and is expected to heal soon.

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Tayo also begins to gain a sense of worth. One night, he wakes up happy and excited of being alive. He embarks on the search for Josiah cattle with an open mind. He does not think of the reservations (Silko, 2006). The long search for identity has eventually come to an end successfully by going back to his normal life.

In conclusion, the novel Ceremony demonstrates the long path of search for identity. The search encompasses both physical and emotional identity. At the beginning of the story, Tayo is depicted as a depressed man suffering from post-traumatic disorder. He begins the search for identity though he faces many challenges. However, he can get assistance. He also gains the sense of cultural identity by seeing all races from the same perspective.

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