A half Mexican, half Native American young man who lives on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation, Tayo is the protagonist of Silko's novel; much of the narration of Ceremony, indeed, depicts Tayo's thoughts and memories. Thoughtful and sensitive, Tayo has been scarred by his experiences fighting the Japanese in the Second World War, and is especially haunted by the death of his cousin Rocky, which he witnessed. It is Tayo's hope to come to terms with these terrible recollections and restore himself to physical and psychological health. To do so, he re-connects with the nature-oriented traditions of his Native American ancestors and seeks solace in a lifestyle of self-reflection and purposeful work.
Tayo's cousin and Autie's son, Rocky is a source of pride to his family. He has distinguished himself as a high school athlete, has embraced the science and technology that are promoted by white visitors to his community, and plans to attend college. Yet Rocky's grand plans in life are cut short by his death, which Tayo witnesses, in the Pacific theater of World War II. Despite his importance in Tayo's life, Rocky is only ever depicted in flashbacks in Ceremony; the main action begins after Rocky's demise.
A young man from the Laguna Pueblo community, Emo is a World War II veteran; his experiences during the war warped him into a cruel yet efficient killer, and he brought this bloodthirsty personality back to civilian life in America. Emo has great contempt for Tayo's mixed parentage, and he emerges as the novel's main antagonist, a young man whose callous and destructive ways contrast with Tayo's sensitivity.
A young World War II veteran and an occasional companion of Tayo's. Harley is good-natured, but has given himself over to the lifestyle of drinking, womanizing, and general recklessness that is a detriment to so many of the young men in his community.
A young man who occasionally accompanies Harley and Tayo on their escapades at local bars. Leroy obtains a beat-up truck at one point in Ceremony, but generally seems to have few prospects in life.
A young man who is prone to blackouts, initially works for Tayo's family, and ultimately ends up hunting down Tayo alongside Emo. Pinkie appears less often in the novel than Harley, Leroy, and Emo; he makes attempts to work, but his manner is mostly listless and disoriented.
A young woman of Native American descent who briefly accompanies Harley, Leroy, and Tayo on a drinking binge that goes wrong. Helen Jean had left her home community at Towac in order to find work and send money home to her family. Instead of discovering gainful and respectable employment, she enters the society of American Indian veterans; these men give her money, first for social companionship and then for sexual intimacy.
Tayo's uncle, who dies between Tayo's departure to fight in World War II and Tayo's return home. Josiah is a thoughtful man and a hard worker, but he is defined by two apparent indiscretions: his purchase of stubborn Mexican cattle that run away from his control, and his affair with a Mexican former dancer who calls herself the Night Swan.
Auntie's husband, and thus Tayo's uncle. In demeanor, Robert tends to be responsible and plainspoken. As a member of Auntie's household, he looks after the traumatized Tayo, but at times seems unconvinced that Tayo is making any progress recovering from the horrors of war.
The sister of Tayo's mother, the mother of Rocky, and the guardian of Tayo himself for much of his upbringing. Auntie is notable for her Christian religiosity and for her desire to uphold her family's good name; her efforts at respectability, however, are complicated by the irresponsible lifestyle of Tayo's mother, then by Tayo's lapses into drinking, violence, and psychological distress after the war. Despite these trials, she proves to be a fairly attentive (though stern and distant) caretaker for Tayo throughout his life.
The only representative of the generation above Auntie's in Auntie's household. Old Grandma is a kindly woman who goes blind as the novel progresses. Although somewhat disconnected from the world, she offers a few moments of pointed commentary on the effects of World War II on Tayo and the other young men.
The mysterious young woman who appears to Tayo at a few different points in the novel: first when Tayo is trying to find Josiah's cattle, then immediately after the cattle are found, and finally when Tayo is raising the cattle during the spring. Ts'eh comes from a family with roots in Tayo's area. However, she is also important on a symbolic level, as a embodiment of the reflective and harmonious lifestyle that helps to heal Tayo.
An older and mostly good-natured man who knows Ts'eh and appears shortly after Tayo locates Josiah's cattle.
The medicine man whom Tayo is sent to see about midway through the novel. Betonie lives in a dwelling full of cast-off items, at some distance from the rest of society. Although he appears be quaint and reclusive at first, he is in fact well-traveled and well-educated. A tall, confident, and articulate man, Betonie (like Tayo himself) has some Mexican ancestors, whom he tells Tayo about in the course of the two men's time together.
Betonie's helper. Shush is a teenage boy who remains mostly silent when he appears. He appears to be linked to the "bear people," and this mystical or naturalistic connection may explain Shush's reserved, simple ways.
The elderly medicine man who visits Tayo, partially at the urging of Old Grandma, early in the novel. Traditional yet down-to-earth, Old Ku'oosh fears the effect that warfare has had on both Tayo's generation and the community as a whole.
In Ceremony, Tayo's mother appears only in flashbacks. However, she continues to influence the adult Tayo and his family life; memories of her lifestyle of poverty and disreputable affairs remain with Tayo, and the same facts of her life are a lingering source of shame for Auntie.
The Night Swan
An aging Mexican woman who had once gained a measure of popularity, and infamy, as a dancer. The Night Swan settles in rooms above a bar and begins an affair with Josiah; later, she also has a brief episode of intimacy with Tayo.
Ceremony Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Ceremony is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.