The Role of the Spotted Cattle in Silko's Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony is a multidimensional novel full of Laguna symbols and themes that are easily overlooked in a superficial reading. Like many of the elements in this work, Josiah's spotted cattle can be interpreted in multiple ways: as cultural metaphors, water spirits, and animal guides. Tayo's pursuit of the lost cattle is a type of quest -- in recovering the cattle, he seeks to end the drought afflicting his people and also to heal himself by restoring his cultural identity. The two elements of his quest are deeply intertwined: healing brings water just as water brings healing.

Silko's depiction of the spotted cattle creates a strong metaphor that links them closely to the Lagunas. Josiah buys the cattle because they resemble wild animals more than the slow-witted Herefords favored by white ranchers. Whereas the Herefords die of thirst if someone doesn't bring them water, the spotted cattle find water on their own -- in other words, they are self-sufficient and close to the land like the Native Americans. They are also natives of the desert, "descendants of generations of desert cattle" (74). Unlike the white man's cows (and the white man himself), these animals are able to live...

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