Ceremony Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the significance of the poems that appear in Ceremony?

    Some of the poems in Ceremony present parallels to Tayo's spiritual, psychological, and emotional journey. Such parallelism, for instance, is very much the purpose of the poem that describes the Sun's quest to defeat the Gambler (and that thus recalls Tayo's own quest to defeat evil influences on himself and his community). Yet other poems serve different purposes; the poems that open and close the novel underscore the themes of storytelling and healing, respectively, while other poems explain relatively minor characters, such as Betonie's helper Shush.

  2. 2

    What is the most important influence on Tayo's healing process?

    Though depicted in a single narrative arc that involves meeting Betonie, finding the cattle, and re-connecting with nature, Tayo's healing process in fact involves several elements. His immersion in Native American tradition and the uncorrupted natural landscape are, undoubtedly, potent therapeutic influences—the most prominent influences in the book perhaps, but not necessarily the most important. Tayo's recovery may be driven just as much, if not even more, by his healthy relationship with Ts'eh. It may even be the case that the recovery is less a reaction to Native American tradition than a reaction against the destructive forces of drink, war, and womanizing, which have so harmed Tayo's peers.

  3. 3

    Why is Emo necessary to the narrative?

    On one level, Emo provides Tayo with a clear antagonist; by giving Tayo something other than private emotions or large social forces to struggle against, he helps to structure the narrative of Ceremony. Nonetheless, there are other reasons for Emo's presence and prominence. Emo shows the disruptive effects of war at their most extreme, and manifests bloodthirsty tendencies that the other young men do not necessarily exhibit. He is an instance of the worst possible consequences, but also introduces moral and thematic complexity to the novel. After all, Emo is fully Native American in ethnicity; his loss of basic humanity despite his heritage suggests that the very traditions that Ceremony promotes may be tragically fragile.

  4. 4

    How would the novel be different if delivered in first person, from Tayo's point of view?

    If delivered entirely from Tayo's perspective, Ceremony would be forced to sacrifice some of the sections that vary and enrich the novel. The brief yet intense depictions of Josiah and Helen Jean would necessarily be eliminated; these two characters have had experiences that Tayo would never be able to divine on his own. Yet on the level of theme, a first-person version of Ceremony would give Tayo the power to tell his own story in his own voice, and would imply control and coherence in the way Tayo thinks. Tayo's reality, as construed by Silko, is exactly the reverse. He has highly limited control over his life for much of the novel, and has been disoriented by the wartime horrors that he has seen.

  5. 5

    Why does Ceremony seldom depict positive aspects of scientific and technological advances?

    Ceremony's bleak view of scientific and technological progress can in some ways be attributed to Silko's uses of perspective. By choosing to focus on Tayo, a young man whose life has been upended by a technologically advanced war, Silko has settled on a protagonist who would have few reasons to see modernity in a positive light. It is also possible that a more ambivalent approach to modernization would have undermined the coherence of the entire narrative. The choice to largely avoid the benefits of medicine, transportation, and education allows Silko to focus on a single aspect of technology, the ravages of war, and to explore it in depth.