Tayo is in some ways an unlikely candidate for a healing process that involves Native American tradition. After all, he is only part American Indian, and his father's unknown parentage is a source of shame: "years later, he understood what it was about white men and Indian women: the disgrace of Indian women who went with them" (53). Ironically, despite all this tension and "disgrace" in Tayo's background, it is Tayo, out of the many other members of the new generation, who is most capable of connecting with a Native American way of life to which—in the strictest sense—he only partially belongs. In ironic contrast, characters such as Emo and Harley (who are fully Native American) are some of the novel's most corrupted figures: men who have no real interest either in their ancestry or in self-betterment.
One of the cruelest ironies in Ceremony involves Tayo's friend and relative Rocky, a young man who is in many ways a model of forward-thinking excellence. Before the war, Rocky is confident that a promising life in the world beyond his community is not so far away: "He was already thinking of the years ahead and the new people and places that were waiting for him in the future he had lived for since he first began to believe in the word 'someday' the way white people do" (67). Yet this future is cut tragically short by Rocky's death in World War II. Instead of ultimately serving as a model to his fellow Native Americans, he can finally be understood as a sadly ironic, cautionary instance of how the ways of "white people" are unexpectedly destructive.
Betonie and Cosmopolitanism
Betonie, the healer whom Tayo visits, has a reputation for being somewhat backwards and provincial. However, the truth is very different, since Betonie has traveled considerably and takes great pride in his knowledge of different areas of America. As he tells Tayo, "people are always surprised when I tell them the places I have traveled" (112). That list of places includes California, Chicago, and St. Louis; ironically, the stereotype of backwardness that is applied to Betonie clashes completely with Betonie's true background of travel and knowledge.
Coincidences in Silko's Realism
Although Ceremony is designed to be an intensely realistic psychological portrait of a war veteran, it also features a few major—and highly ironic—departures from real-world likelihoods. Ts'eh, the woman who fascinates Tayo, reappears with little fanfare soon after Tayo finds the cattle: "She was combing her hair by the window, watching the sky. He watched her take sections of long hair in her hand and comb it with a crude wooden comb" (194). She appears again near the novel's climax. Moreover, at the climax itself, Tayo quickly comes right across Emo and the other young men in pursuit. These encounters and confrontations occur much more rapidly and easily than seems plausible at times—especially in the sprawling landscape that Tayo calls home—and makes Ceremony an ironic, unexpected combination of extreme verisimilitude and extreme, perhaps unrealistic, narrative convenience.
Ceremony Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Ceremony is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.