Realistic psychological novel, with folkloric poetry interspersed with the prose
Setting and Context
The Laguna Pueblo Reservation, New Mexico, in the years immediately following the end of World War II (1945 onward)
Narrator and Point of View
Third person limited perspective prose narration. The primary perspective considered in the novel is that of Tayo, the protagonist. However, a few other characters (including Helen Jean and Josiah) are briefly depicted using third-person limited narration as well. Silko also includes folkloric poetry that departs from Tayo's perspective and is delivered in a voice closer to omniscient third person.
Tone and Mood
Features such as tone and mood tend to vary with Tayo's state of mind. Early in the narrative, after Tayo's return from the war, the tone is one of extreme tension and occasional psychological anguish. Both tone and mood become calmer as Tayo starts to recover and find a renewed sense of purpose, only to gain intensity again as Emo, the antagonist, re-emerges towards the novel's end.
Protagonist and Antagonist
Tayo is the protagonist of the novel. Among the characters, Tayo's enemy Emo is the clearest antagonist, although destructive social forces (warfare, poverty, alcoholism) can also be understood as antagonistic in a larger sense.
Ceremony traces the efforts of Tayo, a young World War II veteran and a member of the Laguna Pueblo community, to re-establish himself after returning from combat. He must deal with his own deep distress over the death of his cousin Rocky, with the loss of his sense of purpose, and with the temptations of alcoholism and violence that have consumed other young Native Americans in his position.
The climax occurs late in the novel, when Emo and some of the other young men are searching for Tayo. While observing a scene of gruesome violence, Tayo is tempted to kill Emo, but decides that doing so would only feed into a cycle of senseless destruction.
- Josiah's activities (raising cattle, an affair with a mysterious woman) foreshadow Tayo's activities after the war.
- Tayo's earlier attempt to kill Emo in a bar foreshadows Tayo's second, aborted attempt to kill Emo at the end of the novel.
Because few of Silko's characters have extensive knowledge of literature or culture, few difficult allusions occur in Ceremony. The text does, however, assume that the reader has some working knowledge of World War II, including the locations and countries involved.
- In passages of controlled and precise prose, Silko describes the splendor of nature in New Mexicol: stars, animals, the landscape, and the changing of the seasons.
- Silko uses fragmentary scenes and images to convey Tayo's chaotic memories of some of the most troubled periods of his life. Both the war and his childhood poverty are depicted through such techniques.
- Tayo is only part American Indian by birth, but seems more fully receptive to Native American customs than characters such as Rocky and Emo, who are fully Native American.
- Betonie, who initially appears to be unusual and provincial, has in fact traveled extensively. Despite his traditional mindset, he may also be one of the most cosmopolitan members of Taylo's community.
- The very forces that promise progress (technology, science, education) have arguably led Tayo's community into violence and disaster. After all, Rocky is paradoxically inspired by modern advancements only to be killed in a high-tech modern war.
The poetry that appears in Ceremony is often designed to directly parallel features of the prose narrative. For example, the creation of white humans through "witchery" is meant to parallel the destruction inflicted by white or Caucasian societies on other cultures. In another instance, the Sun's quest to defeat the Gambler may be understood as a parallel to the quest undertaken by Tayo (Sun) to counteract the forces disrupting his family and community.
Metonymy and Synecdoche
In terms of synecdoche (a part representing the whole), the post-war situation that Silko describes at the Laguna Pueblo reservation (a part) may be understood as representative of the larger effect of World War II on Native American communities (whole). Young veterans on a broader level would face a choice between succumbing to alcoholism or other destructive influences (Emo, Harley) and finding ways of recuperating (Tayo).
The poetry that appears in the novel gives human characteristics to animals (hummingbird, caterpillar) and to non-living elements of the universe (the sun). Personification, indeed, is one of the predominant devices in Silko's verse.
Ceremony Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Ceremony is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.