Ceremony Summary and Analysis of Pages 199-244

As the final portion of Ceremony begins, Tayo and Robert visit the area where the woman and the hunter were keeping the cattle. Tayo does not find either the young woman or the older man, but he and Robert are pleased with the health and vitality of their livestock. The cattle are re-directed to a corral. Back home, Old Grandma and Auntie acknowledge that Tayo's condition has clearly changed for the better.

Tayo spends his time helping Robert tend the sheep camp; for the young man, working with livestock and living closer to nature have become fulfilling experiences. Some of the work at the sheep camp is also distributed to Pinkie. However, most of the time Pinkie stares off in a vacant manner, and eventually he leaves the sheep camp to wander the area and spend his money at bars. For his part, Tayo continues to dream of the young woman. Near the end of May he decides to go to the ranch to look after the cattle; Auntie still has some fears that Tayo may relapse into drunkenness and irresponsibility, but Old Grandma is confident that Tayo has reached a new stage in his life.

Tayo returns to the outpost that he had inhabited in the early days of his return. This area shows signs of neglect and abandonment, but the sky and the flowers that Tayo observes serve as sources of positive energy. As he walks along, he finds the young woman among a patch of sunflowers. Together they make their way to a shaded area near a pool of water; they then continue to explore the area, making their way to the top of a mesa and looking out over the landscape. Here, the young woman finally reveals her identity: she goes by the nickname Ts'eh and comes from a family, the Montanos, that has been dispersed over the area sibling by sibling.

Life among the cattle settles into an easygoing pace for Tayo and Ts'eh. Tayo's cousin Romero has given Tayo the use of his yellow bull, which will mate with Tayo's cattle. Meanwhile, Ts'eh spends her time gathering plants and showing Tayo their characteristics and colors. However, Tayo's relatively long absence has given rise to unpleasant rumors in his community, as Robert explains when he visits. Old Ku'oosh wants to know what is going on, Emo has begun spreading rumors that Tayo is crazy, and the possibility that doctors or the Army may be called back in to deal with Tayo has even been raised. Tayo acknowledges these problems, but does not go back with Robert.

Tayo and Ts'eh discuss the cycle of violence that civilization has set in motion. They also continue to explore the world of tradition and nature, observing at one point the monumental image of a she-elk that has been painted on the side of a cliff. Yet Ts'eh senses that her time with Tayo is limited; at one point she begins to cry and warns that Emo will come for Tayo. When at last she takes leave of him, she urges him to remember all that they have experienced and discovered, and indicates that she will see him again.

Tayo leaves the cattle behind and moves as secretively as he can through the landscape, determined to elude anyone from the Government who might be looking for him. He emerges onto a road; there, he encounters Harley and Leroy. Harley is driving Leroy's truck and invites Tayo to ride along for another binge. Tayo climbs in; he finds that Leroy is too drunk even to perform the simple task of opening a beer. In Tayo's mind, staying with Harley and Leroy might be a good strategy, since then people would simply see him as drunk and irresponsible, not as dangerous and insane.

After falling asleep, Tayo wakes up to find the sun beating down. He is still in the truck, which has come to rest, but Harley and Leroy have disappeared. Soon he hears voices from nearby: he intuits that Harley and Leroy have betrayed him to Emo. At first Tayo tries to start the truck by hot-wiring it, but then he simply grabs a screwdriver and runs off, struggling with the heat and the rough terrain as he seeks refuge.

Ceremony temporarily switches to earlier events; while Tayo was away at war, Old Grandma had seen a brilliant flash of light illuminate the surrounding desert. This flash, presumably, came from a test of an atomic bomb; Tayo feels that now he understands why such destructive forces have been brought into the world. Back in the present, night is falling, and Tayo is convinced that he only needs to elude Emo, Leroy, and the destructive forces that they now embody for a little longer. He is in the area near a mineshaft when he sees headlights, which belong to a car that carries Emo, Leroy, Pinkie, and a bound, captive Harley.

Tayo watches as the men get out of the car; they build a fire and Emo, scolding Harley for letting Tayo get away, begins to torture the captive. Harley is propped up against a fence and Emo and Leroy begin cutting off portions of Harley's flesh. Tayo is tempted to rush forward and drive the screwdriver into Emo's skull, but instead stays hidden and watches as Leroy and Pinkie begin to fight. He must, as he sees it, resist the cycle of destruction that such an action would only continue. When it is all over, the men throw Harley's body in the trunk and drive off.

As the new day arrives, Tayo sets off again and makes his way to old Ku'oosh, who is in the company of some other old men. Tayo tells them about Ts'eh; Old Ku'oosh offers Tayo water to drink and a place to rest. Soon, it is discovered that both Harley and Leroy have been killed, and soon after Tayo returns to Auntie and Old Grandma, he learns of yet another act of violence: Pinkie's death at Emo's hands. Emo, as Auntie reports, is being sent away to California. Upon hearing all this news, Old Grandma wearily indicates that everything she has learned simply reminds her of patterns from the past. Ceremony then ends with two final poems: a set of verses that herald the temporary dispersion and disappearance of destructive "witchery," and a short, closing invocation of the sunrise.


The final stages of Ceremony clarify one important point of Silko's narrative: Tayo's quest to find the cattle, though uncanny in several respects, is by no means a complete fantasy. Robert goes with Tayo to retrieve and inspect the livestock, remarking that "They look real good, Tayo . . . Somebody's been looking after them for you" (199). The reality of other elements of Tayo's journey is concerned is more elusive. The young woman, Ts'eh, is given a name and a family identity. Yet she does not interact at length with any character other than Tayo; there are even fleeting indications in Tayo's conversation with Old Ku'oosh that Ts'eh might be part of a mystical vision.

Whatever Ts'eh's true status may be, the important reality of the final sections is how thoroughly Tayo has changed. His earlier appreciation for nature deepens and intensifies in his time away from society. Moreover, he is no longer a passive observer; whether working with Robert or looking after Josiah's cattle, he has found work that is meaningful and fulfilling, and that keeps him within the natural settings central to his recovery. On the terms set by Ceremony, meaningful work does not bring wealth, power, or even, necessarily, social recognition. Such work is instead a source of personal fulfillment, and can exist in complete independence of these other criteria—the criteria, after all, valued by the civilization that almost destroyed Tayo.

Yet Tayo's recovery is accompanied by a tragic paradox: even though he has regained his sense of purpose and self-control, he is now seen by his community as unstable and insane. His isolation in nature has been therapeutic, but has also led to rumors of "craziness." In some ways, Tayo now faces much the same situation as is faced by Betonie, another thoughtful and self-possessed man who, because of his solitude, is viewed negatively. The difference, of course, is that the misperceptions surrounding Tayo are linked to a long-simmering vendetta—the mutual hatred between Tayo and Emo—that eventually reaches a new boiling point.

Although the final few events depicted in Ceremony can be shocking in their violence, these events also represent a return to earlier stages of the novel. Tayo almost killed Emo once, during an altercation in a bar. He is given a second chance to kill his enemy, and while he is strongly tempted to do so, ultimately he refuses. Killing Emo would only perpetuate the pattern of despair that Tayo has just escaped: "At home the people would blame liquor, the Army, and the war, but the blame on the whites would never match the vehemence the people would keep in their own bellies, reserving the greatest bitterness and blame for themselves, for one of themselves they could not save" (235). Were Tayo to kill Emo, he would be perceived in exactly this manner: as a victim of the "witchery," as the opposite of the sensitive and confident man that he has transformed into over the course of Ceremony. He might not even save Harley, Leroy, or Pinkie by eliminating Emo, since all four of these men have been so undone by liquor and violence already. Sooner or later, their lives seem fated to end badly.

The end of Ceremony involves the dispersion of evil forces and the restoration of social harmony, as seen in Emo's exile and Tayo's return home. However, it would be wrong to read the ending of the novel as entirely hopeful. Tayo seems destined for a fulfilling life, but what about the other young men in other Native American communities who face similar dilemmas? What about the course of civilization as a whole, which may continue towards greater and greater chaos regardless of what individuals like Tayo accomplish? Ceremony is indeed a celebration of an individual's ability to right his life and become a credit to has family. However, it is also a novel that calls attention to the fragility of society, of nature, and of victories such as Tayo's. The witchery is not dead at the novel's end; rather, to quote one of the poems that brings Ceremony to its close, this force for evil is simply "dead for now" (243).