A Square of Light: Depicting Tayo’s Consciousness
Tayo, the protagonist of Ceremony, lives in more than just one reality; he lives in worlds that exist once you begin to feel their touch on your skin. Worlds where nightmares occur while you’re awake, people and animals that say and do things you see and hear, but nobody else does. He inhabits a world where all you have left of everyone else’s reality is a patch of sunlight: a world where it’s hard for him decipher what is “real”and what he is feeling and experiencing, all while others call him crazy.
Throughout Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko brings forth Tayo’s experience that every reader will find both emotionally harrowing and emotionally authentic. Tayo, a man of Laguna and white blood, was born into one world where he is taught to act and be a certain way by western society; a world where dead bodies, gunshots and the betrayal of war is present. When Tayo returns from World War II he enters another world where all of his physical experienced realities, spiritual realities and recurrent traumatic realities are combined into one. We read his story through poems, legends, dreams and witchery. Tayo lives this reality and is being seen from the outside by characters in the novel and readers of the novel who may name him as “crazy.” Crazy, defined as; full of cracks or flaws, deranged, lacking reason, offensive, unreasonable and or out of control. But Tayo is not crazy, he is grieving, he is coming to terms with his life and we see a reality where his experience of time, emotion and ceremony are not dependent on what matters as “real” or “not real,” his experiences just are. They are not crazy, they exist and if you let them make sense and trust his stories without claiming them as “Folklore,” “Myths,” “Magical-Realism” or “insanity,” it may start to make sense.
When we first meet Tayo, he is in the hospital and he is dissociating, but when: “He watched the room grow brighter then, as the square of light grew steadily warmer, more yellow with the climbing sun,” he begins to feel more grounded. This is where we begin, with sunlight. This is a moment where Tayo sees himself as others see him. He has been sleeping for a long time and when we awakes into a new life, this patch of sunlight is what keeps him present. The light serves as a reminder to bring him back to land on steady ground something he can understand is not just what he is seeing, but everyone else as well. This square of light will bring him back into his body.
When Tayo wakes up in a hospital, he is invisible, he sees and hears people tell him that he is invisible, except for the doctors and people in the hospital, they see him. But they see him as sick and puking when Tayo might be seeing himself in a field with a deer. His memories appear in front of him, blurring out the rest of the scene, acting parallel in his mind to what he is doing. Such as, while talking to a doctor, or walking down the hall, Tayo is communicating with the doctor, he sees the white panels and flickering lights of a hallway but at the same time a memory floods his vision; gunshots, rain forests, death, broken limbs. His behavior in these parallel universes may come across as unresponsive behavior to the people around him, a lack of understanding or they don’t notice it at all.
When Tayo is in the hospital and when he returns home from being there for months, he is obviously uncomfortable, his body is sick from panic and the medicine he is put on doesn’t make him feel any better and all of it combined makes him feel even more lost. The doctors and much of his family are trying to force him to be out of touch with his multiple realities and put into one that requires standards and rule following. “The medicine drained memory out of his thin arms and replaced it with a twilight cloud behind his eyes. It was not possible to cry on the remote and foggy mountain. If they had not dressed him and led him to the car, he would still be there, drifting along the north wall, invisible in the gray twilight.” Sunlight, remote mountain, hospital, fog, twilight, car; where is he? He is not in one or the other, he is in multiple places at the same time, he is drifting between realities.
Tayo was raised in the very early years of his life by his single mother. The moments he spent with her are images that he sometimes goes back to. Him and his mother did not have a stable home and much of his childhood is described as being regularly hungry and uncomfortable. The same kind of feelings he still has and describes through the book. Feelings that are left empty with no meaning, feelings and trauma that he cannot put into words and when he cannot find a way to connect and translate his feelings and dissociation to the physical world, reality is shifted.
Tayo has lived a life where he has had to withstand emotion. He has had to push it away for the sake of fitting in or not given the permission to. When he is four years old his mother leaves and he ends up living with his Aunt, Uncle and their child and other relatives. This family becomes his family. Tayo and his cousin Rocky grow up together, sharing the same table, the same bed, the same food and the same education. But they do not share the same amount of affection as growing boys. Tayo’s aunt is resistant to identifying Tayo as immediate family and it is very clear that Rocky is her only son and the one she supports the most. Tayo is accepted and taken in more intimately by his uncle Josiah and his Auntie’s husband, Robert. Tayo grows up not knowing his mother and also having any mention of her ignored by his aunt. He used to keep a picture of his mother, a treasure to him and one day his aunt took it away and never returned it: “He cried for it and Josiah came to comfort him; he asked Tayo why he was crying…he could not tell Josiah about the picture; he loved Josiah too much to admit the shame..he wished Auntie would give it back to him..but he could never bring himself to ask her.” Tayo grew up trying to forget and detach himself from the loss of his mother and being rejected. But people cannot so easily forget and ignore the past and how it affects the body and as Josiah explains to Tayo “..only humans had to endure anything because only humans resisted what they saw outside of themselves.”This resistance causes the mind to dissociate, to escape the pain or to be able to experience it on a different realm. This is where ceremony can enter Tayo’s life in order to help guide him to less resistance and more engagement.
Ceremony weaves through dreams, memories, interwoven stories and at the surface is Tayo’s journey from being hospitalized to sharing his story as part of ceremony. In that journey we learn a list of details that are prevalent to why Tayo has so much to identify what is memory, a dream or an experience beyond his life on earth. Tayo has had different influences of his Laguna culture and western culture. Tayo and his family were all subjected to being forced into Indian boarding schools, catholicism and the world of dominant white people. Some of his family were interested in practising Laguna ceremonies and ways of life, although his Auntie is drawn to the culture of technology, English language and education which serves to be a large influence on him and Rocky. He ends up fighting in World War II with his cousin Rocky. These are all products of his past that lead up to his loss of touch on reality. We see a timeline of Tayo growing up without his parents, going to war, losing loved ones and the beginning stages of when he loses touch with himself.
Those first stages happen when Tayo returns home from the war, without Rocky, who he and coming home to to his uncle Josiah who has died either on the battlefield or out in the cattle fields. He returns to a different lifestyle, this is when he enters the worlds of living in multiple realities. It always starts in his stomach, when his thoughts, memories and dreams start to intertwine and get lost within each other, his body shifts with them and responds with nausea. Through the book we see him many times hunched over and vomiting, his body convulsing while his mind brings him back and forth, in and out, of places of fear, places of grief, loss, places where he is hollow, and alone. But throughout his pain he is also finding moments of balance. He is shown a new way of handling his detachment and this is where he begins to try ceremony. Betoine, a Laguna medicine man is one of the people that introduces Tayo to ceremony and how to create bridges from the dream worlds, visions and present moment reality. Betoine brings Tayo through a healing ceremony in the mountains and offers tools of healing, how to stay grounded and how to find home when he gets lost. Through the healing process, a song is born out of the ceremony that Betoine sings:
Following my footprints Walk home Following my footprints Come home, happily return belonging to your home return to long life and happiness again return to long life and happinessE-hey-yah-ah-na!
Tayo begins to use ceremony as an everyday practice that can live through him and keep him balanced. Ceremony for Tayo consists of storytelling, cutting through wire to cut through boundaries, sprinkling pollen in the footsteps of an animal he is tracking and finding refuge in the mountains where he stays: “close to the earth, where the core was cool and silent as mountain stone..”and even with the noise and pain in his head he knew how it would be: a returning rather than a separation.” These moments of ceremony where the sun and the earth keep him stable and secure him in noises, sight, taste and touch he can begin to re-engage with the world he so often feels separate from. Ceremony teaches him to how to come back safely from the different worlds and dreams and hallucinations he is experiencing, it helps him to recover after leaving his body and reality. With the ritualistic and simplicity ceremony provides,
Tayo begins to learn that his visions and detachment become less about him, that “his sickness was only part of something larger, and his cure would be found only in something great and inclusive of everything.”He finds that he can make connections between his dissociations to his community and the earth. Through ceremony he is trying to learn how his separation from reality can be used to translate his life.“In a world of crickets and wind and cottonwood trees he was almost alive again; he was visible. The green waves of dead faces and the screams of the dying that has echoed in his head were buried. The sickness had receded into a shadow behind him, something he saw only out of the corners of his eyes, over his shoulder.”
Practising ceremony is when Tayo becomes visible, when he can be seen clearly by himself and those around him. Ceremony is what you make it, it can become you and show you how to interact with the world. It can serve as a tool to create boundaries, limits, offerings, that better you and help you take care of yourself and every other living being. All beings impact you and you impact all other beings. Ceremony is what helps Tayo distinguish a nightmare from reality and what reminds him of the good in his life and how “..nothing was lost, all was retained between the sky and the earth and within himself.” Tay has not lost himself, he did not go crazy and lose his mind “..he had lost nothing. The snow covered mountain remained..the mountain could not be lost to them because it was in their bones..” As long as he is attached to himself and the earth, he will always be able to find himself.
Tayo is not crazy. Yes, his is fragmented and he sees people, colors and worlds not everyone else can see but this does not define him as deranged or dangerous. He has been in turmoil and the pain caused him to find refuge in other realms, distraction in visions or lost in dreaming. Tayo has a lot to overcome, he has a lifetime of loss and trauma to comprehend and stabilize. Although he is not unreasonable or flawed, he is in touch. He has a lens to see the world through, he is traveling through time, he is telling a story that is being set into action: “It was a world alive, always changing and moving; and if you knew where to look, you could see it, sometimes almost imperceptible, like the motion of the stars across the sky.”Maybe he would be viewed as less insane if the framework of what is insanity and what is not, was shifted. There is no room in the westernized, english speaking language to validate his experiences and there is no validation for what people or what Tayo, sees and feels on the inside. ..now the feelings were twisted, tangled roots, and all the names for the source of this growth were buried under English words, out of reach. And there would be no peace and the people would have no rest until the entanglement had been unwound to the source.
With Silko’s poetry and stories, Tayo is given a way of communication to share what is going on for him. In the end of Tayo’s ceremonial journey, he finds a safe haven with a woman, Ts’eh, a mysterious figure that nobody else can see but him. Ts’eh who may be the mountain lion he has been tracking or the woman he falls in love with or both. No matter who she is, she and Tayo heal together and for a while they lived in the light, with “the cattle” who also “stood motionless in the thick yellow light from the edge of the sun..” When Ts’eh disappears from Tayo’s life, he begins to doubt his progress and faith in his use of ceremony. But when he returns back to his family’s house his Grandmother reminds him of a place he can visit that shows a pattern in the sand, a pattern made up of stories and ceremony. While he searches for an answer in these patterns, he finally trusts himself to believe that “he was not crazy; he had never been crazy. He had only seen and heard the world as it always was: no boundaries, only transitions through all distances and time.” Tayo becomes a part of the world again in this moment. He may always have to struggle to find moments like these in the future, but now he knows he exists, his experiences exist and if his faith in ceremony and storytelling continues, so will he.
To quote one of Silko’s vivid images, “Sunshine from the window made a big square on the floor, and something in the silence of the room was warm and comfortable like this sunlight.” Tayo’s quest ends with light. Within this light is safety, “his protection was there in the sky, in the position of the sun…” This light grows brighter, creeping closer towards Tayo’s reality and when the sun moves higher in the sky, becoming brighter, Tayo moves closer to the earth.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. NY, NY: Penguin Books, 2016.
In A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka, one can argue the character of the Hunger Artist is an absurdist anti-hero parallel to the heroic figure of Jesus Christ in the […]
The fantastic […] lasts only as long as a certain hesitation: a hesitation common to reader and character, who must decide whether or not what they perceive derives from “reality” […]
George Meredith once reasoned, “The true test of comedy is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter.” The importance of encouraging thoughtful laughter in comedy lies in its ability to humorously […]
The characters of Agave and Eve, while subordinate to their male counterparts, Pentheus and Adam, play extremely important roles within The Bacchae and Genesis, respectively. Their characters are portrayals of […]
In his Republic, Plato enlivens the character of Socrates with his own views of how a just and virtuous city would grow into existence. In describing his ideal city-state, a […]
Mikhail Bakhtin, in his essay “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel,” argues that the “chronotope” of a literary work – the configuration of time and space in the […]
Henrik Ibsen depicts Hedda Gabler as a woman who is trapped in her own life. Hedda has a thirst for life which she has not satisfied. She prefers a life […]
In ‘A Letter to Her Husband, Absent Upon Public Employment’ by Anne Bradstreet and ‘Love Poem’ by John Frederick Nims, there are three possible ideas that could be gleaned from […]
Every society has unwritten rules that everyone respects, and it is momentous when these boundaries are crossed. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee develops the argument that love creates […]
Tayo, the protagonist of Ceremony, lives in more than just one reality; he lives in worlds that exist once you begin to feel their touch on your skin. Worlds where […]