The Effects of Time in Ceremony
In her novel Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko subverts trends of the conventional Western narrative through her descriptions of time. Rather than telling the story of Tayo in a linear chronology, Silko instead creates a more authentic experience by constantly shifting in between moments. In addition to being a Laguna Pueblo American Indian, Tayo is also a war veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; these two major characteristics affect Tayo’s relationship with time in a way that does not align with traditional Western storytelling. In Ceremony, the Laguna Pueblo belief in a circular timeline interacts with PTSD flashback symptoms in a way that creates a unique experience for the reader.
When read through the lens of Western culture, the chronology of Ceremony is both jarring and difficult to understand. The narrative does not rely on specific dates, and the timeline of the story comes together through context clues and inferences. For example, it is implied that the story must take place in the years surrounding World War II, as the opening paragraph references “Japanese soldiers shouting orders” (Ceremony 6) to Tayo. Later, it becomes clear that the story takes place within the year 1945 during Tayo’s interaction at the train station in which the depot man tells him “they’ve turned them all loose again. Sent them home. I don’t guess you could keep up with news very well in the hospital” (Ceremony 18) in regards to the Japanese-Americans. Although it is not ambiguous when the story is occurring, Silko never assigns a numbered date to any scene in the story, as per Laguna Pueblo storytelling tradition. This is even further explained by Silko in her article “Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination,” in which she explains that “the precise date of the incident often is less important than the place or location of the happening. ‘Long, long ago,’ ‘a long time ago,’ ‘not too long ago,’ and ‘recently’ are usually how stories are classified in terms of time” (“Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination” 1009). For this reason, the narrative differs greatly from that of a traditional Western novel, as the latter tends to center stories around specific moments in time.
In an interview, Silko described the Laguna Pueblo experience of time by saying “think of time as an ocean always moving” (Silko Interview 1995). This fluid analogy for time explains the point of view, setting, and time shifts that happen consistently throughout Ceremony. One instance in which a time jump occurs is when Tayo is with Harley suffering from sunstroke in one moment, and then getting off the train at New Laguna in the next (Ceremony 29). Although this shift may seem unnatural in terms of narrative structure, it is actually an effective way to depict Tayo’s experience; the latter scene almost as an explanation for the former, as Tayo’s nausea when he is with Harley is more of a result of his PTSD following a war than it is of overheating. Another example of a meaningful rupture of linear chronology occurs when a scene of Tayo and Rocky hunting a deer is juxtaposed with the line “Harley slid another bottle of Coors across the table” (Ceremony 52). In this case, Silko is using the shift in order to emphasize how much Tayo has changed since the war. The first scene describes a sacred, Laguna Pueblo tradition in which the two brothers enact “the ritual of the deer” (Ceremony 52). The second is a much more sinister depiction of Native Americans, as it focuses on the alcoholism that often plagues the community. By placing these two scenes next to each other in the narration, Silko is able to emphasize the ‘witchery’ that is poisoning Tayo as a result of the war and his relationships with fellow veterans Harley and Emo. Moments like this one are crucial towards understanding the identity crisis that Tayo goes through as he struggles to find his place of belonging in the United States as a biracial Native American citizen.
The nonlinear timeline of Ceremony is also crucial to creating the effect of collective storytelling, which is a fundamental aspect of Laguna Pueblo storytelling. In Silko’s own words, “the ancient Pueblo people depended upon collective memory through successive generations to maintain and transmit an entire culture, a worldview complete with proven strategies for survival” (“Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination” 1007). For this reason, it is imperative that there are multiple points of view provided throughout the story in order to mirror the way in which the Laguna Pueblo tribe narrates history. One such narrative shift can be seen when Tayo is in the bar and Emo takes over the story and begins explaining, “White women never looked at me until I put on that uniform…” (Ceremony 40). Suddenly, in that moment, Tayo’s experience of the war is added onto by Emo. Immediately following Emo’s story, Tayo’s narrative contributes yet another point of view of the same situation: “The first day in Oakland he and Rocky walked down the street… and an old white woman rolled down the window and said, ‘God bless you, God bless you,’ but it was the uniform, not them, she blessed” (Ceremony 41). The combination of these scenes exemplify the tradition of collective memory. In addition, Silko weaves Emo’s story into Tayo’s in order to, once again, show how the Western world has the potential to poison the Native American experience‒Emo being a prime example of this tainted identity.
Tayo is also tainted by the Western world, but in a different way from Emo. While Emo glorifies his experiences from the war‒as seen in his retelling of stories of sexual experiences with white women (Ceremony 57-59)‒Tayo is forced back into painful memories of combat at random. While the others “repeated the stories about good times in Oakland and San Diego” in the bar, Tayo could not help but cry at the memory of Rocky’s death (Ceremony 43-44). These moments also give a unique voice to the experience of a Laguna Pueblo American Indian, since many fought in World War II and later suffered debilitating psychological trauma. Even seemingly innocent moments in his daily life, such as hearing Harley eating grapeseed have the potential to trigger Tayo because “the sound of crushing made him sick… He didn’t want to hear Harley crush the seeds” (Ceremony 45). The way in which Tayo experiences many moments in his life in the form of quick flashes is analogous with the way PTSD victims are often thrown back into the moments that caused their trauma.
However, Silko makes it clear that Tayo’s trauma is not permanent through another convention of Laguna Pueblo storytelling: the inclusion of traditional poems that detail timeless experiences. These poems are used to provide explanations modern events, such as warfare or the drought that is occurring throughout the story. Silko aligns the characters in Tayo’s story with the characters in the poems in a way that emphasizes the Laguna Pueblo tribe’s idea of time being circular and stories being repetitive. For example, the drought that Tayo believes he creates as a result of him “praying against the rain” (Ceremony 12) during the war is juxtaposed with a poem that describes a fight between Iktoa’ak’o’ya‒Reed Woman and her sister, Corn Woman. The poem explains, “Reed Woman / was always taking a bath… Corn Woman got tired of that… she scolded / her sister / for bathing all day long. / Iktoa’ak’o’ya‒Reed Woman / went away then… And there was no more rain then” (Ceremony 13). By aligning the modern-day drought with this poem, it is clarified that what Tayo is experiencing is not unprecedented, and that the drought is not his fault. In addition, the American Indians’ internalized shame for their roots is aligned with the ancient Laguna Pueblos who “were / so busy / playing around with that / Ck’o’yo magic / they neglected the mother corn altar” (Ceremony 48). Furthermore, Tayo’s journey in redefining his culture and identity is aligned with the story in which Hummingbird and Fly “flew to the fourth world” (Ceremony 82) in order to purify the town. By interspersing these ancient poems throughout her novel, Silko perpetuates her own idea of the “world as part of an ancient continuous story composed of innumerable bundles of other stories” (“Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination” 1007).
The story of Tayo and his attempt to come to terms with his identity in a post-World War II America is told in a way that mimics an oral history of the Laguna Pueblo tribe. Although many of the ancient stories can be relevant to modern experiences, the stark contrast between the effectiveness of Ku’oosh and Betonie’s rituals reaffirms the importance of adapting or adding onto traditions in order to accommodate new experiences. Due to the fact that, for Ku’oosh, “white warfare… was all too alien to comprehend” because “not even oldtime witches killed like that” (Ceremony 36-37), his ritual is not effective in curing Tayo of his trauma. Contrarily, Betonie is constantly collecting artifacts from the modern world and chooses to reside in Gallup and this allows him to better understand and accommodate modern trauma. Similarly, Tayo’s story acts as another addition to the collective memory of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and his experience helps to explain that of others who struggled with their identity in a modern America.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: The Viking Press 1997. Print.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Interview by Thomas Irmer. Alt-X Berlin, 1995.
http://www.altx.com/interviews/silko.html. Accessed 28 February 2017.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. “Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination.” On Nature. 57th ed.
New York, NY: Ecco, 1986. 1003-014. Print.
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.
The Role of Nature in “Ceremony”
In Silko’s Ceremony, Tayo’s healing process is very extensive, and he faces many crucial challenges in order to let go of traumatic past events. While on this journey, Tayo encounters many symbols that aid him in developing a sense of appreciation and freedom. As a Native American with a growing sense of tradition, Tayo finds that nature is a fundamental part of healing and simply of life in general. With the presence and importance of nature in her narrative, Silko communicates such empowerment and emotion to the reader, who is following Tayo through his long but necessary journey
Throughout this journey, the reader is meant to witness Tayo’s connection with different aspects of the natural world. Starting from the beginning of the novel, the reader sees how the significance of the jungle rain is tied together with not only Tayo, but also Rocky as well. The narrator states, “It was that rain which which filled the tire ruts and made the mud so deep that the corporal began to slip and fall with his end of the muddy blanket that held Rocky. Tayo hated this unending rain as if it were the jungle green rain and not the miles of marching or the Japanese grenade that was killing Rocky” (Silko 11). Tayo’s relationship with nature at this point is extremely inadequate. He sees nature as the reason that Rocky was dying, and this perspective casts a negative light over the natural world. Tayo feels aggravation and distrust towards the Earth and compares natural forces to the Japanese, who are the real reason that Rocky is hurt in the first place. The rain in this flashback is very much associated with the suffering that Tayo and Rocky go through during their time in the war.
Tayo’s relationship with the people he loves back in America also ties into the idea that he must become one with the natural world. Josiah’s impact on Tayo, for instance, is a significant piece of this journey. Josiah teaches Tayo about life and, even though he is dead, assists Tayo in his healing journey through memories. Josiah is the moral authority which Tayo obeys the most: “‘You see,’ Josiah had said, with the sound of the water trickling out of the hose into the empty wooden barrel, ‘there are some things worth more than money.’ He pointed his chin at the springs and around at the narrow canyon. ‘This is where we come from, see. This sand, this stone, these trees, the vines, all the wildflowers. This earth keeps us going’” (Silko 45). This recollection shows how Tayo learned much about the natural world from Josiah. He learns to respect and cherish the Earth; even though it may be something dull, it is comparable to a beautiful piece of art. Josiah teaches Tayo that there is so much more to life than material things. As Tayo realizes through remembering Josiah, the most important things in life are the Earth that he walks on and how he can connect with it in a deeper sense.
Towards the end of the novel, Tayo begins to regain his trust in the natural world. As Tayo begins to trust nature again, he learns that in order to properly heal he must become one with nature. The narrator states, “But lying above the benter that pulled him down closer felt more familiar to him than any embrace he could remember; he was sinking into the elemental arms of mountain silence. Only his skull resisted; and the resistance increased the pain to a shrill whine. … He could secure the thresholds with molten pain and remain; or he could let go and flow back. It was up to him” (Silko 201-202). During this time, Tayo is regaining his spiritual center through nature. He has become one with nature and is healing in a way he never thought imaginable. However, he does feel a resistance within himself, since his mind is attempting to ruin the progress he has made during his journey. This inner resistance and stubbornness tie back into his signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that the reader sees early on. The effort to achieve this healing is very personal and he cannot be impatient. Just like healing anything, healing wounds takes time.
The natural world was the most important help in Tayo’s healing process. After his long distrust of nature, with the help of his moral authority and experiences, Tayo was able to regain his center. The journey was long, but Tayo realizes that he was always strong enough to complete his healing; he just needed a bigger push. In Silko’s novel, the symbol of nature not only gives Tayo a sense of direction, but also makes him understand how he can heal from his past troubles.
The Art of Poetry is Always Purposeful
Leslie Marmon Silko’s poem, “Ceremony,” is a prime example of how poetry, even simpler to understand ones, can be productive. The poem is productive because it conveys a message: stories are powerful. The message a poem conveys can be used justly, or unjustly. Whether or not the poem is used to achieve good or evil, it is purposeful. On one hand, Plato in The Republic of Plato is against the poets because their works of poetry prove to be problematic in his Republic. His goal is to devise a perfect city and to do that he must set strict rules which dictate the behaviours of his people. Poets, in his opinion, create poetry that would be destructive if unmonitored in his city. On the other hand, Sidney in An Apology for Poetry defends poets and poetry by owning up to the charges against poetry. He claims that poetry has importance when it combines delightfulness and teaching together. Even though these two literary theorists have different opinions as to the question of poetry being good or bad, they both can agree that poetry is useful. People can learn acceptable behaviour and morals from reading poetry. Poems, then, can be used as a teaching device. Hence, even though Plato and Sidney have opposing perspectives regarding poetry, both literary theorists would agree that Leslie Marmon Silko’s poem, “Ceremony,” is purposeful.
Plato would find that the content of the poem purposeful for maintaining order in his Republic, while Sidney would value the poem’s utility; thus showing that poetry is productive as it can be used to teach desired behaviours and ideologies. Plato fears that poetry will ruin the hardy mentality he wants people in his Republic to have. As mentioned above, he wants the people in his Republic to behave and think a certain way to ensure a prosperous city. To dictate the ideologies of the citizens, influencing the young is one of the easiest approaches to this problem. Plato says that the beginning of any work is the most important, and that rule also applies to young children (Plato 54 377b). The reason why young children must be taken care of with great consideration is because “at that stage [they are the] most plastic, and [they] assimilate[e] [themselves] to the model whose stamp anyone wishes to give to [them]” (Plato 54 377b). In other words, children will behave and grow up based on the values or norms that they were first taught when they were young. In Book Three, Plato mentions two noble lies that only the makers of the city will know. The purpose of these lies is to promote courage and kindness towards everyone in the city while discouraging people from doing a role that is not fit for their souls. Taking into consideration his opinions regarding the plasticity of children’s minds and the noble lies he wishes to implore, readers can see why he fears poetry as much as he does. He fears that some works of poetry will ruin the mentalities of the young. The “young children [cannot] judge what is [the] hidden sense [in poetry]” and whatever message they take from poetry at that age will be “hard to eradicate and unchangeable” (Plato 56 378e). That is why Plato asserts that the makers of the city “must do everything to [en]sure that what they hear first, with respect to virtue, be the finest told tales for them to hear” (Plato 56 378e). He asserts that children cannot distinguish what is right or wrong yet when they read poetry. Consequently, they will not always be able to discover the virtues hidden between the lines of poetry. If they misinterpret the message of the poem, it can lead to disaster in Plato’s Republic because he would have a generation of children growing up contrary to how he wants every citizen raised. For instance, in “Ceremony,” the idea of the Thought-woman pre-determining everything in the world can be frightening to children. They may feel that their life and their actions are out of their control because the Thought-woman dictates everything that they are currently doing and will do in the future. The children can misinterpret the main message of the story and end up devaluing their ability to make choices. If the children grow up devaluing their freedom of will along with their choices, they may not work as hard, or protect the city with enough ferocity; which is why Plato would not want poetry that can convey wrong ideals being read by people in his Republic. Having citizens disregarding the purpose of the noble lies results in a disorganized and spiritless city. Thus, he only wants certain poetry with particular rules allowed in his city. To continue, poets are only allowed to portray the gods as the creator of the good things, and the bad things are created by other things that are not gods (Plato 57 379c). He even goes as far as making a law that speaking and producing poems cannot violate this rule: “the god is not the cause of all things, but of the good” (Plato 58 380c). Gods cannot be seen making war on other gods, or plotting against one another and having battles with each other either (Plato 56 378c). By having poetry depicting gods in disputes and having secret plans to overthrow other gods, it leaves an impression on the maturing children. Having poetry can deem wrongful behaviours acceptable as the children may be inclined to imitate this behaviour and replicate it in the future because if the gods can plot against one another and fight, they can do it too. Plato concludes that they “must supervise the makers of tales; and if they make a fine tale, it must be approved, but if it’s not, it must be rejected” (Plato 55 377c) and they will “not let the teachers use [unapproved poetry] for the education of the young” so that their “guardians are going to be god-revering and divine insofar as a human being can possibly be” (Plato 61 383c). In other words, poetry that breaks the rules Plato has created will result in less divine human beings because they would adopt unacceptable behaviour that would pit citizen against citizen in his Republic, thereby poisoning the harmony he tried so hard to induce. Hence, Plato does not want unapproved poetry to be allowed in the making of the best city because it will create undivine children that will one day grow up denying the two noble lies and have the wrong impression of acceptable behaviour.
While Plato frowns upon unapproved poetry, Sidney encourages poets to create poetry as they see fit to enhance, delight, and teach. He claims that only the poets can make things better than the forms nature can produce (Sidney 330). Sidney claims that the poet makes poetry that is above nature because they bring a new perspective that has not been seen before or were never found in nature in the first place. Furthermore, Sidney goes so far to say that nature is not nearly as beautiful as poetry. He says that “nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done” (Sidney 330). Nature is only beautiful when poets describe it, and without poetry, nature is bland. To continue, Sidney responds to earlier literary theorists, such as Plato, who have criticized poetry for being memetic. He does not refute those claims but instead backs up the positives of poetry being memetic. Admittedly, he says that poetry does imitate, but it imitates to teach as well as to delight. Without the two components combined together – teaching and delighting – poetry loses half its potential. If poetry taught but did not delight, then the lesson placed in their minds would fly away unlearned; and if poetry delights but not teaches, then they would be moved by the words but they would be moved without direction (Sidney 332). The poet then, “with his imitation [made] his own, beautifies it both for further teaching [and] delighting” (Sidney 339). Similarly, it is like lecturing a student continuously about morals. The lectures aim to teach the student, but since it does not delight him/her, the student may not take those lessons to heart and learn from them. On the other hand, running an activity meant to teach morals to the student but not debriefing the activities’ significance at the end is also as pointless as lecturing without delighting. Sidney’s argument can also be found in “Ceremony,” as there is both teaching and delighting embedded in the poem. The teaching aspect is found in the speaker’s defence of stories. The speaker claims that stories “[are not] just entertainment” (Silko line 3) as they are “all we have to fight off illness and death” (Silko line 6). Furthermore, “[one does not] have anything if [he/she] [does not] have stories” (Silko line 7-8). The speaker identifies stories as the only weapons that can fend off sickness and death. Without stories, one is susceptible to ailments that lead to death. The delightfulness in this poem is not found in the beautifully arranged or chosen words, but rather in the oratory voice that can be heard. There are humorous points in the poem where children would find delightful. For instance, the speaker rubs his belly and asks readers to put their hand on his belly to feel the stories moving (Silko lines 16-21). The oratory aspect and the engagement with the readers are what makes “Ceremony” delightful to read. Thus, a sense of warmth and trust is subsequently founded, which bridges the teaching and delighting aspects together – a concept that Sidney finds absolutely necessary. Contrary to what Plato thinks, Sidney says that poetry does not deceive and lie to younger or older readers. Plato thinks that poetry can be dangerous to children because they can learn inappropriate moral lessons as they do not have enough experience to judge for themselves what is virtuous or not. However, Sidney refutes that by saying that the poets affirm nothing, and therefore does not lie as “to lie is to affirm that to be true which is false” (Sidney 348). He continues to say that poets do not actually make readers believe what they write is true, and even children can distinguish what is real or not in poetry and plays (Sidney 349). Sidney is not wrong when he claims that poets do not lie. For example, in the poem “Ceremony,” the speaker says that the Thought-woman and her sisters created the universe just by thinking about it (Silko lines 26-28). No where in the poem does the speaker affirm that this is the absolute truth and readers must believe that this Thought-woman is real as it is simply a story that one would share with others. To conclude, Sidney defends the attacks on the art of poetry, making poetry more respected.
Although Plato and Sidney have different views on the art of poetry, they can both agree the Silko’s poem, “Ceremony,” is purposeful. Since Plato’s goal is to raise the people in his Republic with certain beliefs embedded from childhood, he would find “Ceremony” purposeful in achieving that goal. “Ceremony” could be one of those first tales that he would share with the children. Even though poems like Silko’s are, “as a whole, false,” there “are true things in them too.” Plato would be able to “make use of tales with children before exercises” (Plato 54 377a). Since the Thought-woman is the creator of all things and everything that is happening, he can use the poem to reinforce his noble lies. To have people believe they are all from Mother Earth, he would use the Thought-woman and say that she created them all, which makes them all brothers and sisters of the Republic. Moreover, to have people believe they have different metals in their soul that determines their place in society, he can say that the Thought-woman has thought of and given them the appropriate metal in their soul and that she knows exactly where they should be, thereby keeping the people satisfied with their place and have no intention of doing a job that they are not fit for. Similarly, Sidney would also find the poem “Ceremony” purposeful in teaching appropriate attitudes and behaviours. Though, instead of teaching for the sake of keeping harmony in a city, he would like how Silko’s poem teaches readers the importance of stories in a non-philosophically complicated way. He asserts that the philosopher teaches obscurely where only the educated can understand him/her. The poet, on the other hand, writes poetry so that everyone can absorb the lessons from the poem (Sidney 337). Sidney likes how the poet creates works that even the less educated can understand. Creating philosophical works with highly sophisticated language only teaches the educated people in society – the least in need of learning. Moral lessons should be easily read by even the less educated because they are the ones that can gain the most from it. The language in “Ceremony” is simple, and could be easily read and understood by anyone, including children, which both Sidney and Plato would like. While Sidney would like the simplicity of language as it can teach everyone the theme of the poem: stories are important and powerful, Plato would like the simplicity of language because it would be purposeful in teaching children the noble lies in his Republic. Therefore, even with different values placed on poetry, Plato and Sidney would find “Ceremony” purposeful in teaching readers ideologies derived from possible truths. Thus, poetry is purposeful as it can teach acceptable behaviour and ideologies to people of all ages and levels of education. Whether it is for dictating the mindset of citizens to maintain control, or for making philosophical ideas easier read and understood, poetry remains to have a purpose. Even the easy-to-read poem “Ceremony” by Silko has a purpose in teaching and instructing.
Significance of the Journey Motif in ‘Ceremony’
Intrinsically tied to Native American culture is the concept of the journey. For millennia, the indigenous people of the Americans took part in nomadism and often journeyed across miles of rough and challenging terrain to reach their destination. In Ceremony, however, by Leslie Marmon Silko, the protagonist Tayo is both forced into voyage and elects to take a journey on his own terms. Moreover, the effects of these differing motives serve Silko’s purpose of embracing and reflecting upon Native American culture.
At the outset of the novel, Silko employs a lucid series of flashbacks involving Tayo and the root of his inward struggle with mental illness to portray the ill-effects of him being forced into conflict. As one of the principle inner struggles for Tayo, the immense burden of guilt he feels is ever-present and extremely debilitating. For instance, before leaving for the war with Rocky, Tayo promises his aunt to “bring [Rocky] back safe,” yet claims that she “had always hoped, that she always expected it to happen to him [Tayo], not to Rocky” (73). By admitting this failed promise to keep his brother alive and his own acceptance that he should have died, Tayo’s character develops as a soul tormented by the consequences of war. Furthermore, as images of death, despair and hate flash into his mind and flood into the novel’s plot, Silko ties Tayo’s mental illness to the war and explains the tremendous burden it creates. Within flashbacks, Tayo describes how “Jungle rain had no beginning or end … suspended in the air, chocking their lungs… [and] soaked into their books until the skin…peeled away and wounds turned green” (11). Such grotesque and hostile diction serve to form the foundation of Tayo’s PTSD that continues to torture his conscience as these images consistently rush into his mind, “loose inside his head, wandering into his imagination” (44). In this way, Silko succeeds in establishing the war as the root cause of Tayo’s torment, but more than that, Silko develops a tension between Native American culture and the white man since Tayo was forced into battle to fight a war that was not his own. By doing so, this forced voyage of war establishes a stark contrast among the peaceful culture of the Native Americans and the warmongering identity of the white man where “the violence of struggle excites them, and the killing soothes them” (232). With such a tension, Silko emphasizes the dire consequences of Tayo’s forced journey halfway across the world to fight the white man’s war and allows comparison to beneficial journeys that arise.
After returning from the war and being relinquished from corrosive white culture, Tayo begins to experience his native identity once again and attempts to regain normalcy. For instance, as Tayo begins to reestablish himself on the reservation, Silko signals such efforts with the frequent addition of native folklore. No better is this seen than with the numerous poetic interjections like those on pages forty-six, fifty-three, and seventy-one. Within these pages, the traditional stories of Native American culture begin to develop more importance as their poetic plots begin to mirror the struggles of Tayo including the search for rain. With such shifts in focus to native stories, Silko garners recognition and embrace of the Native American culture. However, Silko additionally specifies the great effect of journey through folklore as Tayo recollects a fable concerning a voyage to the moon. In it, “distance and days … were not barriers” and to reach the moon “it depended on whether you know the story” (19). Here, Tayo begins to realize the importance of journey and its requisite of understanding, unlike that of the voyage to war in which he was forced to undertake by the white man. However, although connecting again with his roots, Tayo still experiences tremendous pain from horrid memories of war that cause him a desire to “fade until he was flat, like a drawing in the sand…waiting for the wind…to blow the lines away” (106). This intense feeling of loss of will exemplifies the natures of Tayo’s soul deformed by the white man’s war.
However, Tayo’s mental state improves markedly after accepting his roots and setting off on his own journey. For instance, after meeting with Betonie, the Native American healer who foresaw “stars…spotted cattle…a mountain…and a woman” (152), Tayo begins his voyage “to find the cattle; there would be no peace until he did” (145). Here, Tayo starts to come to terms with his native culture and reconnect with it. Furthermore, as Tayo searches for the cattle, he establishes a renewed trust in his culture as the images foreseen by the healer come to fruition and Tayo “had forgotten all the events of the past days and the past years…old Betonie was right” (192). Such a shift in acceptance of his identity and culture is compounded with increases with mental acuity. For example, when deciding how best to release the cattle after locating them, Tayo realizes to maintain composure since “there was no reason to hurry or make foolish mistakes” (189). Such clarity of mind was absent in Tayo for the majority of the novel as he dealt with compromising flashbacks and, moreover, while hunting for the cattle, a clear absence of war-induced flashbacks signaled an obvious betterment of his mental state. In this way, Silko reestablishes the importance of Tayo’s Native American journey as it cleansed the maladies of his previous voyage forced by white men.
As one of, if not the most, prominent novels of Native American culture, Leslie Marmon Silko employs the starkly contrasting journeys of her protagonist, Tayo, in the novel Ceremony. Initially, with Tayo forced into a war for the white man and compelled into venturing to the Philippines to fight for a cause which he does not fully believe in, Silko forms the basis for Tayo’s illness. Specifically, Silko posits that the white man’s war is responsible for Tayo’s PTSD and in order to remedy it, Tayo must cleanse himself with a righteous journey of his own volition as described in Native American folklore. Moreover, with this embrace of the Native American culture and its tension with that of the whites, Silko reflects on the power of the native culture over its invasive counterpart and embraces it fully.
The Absence of Identity, the Representation of Oppression: Concepts in Ralph Ellison and Leslie Marmon Silko
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko are entirely different, at least on the surface; they focus on two separate groups of people who progress through distinct journeys. In Invisible Man, the Invisible Man is searching for his identity as a nameless character wandering through life. Tayo, in Ceremony, struggles with his PTSD as well as his Native American lineage. Despite the contrastive plots of both stories, the characters convey the same message by the end: it is their responsibility to represent and speak for the “invisible”, as well as to teach the “blind” to see.
The last line of Invisible Man is an important part of the story because of its ambiguous meaning: “And it is this which frightens me: Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?” (Ellison 581). Because it does not have the capacity to hear low sounds, the human ear cannot discern low frequency noise. Therefore, the Invisible Man implies that he speaks for those who cannot be heard, metaphorically. An important aspect of Invisible Man is that the main character has no name. A name represents one’s heritage, which greatly affects the person one becomes later in life. Without a name, the narrator must search for an identity, whether that means recovering his old one or creating a new self. The message of the novel revolves around this character’s lack of identity; without one, he can be a representative for the masses, or for a specific group such as the black citizens of New York. In order for his character to be able to apply to all people, the author leaves out a multitude of events that transpire throughout the Invisible Man’s life, and the emotions he feels. In this way, the narrator can represent an abundance of people “on the lower frequencies.” He wants to be a voice both for people like him, who feel invisible — unseen and unheard — and for those who are blind and deaf to the invisible. He has an epiphany, realizing he must move on towards the future, even if it does not necessarily hold great things for him. The Invisible Man remarks, “I must shake off the old skin and come up for breath. There’s a stench in the air, which, from this distance underground, might be the smell either of death or of spring — I hope of spring” (580). Though still invisible and not knowing where the next journey will take him, the Invisible Man concludes that he must move on and must continue to live. Even after being ignored for so long, and after seeing so many people whose voices have not been heard, the Invisible Man feels he has a “socially responsible role to play,” (581). His responsibility is to embody the voices of the downtrodden and invisible people of the world.
The responsibility to speak for the repressed is also felt by Tayo in Ceremony. He yearns to accept his Native American lineage. Just like the “lower frequencies” in Invisible Man are ignored, the white people take no notice of the grievances of the Laguna Pueblo. The white people continue to expand and advance their society, while the pueblo people remain silenced and isolated in their own small world. At the story’s end, Tayo completes the ceremony, bettering his PTSD momentarily, and connects with the tradition and ancestry of his tribe. As a result of his partially successful self-healing, Tayo is able to shift his focus to the future. He can now live rather than just exist as the “white smoke” he was before (Silko 14). His whole life, he has known that living is hard; he now understands that living while being dead inside is much worse. Like the Invisible Man, Tayo “is invisible. His words are formed with an invisible tongue, they have no sound” (15). Because he has lost his identity, he cannot be seen or heard. He has no immediate family, like the Invisible Man, and his extended family all look at him with distain and shame because his mother slept with a white man. His skin shows that he is of mixed race and sets him apart from the people of the tribe.
However, by the book’s conclusion, Tayo wants to represent the Laguna Pueblo, despite his tainted genes. He reconnects with the Native American traditions after his ceremony and becomes confident in his past. He includes himself as a part of the tribe and is no longer embarrassed of his people’s ceremonies and rituals. Because of this newfound confidence, he can proceed to find his identity in the present. Just like the Invisible Man, Tayo’s journey’s end is unclear. Tayo completes the ceremony, rendering his PTSD “dead for now” (261), however he has no idea what the future will hold. Yet, the use of the word “sunrise” at the beginning and end of the book implies that Tayo is moving on to something, to a new journey, even not knowing what it is. Sunrises, just like spring, mentioned by the Invisible Man, represent rebirth and a new beginning. Tayo relates to the Invisible Man because, in the end, he is not only able to represent a group larger than himself, but is also able to look to the future rather than his troubled past.
Both the Invisible Man and Tayo advance through journeys to find themselves and end up telling a story that is relatable to other oppressed cultures. Both of their journeys end with confidence in the past, as well as hope for whatever the future may bring them. Divergent though they may seem, these two narratives almost literally circle back to a similar place: a position of worldly, hard-won optimism.