Belonging

The concept of belonging has a strong presence throughout Ceremony. There are questions of appropriate belonging, especially as far as Native American’s fighting in World War II in an American army. Did they belong there; when in the United States they were not shown respect and equality? It seems that the Native American story told by Leslie Marmon Silko is partly a question of balance between worlds.

The Native Americans must find a balance between the “white” world and their world, which they know better. Perhaps a better way to think about it is that they are stuck in their world, but are forced to play by the rules of the white world. Generally the balance between the worlds is not found, as the Native American world differs in its perspective almost entirely from the United States.

This notion is highlighted as by the words of Betonie, as he discusses his chosen place of residence. “They keep us on the north side of the railroad tracks, next to the river and their dump. Where none of them want to live.” He laughed. “They don’t understand. We know these hills, and we are comfortable here.” (117) A lack of understanding between the worlds is evident. In order to elaborate on this passage, the narrator points to the concept of “belonging” that does not resonate in the white world. The word “comfort” is analyzed: “It had a different meaning- not the comfort of big houses or rich food or even clean streets, but the comfort of belonging with the land, and the peace of being with these hills.” (117) It is impossible for the white world to push out the Native Americans, or keep them on the fringes. The Native Americans have a deep connection to the land that will last for eternity, even if in the dirtiest part of town.

This concept is completely foreign to the white world and is evidence of an inability to communicate or even successfully coexist. Words between the two worlds do not accurately translate or portray the values that they are meant to deliver. To the white world, the land belongs to people. But in the Native American world, just as Betonie states, the people belong to the land.

The symptoms of an unsuccessful dialogue between the United States and Native Americans that are discussed throughout Ceremony are very visible today. Their communities are some of the poorest in the country, with high rates of alcoholism and crime. My feeling is that there is an inability to cope with values so drastically different to their own, making it impossible for them as communities, to successfully fit in to American society today.

One thought on “Belonging

  1. Good posts on the novel. I like the focus you give to the illness–a good way to read the novel I think is through its focus on environmental illness, and perhaps to apply that to contemporary issues with Native American social conditions. One could think about doing an ecocritical reading of poverty or alcoholism.

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