Foreshadows

The structural balance between poetry and prose that Silko achieves in Ceremony echoes the looping in Dillard. Storytelling layers another structural element into the narrative, backstitching the native Pueblo tradition into a post-modern tale, complete with antihero. Silko weaves a tapestry with the structural elements in Ceremony that carefully illustrate the conflict inherently present between a white, modern culture and a traditional, native culture. Tayo embodies these conflicts and becomes the messenger between Silko and the modern world. This conflict between cultures becomes immediately evident in the first pages of the novel through the conflicts Tayo experiences and attempts to reconcile.

Silko introduces Tayo through the conflicts of his dreams. Readers understand that the sounds in Tayo’s dreams represent parts of Tayo in direct conflict with his Native American soul. The dream sequence foreshadows that healing comes through native culture. In Tayo’s dream his uncle, “Josiah bring[s] him the fever medicine” (5). Tayo’s disassociation with his native heritage is evident in his mother’s appearance in the dream sequence, “he thought the Laguna words were his mother’s, but when he was about to make out the meaning of the words, the voice suddenly broke into a language he could not understand.” The voices are “drowned by the music—loud, loud music from the big juke box, its flashing red and blue lights pulling the darkness closer.” In the darkness, Tayo is most removed from his own culture and therefore his healing. Another foreshadowing of Tayo’s need to connect to a more natural culture is Tayo’s need to “hold that image of the deer in his mind long enough,” and when he is successful, “his stomach might shiver less and let him sleep for awhile” (6).

Tayo’s hallucinations also drive home the conflict Tayo experiences between a white, modern culture and native culture. Silko explains the Pueblo thinking in her essay “Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination” about the unity between human consciousness and the natural world. Tayo connects the Pueblo beliefs to the modern world when he notices that the “corporal’s skin was not much different than his own” and Tayo further connects the modern and ancient cultures with his awareness that Japanese skin “looked too familiar, even when they were alive” (7). When ordered to kill, Tayo hallucinates and the Japanese faces become the face of his own cousin rendering Tayo incapable of shooting. Of course Tayo cannot shoot; within the Pueblo conscious, killing another human permanently violates the connection between human consciousness and natural order. Essentially, killing violates Tayo’s core identity.

Tayo also attempts to connect the modern culture with his native one through words. First through storytelling: Tayo “made a story for all of them, a story to give them strength. The words of the story poured out of his mouth as if they had substance, pebbles and stone extending to hold the corporal up…” (10-11). Then, when rain made the mud too deep for travel, Tayo reverted to native tradition, chanting words, but instead of praying for rain, which is usually necessary to sustain crops and cattle, Tayo “wanted the words to make a cloudless blue sky…” and “he could hear his own voice praying against the rain (11).

Immediately after Tayo prays against the rain, Silko presents a poem, a parable of a sister’s conflict over her sister’s luxurious and languid bathing in water. The working sister scolds the bathing sister running her underground. The rain goes away and people and animals are thirsty and starving for want of water and food (11-12). This poem underscores the consequences of fighting against nature, of separating from the landscape. When separated from the landscape, human consciousness becomes incapable of being whole. In this way, Tayo, our post modern antihero is born, persistently caught between two cultures, struggling to unite with  his ancestral thinking.

One thought on “Foreshadows

  1. Good critical insights here, and in the class discussion, in reminding us that this book is also a postmodernist novel. And so the conflicts in the story extend to conflicts the reader encounters, I think, with the storytelling. And then perhaps resolution in the end, depending on how you read it.

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