Ceremony

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Josiah Character Analysis

Tayo’s uncle and Auntie’s older brother. He teaches Tayo about the traditional native ways, with lessons that help Tayo see how to respect the land and the spiritual elements that help humanity survive. While Josiah certainly respects the Native tradition, though, he does not insist on cultural purity. Josiah starts a relationship with the Mexican woman Night Swan and, with Night Swan’s help, buys a herd of hybrid cattle, further strengthening Josiah’s association with cultural boundary crossing. Josiah’s death while Tayo is away at war accounts for some of Tayo’s postwar guilt, as does the fact that Josiah’s cattle have gone missing (they are stolen by a white rancher, Floyd Lee). Tayo’s quest to find and reclaim the cattle is also a quest to reconnect to the history and legacy of hybrid strength that Josiah left behind.

Josiah Quotes in Ceremony

The Ceremony quotes below are all either spoken by Josiah or refer to Josiah. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Ceremony published in 2006.
Section 1 Quotes

So Tayo stood there, stiff with nausea, while they fired at the soldiers, and he watched his uncle fall, and he knew it was Josiah; and even after Rocky started shaking him by the shoulders and telling him to stop crying, it was still Josiah lying there.

Related Characters: Tayo (speaker), Rocky, Josiah
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

While Tayo was in the Philippines fighting in World War II, he was unable to execute a Japanese soldier because he saw his Uncle Josiah in one of the Japanese uniforms standing in the firing line. Josiah, a Pueblo Native American man, was certainly nowhere near that battle field as he was at home on the ranch in New Mexico while Tayo and his cousin Rocky went to war. Tayo’s hallucination of Uncle Josiah, then, is a sign of how deeply the trauma of war has damaged Tayo’s mental state, but it is also more than that. Seeing Josiah on the battlefield forces Tayo to grapple with the fact that his actions thousands of miles away have the power to critically alter his life at home due to the interconnected web of cause and effect that covers the whole Earth.

The entwined nature of the world happens on two levels: the literal and the metaphysical. At the literal level, Tayo’s absence while he was at war really did lead to Josaih’s death. With both Tayo and Rocky overseas and no one else capable of helping Josiah care for his cattle, Josiah was forced to travel large distances of difficult desert terrain on his own in search of his constantly moving herd. On one of these trips, Josiah ran into trouble looking for his cattle and died. Though Tayo never finds out exactly how or when Josiah died, Tayo sees chain of events that flows from his own time in the war to Josiah’s death at home. On a metaphysical level, Tayo is adding more evil into the world by participating in a war that steals human life through mechanical weapons and does not honor the souls of those who fall in battle. These sins give the destroying spirits of the Pueblo cosmology more power and allow them to wreak more havoc on the Pueblo people (and world) at large. The spiritual elements that draw together these seemingly disparate events are far more important in terms of Tayo’s healing.

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Section 5 Quotes

It was a cure for that, and maybe for other things too. The spotted cattle wouldn't be lost any more, scattered through his dreams, driven by his hesitation to admit they had been stolen, that the land - all of it - had been stolen from them. The anticipation of what he might find was strung tight in his belly…

Related Characters: Tayo, Josiah
Related Symbols: Hybrid Spotted Cattle, Bellies (Stomachs)
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

After seeing the medicine man Betonie, Tayo leaves on a quest to find his Uncle Josiah’s spotted cattle. These cattle were Josiah’s greatest dream, as the cows were bred with both Mexican breeds and the northern Hereford breed to create a stronger animal that Josiah believed would be better able to survive drought years in New Mexico. While Tayo is at war, Josiah dies and these cattle are stolen by a white man. Wracked with guilt for his failure to help his uncle, Tayo cannot properly return home from the war in spirit as long as the cattle are missing. Tayo faced many different traumas during his time at war, mostly centered around the white man’s greed, selfishness and disrespect for life. Getting the cattle back from a white rancher is one way for Tayo to find closure on the emotional turmoil about serving as a tool of violence for white culture, and also a way to reconnect with his family legacy. Only then can Tayo fully return home, no longer lost.

The cattle are also a symbol of the triumph of Native wisdom over the dominating ideals of white culture. Josiah knew that his idea to breed hybrid cattle would work out, despite the white scientists who argued in favor of pure-bred animals. Tayo was not sure about the hybrids’ strength at the time, but he is now positive that the cattle are indeed everything Josiah hoped they would be. Tayo feels this in his stomach, the physical location of Native stories and wisdom according to Pueblo tradition. Even if Tayo’s quest for these cattle looks insane to members of white culture, Tayo’s stomach alerts him to the proper path of living according to Pueblo traditions and his gut approves of bringing the hybrid cattle home. Living in peace with his identity is now more important to Tayo than futilely searching for the approval of oppressive white culture.

Section 7 Quotes

…occasionally a calf bolted away bucking and leaping in a wide arc, returning finally to its mother when it tired of playing. Tayo's heart beat fast; he could see Josiah's vision emerging, he could see the story taking form in bone and muscle.

Related Characters: Tayo, Josiah
Related Symbols: Hybrid Spotted Cattle
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

Tayo is finally able to find his uncle’s stolen cattle and returns them to his family’s ranch. Once there, Tayo cares for the cows and starts to breed them again. In the calves, Tayo can see the strength that Josiah expected from these cows. With both Mexican and Hereford blood, the calves are both strong and smart – therefore better able to handle the difficult terrain and harsh drought years of New Mexico.

Speaking of the cows as a “story” of bone and muscle suggests that Tayo believes that people can learn from these cows. Stories in the Pueblo culture carry important lessons about how to act in the world in order to be at peace with other people and nature. Throughout the novel, these cows have symbolized the value of cultural hybridity, just as people in the novel who are able to embrace the good points of many cultures are better able to adapt and thrive in a new world that includes Native Americans, whites, Mexican, Asians, and others in the Southwest.

From the jungles of his dreaming he recognized why the Japanese voices had merged with Laguna voices, with Josiah's voice and Rocky's voice; the lines of cultures and worlds were drawn in flat dark lines on fine light sand, converging in the middle of witchery's final ceremonial sand painting. From that time on, human beings were one clan again, united by the fate the destroyers planned for all of them, for all living things; united by a circle of death that devoured people in cities twelve thousand miles away, victims who had never known these mesas, who had never seen the delicate colors of the rocks which boiled up their slaughter.

Related Characters: Tayo, Rocky, Josiah
Related Symbols: The Atomic Bomb
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:

As Tayo hides in an abandoned uranium mine while Emo is searching for him, he notices a pattern that Betonie had described earlier in the novel. This pattern brings together all of mankind, despite the boundaries that white culture tries to place between white people and all other cultures. At a few points in the novel, Tayo has had flashbacks that intertwine his family in New Mexico and the Japanese he was fighting against in WWII. In this moment that intertwining finally makes sense to him, as Tayo realizes that the creation of the atomic bomb (connected to the cave Tayo is in because uranium is the key ingredient of the bomb) unites all humanity, for the simple reason that the fate of the entire world is bound up together in the imminent destruction promised by an atomic war.

The novel sees the atomic bomb as the extreme result of the worst of human nature, combining both the human desire for domination and absolute disregard for human or any other kind of life. An atomic bomb’s devastating power means that it destroys everything in its path, impersonally and without distinction, and the logic of a world with atomic bombs is one of mutual assured destruction, where use of a single bomb would ensure use of other bombs until nearly everything is annihilated. Tayo sees this threat for what it is, but also sees the possibility in it, that the terror inspired by the atomic bomb could unite humanity despite the boundaries that separate them.

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Josiah Character Timeline in Ceremony

The timeline below shows where the character Josiah appears in Ceremony. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 1
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
...by thinking of a deer, but he is distracted by a memory of seeing his Uncle Josiah among Japanese soldiers who have been executed. Tayo’s cousin Rocky tried to reason with... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...about their morning. Tayo tries to make breakfast, but is distracted by memories of his Uncle Josiah living in this house. The ranch is experiencing another drought, and the land is... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...indeed transcend any barriers – if they knew the right stories. After Indian school and Uncle Josiah’s death in the Philippines, Tayo no longer believes in the power of the stories. (full context)
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
...burro’s reins. Tayo mounts the mule, feeling like a little kid again and remembering how Uncle Josiah taught him to ride a horse. (full context)
Section 2
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Auntie still makes Rocky and Josiah’s beds when she comes into the room to check on Tayo. Tayo gets off his... (full context)
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Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Old Grandma and Robert, Auntie’s husband, mostly leave Tayo alone as he recovers. Now that Josiah is dead, Robert must take care of all the ranch work. Tayo offers to help... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Tayo remembers Uncle Josiah telling him about this particular stream, when they were rinsing off with ice cold... (full context)
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...Rocky is embarrassed to think of all the rituals he knows that old Grandma and Josiah will do with the deer’s head and carcass, but Tayo appreciates the ceremonies that honor... (full context)
Section 3
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...with a new brother, but Rocky was angry when Tayo showed up at their door. Josiah and Old Grandma treat Rocky and Tayo equally, but Auntie gives Rocky preferential treatment whenever... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...his mother’s wild days and refuses to let Tayo keep a photo of his mother. Josiah finds Tayo crying over the lost photo, but Tayo is too ashamed to admit to... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...Tayo starts to have second thoughts, remembering that he is supposed to stay and help Josiah with the ranch after Rocky graduates. Auntie is angry at their enlistment, but tells Tayo... (full context)
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
A month before Tayo and Rocky graduate high school, Josiah makes a $500 deal with Ulibarri, a Mexican rancher, to buy cattle. Tayo helps Josiah... (full context)
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Auntie is also angry about the cattle deal, thinking that Josiah has somehow been tricked by Ulibarri and a Mexican woman who works with Ulibarri. Auntie... (full context)
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Josiah and Tayo unload the cows at their pasture and the herd nervously clumps as far... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
That June, Josiah decides to brand the cattle, adding a small mark to the large butterfly brand that... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Josiah goes to see the Mexican woman to thank her again for letting him know that... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
The Mexican Woman, called Night Swan, tells Josiah all about her past as a dancer in cantinas across the Southwest. The first time... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...her often. The women of Cubero content themselves with gossiping about what the old Indian Josiah does the many times his truck is parked outside of Night Swan’s apartment. Auntie is... (full context)
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
The cattle take so much of Josiah’s time that he can no longer sneak away to see Night Swan. Josiah hires another... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
That summer, Tayo and Josiah spend their days in the fields while Rocky ostensibly prepares for his football scholarship at... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...dry day much like the drought they are currently having. As they left the graveyard, Josiah had given Tayo a candy cane and told him not to cry. Now, Tayo tries... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...by the mountain Tse-pi’na. All the ranch hands gather to watch the rain start falling. Josiah gives Tayo a note to deliver to Night Swan, as he was going to see... (full context)
Section 4
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...buzz around the window. Tayo then walks back to Harley’s bar, thinking about the time Uncle Josiah had caught him killing flies in the house. Josiah reminded Tayo that the green... (full context)
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...Tayo sees some Santa Fe railroad calendars from 1939 and 1940 that he recognizes because Uncle Josiah used to bring calendars back from the Santa Fe depot. Betonie tells stories about... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Tayo tells Betonie about seeing Uncle Josiah die in the Philippines, wearing a Japanese uniform. Tayo admits that Uncle Josiah died... (full context)
Section 6
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...only salt bush can grow. Tayo turns his horse towards North Top, a mountain where Josiah always told a story of a hunter who found a mountain lion cub who, so... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...out pliers to make a hole in the fence for the cattle to escape through. Josiah had given the pliers to Tayo years ago, saying that you never know when a... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...Tayo rides, he gets angry at the horse for stopping to graze, before remembering how Josiah had always taught him and Rocky that anger and violence accomplishes nothing. (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...ceremony. Tayo thinks of the army doctors telling him that everything was superstition, from seeing Josiah among the Japanese to stopping the rain with a curse. Tayo is paralyzed by these... (full context)
Section 7
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...together as the calves play in between them. Tayo’s heart is full as he sees Josiah’s dream coming to life. (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...the plants for Ts’eh, plant them safely, and then return home to New Laguna with Josiah, Rocky, and old Grandma to welcome him back. Tayo runs through the cool forest, watching... (full context)