Ceremony

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The Atomic Bomb Symbol Icon

As Ceremony focuses on a WWII veteran, the threat of atomic warfare looms large over the novel. Silko ties the atomic bomb to “white culture,” and sees the bomb as a kind of logical and yet horrifying outcome of what she sees as white culture’s focus on domination and destruction instead of balance or harmony. Tayo does not understand why the white men would create a weapon that shows so little regard for human life, or any life at all. The atomic bomb, and the new form of warfare that it represents, is such a horrible threat that all of the old Pueblo ceremonies meant to heal warriors who have taken lives on the battlefield cannot balance out death on such a large, impersonal scale. According to the novel, the atomic bomb is the worst extreme of the white culture that seeks victory at whatever cost to the environment and other people. While the atomic bomb might have allowed the Americans to win what the medicine man Betonie calls “the white man’s war,” atomic weapons also carry the potential to annihilate all of humankind. As such, the atomic bomb is the only thing that can force all the warring clans of humanity to be “united by the fate the destroyers planned for all of them.”

Tayo’s final confrontation with Emo takes place in an abandoned uranium mine on the Trinity test site where the American government secretly gathered uranium before the war. The mine further underscores how the atomic bomb represents an unsustainable attitude towards natural resources. Regardless of the damage the bomb will do when it is deployed against America’s enemies, making the bomb at all has devastating effects on the New Mexico test site. Meeting Emo in the mine represents the choice that Tayo must make between remaining a tool of the witchery that wants to destroy the world or, instead, working towards the life affirming philosophy of his Pueblo heritage. If Tayo had killed Emo on the land that was stripped to create the atomic bomb, he would have furthered the agenda of evil in the world. Refusing to indulge in vengeance and violence in this place is a powerful statement of respect for life and the earth. While Tayo’s choice certainly does not nullify the damage that the atomic bomb could still do, his choice to seek peace above all else is a forceful blow against the ideals of superiority and subjection that the bomb represents.

The Atomic Bomb Quotes in Ceremony

The Ceremony quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Atomic Bomb. 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 7 Quotes

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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The Atomic Bomb Symbol Timeline in Ceremony

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Atomic Bomb appears in Ceremony. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 2
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...continues to talk about how they should have blown up all the Japanese people with the atomic bomb when they had the chance. Tayo flashes back to a childhood memory of smashing melons... (full context)
Section 4
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
...use rocks with veins of green, yellow, and black (that is, the uranium in an atomic bomb ) to explode the entire world. The other witches ask the witch to take the... (full context)
Section 7
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...not understand at the time, but he now sees the pattern that witchery is making. Atomic bombs have the power to destroy the whole world, and are therefore one of the only... (full context)