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Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Ceremony, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon

Set after World War II in and around a Laguna Pueblo reservation in the American Southwest, Ceremony portrays the lives and situations of Native Americans in the modern world. This portrayal is largely bleak, and shows the ways that the modern world, and America in particular, destroy Native American lives and dishonor Native American spiritual practices. Silko focuses on a group of Pueblo men who have returned from fighting for America in WWII, only to come home to the same rampant racism, objectification, and commodification that Native Americans have suffered in North American since the arrival of Europeans. In response to that abuse, the veterans – and indeed many other Native American characters in the novel – turn to alcohol as a source of comfort in an otherwise empty future, though drinking alcohol is itself self-destructive. While drinking, the veterans show how they have internalized the idea that they are inferior by telling stories of their sexual conquests during the war, when in fact those conquests hinged on hiding their Native American identities so that white women will agree to sleep with them. Meanwhile, after the war, even other Native American women, like Helen Jean, refuse to sleep with Native American men because of the stereotype that they are all poor and lazy. By centering the men’s feelings of inferiority on sex, the novel hints at a possible lack of future for native populations. If Native American people cannot procreate without hiding or giving up their heritage, it seems likely that future generations of Americans will not include Native Americans.

The sense in the novel that Native Americans are fundamentally displaced in the modern world is also emphasized by the supposed failure of their spiritual beliefs founded on respect for life, the natural world, and balance. The medicine man Ku’oosh attempts to heal Tayo’s war trauma, but his traditional ceremonies only partially work, and he and Tayo both recognize that such ceremonies can no longer counterbalance the new machine warfare that focus on mass death and domination above all else – a type of war symbolized most potently by the atomic bomb that threatens all life on the planet.

Had the novel ended there, Ceremony would be a profoundly depressing book. However, the second half of Ceremony involves Tayo’s efforts – guided by a different medicine man, Betonie, who has more knowledge of the white world – to create a new ceremony that will work. Tayo is ultimately successful in this quest, and the journey to his success can be read as a kind of recipe for what is necessary more generally for Native Americans to adapt to the modern world. To complete his quest, Tayo comes to terms with his broken family history in the context of the white world by finding his Uncle Josiah’s long lost cattle that have been stolen by a white rancher. In the process, Tayo reconnects with nature and with his tribe’s spiritual life in his encounter with Ts’eh, who seems likely to be the goddess Reed Woman.

Beyond rekindling the roots of Tayo’s Native American identity, Tayo’s quest builds to a final confrontation with the murderous Emo in an abandoned uranium mine, where Tayo must choose between the good of his traditional values and the evils of modern culture. In an action movie, Tayo would of course kill Emo. But in Ceremony, he chooses not to. As the novel sees it, had Tayo killed Emo he would have given in to the forces of “witchery” and acted according to the white culture’s principles of domination. This choice would have been proof that “it takes a white man to survive in this world and … these Indians couldn’t seem to make it.” By not killing Emo, Tayo shows that the response to evil and death does not have to be more evil and more death. Instead, Tayo chooses to stand firm in his belief in the sanctity of life, creating a new space for Native traditions and spirituality in the modern world. And by setting this scene in an abandoned uranium mine – uranium being the element that powers the atomic bomb, and the atomic bomb itself symbolizing what Silko sees as the endless destruction that is at the heart of white-dominated modernity – Silko asserts that Native American culture and wisdom will not only endure, but that it is crucial for the survival of the world.

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Native Americans in the Modern World ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Native Americans in the Modern World appears in each Section of Ceremony. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Native Americans in the Modern World Quotes in Ceremony

Below you will find the important quotes in Ceremony related to the theme of Native Americans in the Modern World.
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 2 Quotes

“You know what people will say if we ask for a medicine man to help him. Someone will say it's not right. They'll say, 'Don't do it. He's not full blood anyway."'

Related Characters: Auntie (Thelma) (speaker), Tayo, Grandmother
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

After Tayo returns from fighting in World War II, he remains sick in body and mind for months. After western medicine at the Veteran’s Hospital in Los Angeles fails to help Tayo, Tayo’s Old Grandmother wants to call a traditional Pueblo medicine man for a real cure. Tayo’s Auntie resists, saying that Tayo’s mixed blood will prevent a medicine man from properly doing anything for Tayo. Tayo’s parentage is under constant scrutiny in the novel, as many other Native Americans distrust Tayo because Tayo’s father was white. People like Auntie, and Emo – another veteran who harbors extreme hatred for all white people – believe that the best way for Native Americans to succeed is to insist on cultural purity among Native Americans. As Auntie sees it, any relationships between Native people and white people (or indeed people of any other races) “weaken” their Native American community as a whole. Auntie’s faith in cultural and racial purity is shown to be misplaced in the novel, as the medicine man is able to help Tayo a little. Furthermore, Tayo visits another medicine man from the Navajo tribe who is able to cure him completely by taking advantage of the power that comes from embracing cultural diversity rather than fearing it. By adapting the old ways to a new, more culturally open world, Tayo is actually better off than Auntie and the others who cling to a system that keeps all cultures separate.

Yet Auntie’s anger about the medicine man is more complicated than just her resentment over Tayo’s white blood. Auntie seems especially concerned over what other people will say about a medicine man, prioritizing gossip and public opinion over her nephew’s health. The novel portrays Auntie’s selfish care about her own reputation as more destructive to the Pueblo people than crossing cultural boundaries could ever be. In the novel’s eyes, it is far better to work towards the health of all people through whatever methods available than to close off certain options due to pride and ambitions of superiority.

"There are some things we can’t cure like we used to,” he said, "not since the white people came. The others who had the Scalp Ceremony, some of them are not better either.”

Related Characters: Ku’oosh (speaker), Tayo
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

When Tayo returns from World War II, he is sick in both body and spirit. His Grandmother calls Ku’oosh, a traditional medicine man of their Laguna Pueblo community, to try to cure Tayo’s illness. Ku’oosh explains that many of the veterans from WWII have also been sick but that his medicines and ceremonies no longer work as well as they used to. Ku’oosh blames this failure on the arrival of white people in the Americas, an event that fundamentally changed the entire environment and culture of the region. Ku’oosh makes it clear that he thinks the white people have changed the world for the worse, both by reducing the power of traditional Pueblo ceremonies and creating new problems that the Pueblo ceremonies cannot counter-balance. The ceremonies have not changed even though the world is very different now, and thus the ceremonies can no longer do the ritual work of healing that they used to do. Ku’oosh sees this problem, but does not see the solution: adapting the ceremonies so that they can better apply to a world that includes white people.

The Scalp Ceremony was meant to cleanse warriors who have killed and touched dead enemies on the battlefield. Yet the old, Pueblo style of warfare meant that warriors knew personally how many enemies they were responsible for killing. Mechanical warfare, and especially the atomic bomb, removes the warrior from the deaths he causes, such that it is impossible for the veterans to know who or how many people they have killed. This guilt at anonymously causing immense loss of life eats at Tayo, as his actions in the war oppose the respect for life that forms a fundamental part of the Pueblo worldview. The Scalp Ceremony is not yet equipped to handle the part Tayo has played in a new type of evil in the world. To be fully cured, Tayo will have to seek out a new kind of ceremony.

“I'm half-breed. I'll be the first to say it. I'll speak for both sides. First time you walked down the street in Gallup or Albuquerque, you knew. Don't lie. You knew right away. The war was over, the uniform was gone. All of a sudden that man at the store waits on you last, makes you wait until all the white people bought what they wanted. And the white lady at the bus depot, she's real careful now not to touch your hand when she counts out your change.”

Related Characters: Tayo (speaker)
Related Symbols: Green Eyes
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Soon after Tayo returns from the war, he goes out drinking with some of his fellow Native American war veterans. The other veterans only want to talk about their glory days while in the military, when white people respected them for their service to the country, and white women would sleep with them as long as they didn’t bring attention to their native heritage. Tayo gradually grows more and more angry at this talk, unable to believe that the other veterans don’t see how the broader American society has once again decided that Native Americans are not worthy of the same rights and respect as white people now that the war is over. While the veterans might have felt accepted in white society during the war, this feeling was another trick as white culture used the Native Americans as soldiers and physical labor during the war but never actually respected them as people. Here, Tayo describes the injustices committed against Native Americans in America, even after so many of them gave everything to fight for “their” country.

Tayo is uniquely situated to speak about Native Americans in white society, as Tayo is half white and half Laguna Pueblo. Tayo’s green eyes, the physical marker of Tayo’s white father, mark him as someone who is slightly outside both white and Native American communities. That gives Tayo the chance to objectively look at both ways of life, and speak across the divide between them. While the other veterans sub-consciously worship white culture as the dominant successful power in America, Tayo sees the cracks in that belief that keep Native Americans from seeing their own power As a “half-breed,” Tayo knows that an endless search to please white society will never satisfy Native Americans. Instead, he believes the other veterans should hold white society accountable for their abuse of Native peoples.

They told him, "Nothing can stop you now except one thing: don't let the people at home hold you back.” Rocky understood what he had to do to win in the white outside world.

Related Characters: Rocky
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

When Rocky and Tayo are in high school, the teachers and coaches push Rocky to be successful by the mainstream measure of grades and sports performance. Rocky is on track to gain a football scholarship to college and escape from the cycle of poverty that keeps many Native Americans on reservations. In order to achieve this definition of success, Rocky believes that he can’t let the people at home hold him back, that is, Rocky must leave behind his family. More than that, Rocky believes he must reject all the traditions of his Native heritage. In other words, for Rocky to “win” in the white world, he would have to lose touch with his past and his very identity.

This vision of Native American success was the prevailing idea in the 1950s for solving the problems of poverty, addiction, and high mortality rates on Native American reservations. The American government hoped to “kill the Indian and save the man,” that is “recivilizing” Native American peoples so they would become mainstream Americans. Through boarding schools, like the one that Rocky and Tayo attended in Albuquerque, many Native children were encouraged to erase any markers of their distinct Native tribes and forget all of their cultural legacy. While this may have facilitated “success” by one definition, the novel clearly depicts the violence of this choice. Rocky may win in the white world, but he will not be healthy or happy. Indeed, Rocky dies a successful “war hero,” as the novel suggests that it is impossible for Rocky to live after he turns his back on the Native ways.

"They took our land, they took everything! So let's get our hands on white women!" They cheered… Maybe Emo was wrong: maybe white people didn't have everything. Only Indians had droughts.

Related Characters: Emo (speaker), Tayo
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

When Tayo goes out drinking with Emo and the other Native American veterans, the topic of conversation often turns to the veterans’ sexual experiences with white women. For most of the veterans, sleeping with white women is a way to feel that they are included and accepted in white society. For Emo, sleeping with white women takes on a more sinister meaning. Emo wants to use white women as pawns to hurt white culture as pyaback for the hurt it has caused Native Americans by taking their land and making them powerless. Tayo too sees the disparity between the lives of white people and the lives of Native Americans. White people enjoy privilege, comfort, and wealth in America, such that Tayo feels white people have “everything” that Native Americans long for. White culture in America takes all the resources with no consequences, damaging Native American communities as well as the American land. Native Americans meanwhile are left to deal with the negative effects that the white commercial culture has on the environment. As Tayo notes, Native Americans are the ones who have droughts, with the implication being that white culture is wealthy enough to ignore the problem and continue their destructive methods.

While Emo is justified in feeling that he has been wronged by white culture, as Native Americans have been systematically oppressed and as a result struggle with poverty and addiction, the novel makes it clear that Emo’s response is incorrect. Fighting violence with violence will never actually solve the problem. Tayo takes a more measured approach, hoping to solve the drought that white people have caused instead of adding more pain to the world by bringing white people down.

Section 3 Quotes

She was careful that Rocky did not share these things with Tayo, that they kept a distance between themselves and him. But she would nor let Tayo go outside or play in another room alone. She wanted him close enough to feel excluded, to be aware of the distance between them.

Related Characters: Tayo, Rocky, Auntie (Thelma)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Tayo comes to live with Auntie and his cousin Rocky when he is four years old, after his mother’s alcoholism and prostitution becomes too dangerous for a young boy to be around. Auntie clearly resents Tayo because Tayo is a half white; his very existence is a reminder that Auntie’s Little Sister slept with white men and shamed their family in the eyes of the Laguna Pueblo elders. Auntie treats Tayo the same as Rocky, her biological son, when they are in public, but keeps Tayo at an arms length when they are alone. Rocky gets special privileges that Tayo does not, as Auntie’s embarrassment at Tayo’s “impure” blood causes her to lash out against an innocent boy despite the fact that according to the Pueblo traditions Tayo should be accepted by his family. This is yet another example of how Auntie’s loyalty to cultural purity as a means of keeping the Pueblo traditions strong actually hurts her family and the solidarity of the Native Community.

The way Auntie keeps Tayo just close enough to see what he is missing echoes the experience of Native Americans in America. Native American communities are kept away from “normal” American society on reservations, but they are not allowed to be fully separate sovereign nations. This means that many Native Americans must go into larger cities, such as Gallup, in order to buy supplies or special goods. In the city, the gap between the poverty of the reservation and the comparatively wealthy lives of the white citizens is clearly apparent. Even Native Americans who choose to go live in cities to try and take advantage of the economic opportunities there are discriminated against and only given menial jobs for second-class citizens. The novel describes many who end up homeless, watching the white Americans go about their happy lives on land that was once theirs to care for. In terms of American society, Native Americans are portrayed as “close enough to feel excluded” in the novel, just as Tayo is within his family.

Christianity separated the people from themselves; it tried to crush the single clan name, encouraging each person to stand alone, because Jesus Christ would save only the individual soul; Jesus Christ was not like the Mother who loved and cared for them as her children, as her family.

Related Characters: Auntie (Thelma)
Page Number: 62-63
Explanation and Analysis:

Auntie is a Christian, Pueblo woman, and her focus on this religious salvation prevents her from remaining in touch with her family and her Native community. While the basis of the Pueblo philosophy is a family that cares for and supports one another, the novel sees the basis of Christianity as a fundamentally isolating experience. In order to be a good Christian, Auntie must separate herself from the members of her family and tribe who commit sins. Rather than strengthening the community as a whole by helping a lost or ill member find their way back to right relationship with the earth and health, Auntie can only save herself as a Christian. The novel depicts this as dividing people “from themselves,” suggesting that the bonds between family and tribe members are so strong that many people are, in essence, one person. A Pueblo person can only be happy and healthy if they are connected to their community, making it impossible for a Pueblo person to succeed or fail on their own. Everything an individual Pueblo person does affects the other members of the community, rippling out to affect the environment and the world. Though Christianity speaks of its followers as “Children of God,” the novel does not see this religion as capable of addressing communal.

Section 4 Quotes

There was something about the way the old man said the word "comfortable." 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.

Related Characters: Betonie
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

When Tayo has to keep looking for a cure to his sickness after WWII, he goes to a Navajo Medicine Man named Betonie. Betonie lives in the foothills outside of Gallup, in a traditional hogan like the Navajo have built for generations. Betonie is at odds with the modern world, rejecting the idea that Native Americans must leave the old ways in order to be successful and happy in the white world. Betonie actually finds more comfort in these hills than he would in the “big houses or rich food” that mark wealth and security in the city. It is more important for Betonie to be connected to the land, as the land provides life-giving resources for humans. In order to be at peace with himself, Betonie must be at peace in the land.

Yet though Betonie does not want to leave the old ways behind, he is also not a purist about the ancient traditions. Betonie freely uses English, though some look on that as the modern, white man’s language, and carefully finds the nuance in the English word “comfortable.” Betonie’s care with language echoes the more traditional Pueblo Medicine Man, Ku’oosh, who precisely chose the correct Laguna word for “fragile” earlier in the novel. Betonie also fills his hogan with objects from the modern world that mark the passage of time and the changing culture, such as his calendars with many styles of artwork. Betonie seeks to be a bridge between the old Native American way of life, and a new Native American way of life that maintains the unique strengths of the Native American philosophies without ignoring all traces of the modern world. Looking to both cultural norms for inspiration makes Betonie stronger, more adaptable, and ultimately more comfortable in his own identity.

Take it back.
Call that story back."
But the witch just shook its head
at the others in their stinking animal skins, fur and feathers.
It's already turned loose.
It's already coming.
It can't be called back.

Related Characters: Betonie (speaker)
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Betonie, a Navajo medicine man, tells a story about Native American witches – those who use magic for unnatural purposes – who tried to outdo one another in the evil things they could create. The worst evil thing was actually a story that created white people in the world. Storytelling is a sacred and significant act in many Native American cultures, including Betonie’s Navajo heritage and the Pueblo heritage of the majority of the characters in Ceremony. This evil story in particular is incredibly powerful, as it speaks new beings into life and sets them on a path to destroy the entire world. Betonie’s story about the evil story is a cautionary tale about using stories for evil purposes, as the words can never be called back once they are spoken into the world.

Yet though the Native American witch cannot call the story of white people back, the very act of placing all of white history and creation within a Native American story gives Native Americans some measure of control over their future. If Native Americans created white people with a story, they should also be able to undo the damage white people cause with a story. Ceremony then acts to fulfill this purpose, to be a story that works to combat the evil that the white people story unleashed.

He was thinking about Harley and Leroy; about Helen Jean and himself. How much longer would they last? How long before one of them got stabbed in a bar fight, not just knocked out? How long before this old truck swerved off the road or head-on into a bus?

Related Characters: Tayo, Harley, Leroy, Helen Jean
Page Number: 155-156
Explanation and Analysis:

After Tayo leaves Betonie’s home in Gallup, Harley and Leroy pick him up off the side of the road. Harley and Leroy are on another drinking bender, this time with a Native American woman named Helen Jean along for the ride. After his experience with Betonie, Tayo can see how his fellow veterans follow a destructive lifestyle in their attempts to distract themselves from the emptiness and pain of life after the trauma of WWII. Similarly, many Native Americans turn to drink in the face of the poverty and lack of opportunity on Native American reservations. Tayo’s question “how much longer would they last?” literally applies to the dangerous situation of drunk driving Harley and Leroy, but it also has a wider meaning about the fate of Native Americans in the modern world. Mainstream white culture wants to believe that Native Americans are dying out, unable to cope with the fast pace of urban life that keeps Native Americans from their historical farming and hunting methods. In some senses, Native Americans must adapt to the new circumstances of a world that includes the heavy influence of white culture, or they will die out.

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 6 Quotes

He lay there and hated them. Not for what they wanted to do with him, but for what they did to the earth with their machines, and to the animals with their packs of dogs and their guns. It happened again and again, and the people had to watch, unable to save or to protect any of the things that were so important to them.

Related Characters: Tayo
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

After Tayo finds his cattle, he is chased by white patrolmen who want to punish Tayo for “trespassing” on white land. Though the white men leave Tayo alone in favor of hunting a mountain lion instead, Tayo is badly injured after falling from his horse and rests in a small clearing, underneath a blanket of leaves. As he rests, Tayo think about the damage that white people do to the land and the natural world. White culture, as portrayed by the novel, is concerned only with material possessions and personal wealth. White people take the land and its resources for granted, using up anything they want and causing pain for their own amusement in a sport they call hunting. Many animals, including deer and mountain lions, are sacred to the Pueblo traditions, and Tayo is incensed that white people would hunt these creatures without respecting their lives and making full use of their bodies once the animals are dead. In its constant quest for complete dominance, white culture ignores the Pueblo wisdom that ensures sustainable hunting and farming methods that keep both the earth and its people healthy. At this point in the novel, Tayo is ready to place the blame firmly at the feet of white people and embrace the strength of his hybrid background by acting on the values he learned as a Pueblo Native American.

Section 7 Quotes

"The end of the story. They want to change it. They want it to end here, the way all their stories end, encircling slowly to choke the life away. The violence of the struggle excites them, and the killing soothes them. They have their stories about us – Indian people who are only marking time and waiting for the end.”

Related Characters: Ts’eh (speaker), Tayo
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Ts’eh and Tayo live together in harmony through the summer, but Ts’eh knows that she will have to leave by the time fall comes. As she gets ready to go, Ts’eh mournfully tells Tayo that he will have to make sure that the destroyers are not allowed to twist the “story” to make it end in pain and destruction. The destroyers mentioned here are understood as the evil spirits that guide humans into making destructive choices. They have a particular control over white men and women, but can also infect Native Americans, as they have with Emo. Ts’eh explains that people who follow the destroyers are tools in a worldview that prioritizes violence over peace and uses pain as a distraction from the emptiness and boredom that comes from not being connected with a culture that respects life.

White culture, led by the destroyers, believes that Native Americans are now powerless in the face of their “progress” towards a selfish, greedy population who cares nothing for the well-being of the world. In the larger story that Ceremony tells about the fight between good and evil on a global scale, white culture thinks it has already won and that Native Americans will gradually die out as a defeated enemy. This echoes the idea that many Americans actually had in the 1950s and 60s, that Native Americans belonged to history and could not persist in the modern. Ts’eh challenges that assumption, not only that Native Americans can continue to exist, but that they must continue to exist if the destroyers are to be withstood. By saying that the destroyers want to “change” the end of the story, Ts’eh recognizes that complete destruction is not the natural end for the world. It is up to Native Americans who trust in the traditional wisdom to keep the world on its proper path and save humanity from the destroyers.