Ceremony

Ceremony Section 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next spring, Robert and Tayo return to the woman’s house to collect the cattle, but the woman and the hunter are no where to be found. When Robert and Tayo get the cows back to their ranch, old Grandma comments that old Betonie did some good after all. Tayo agrees, but he dreams of the woman constantly. Auntie looks at Tayo as if she is waiting for him to relapse at any moment.
Tayo has now finished Betonie’s ceremony by returning the cattle home, and even old Grandma (who most firmly believes in not changing the old ways) recognizes the value of Betonie’s unorthodox methods. On the other side, Auntie doesn’t seem to trust Tayo’s return to health because she no longer trusts traditional ceremonies.
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Tayo helps Robert and Pinkie care for the sheep, impressed at how well Pinkie seems to be doing with the animals. Yet that night, Pinkie asks Tayo to drop him off on the side of the highway so he can go up the line to visit all the bars.
Pinkie visiting the bar after doing such fine work shows how the pernicious influence of alcohol and white culture more generally always remain a threat for Native Americans.
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Tayo dreams of the woman again, overwhelmed by his love for her. Tayo decides to go live at his uncle’s old ranch house again that May. Auntie agrees as long as none of the other veterans go there to drink. Old Grandma asks Tayo to gather her more Indian tea leaves and reminds Tayo to go talk to Ku’oosh and the other veterans when he can.
Tayo leaves the community of New Laguna in order to be closer to the natural environment, mimicking Betonie’s choice to live in the hills rather than among the Navajo people. Tayo has to remove himself from society to more clearly see the lesson that Betonie wanted him to learn – a lesson that may be able to help Ku’oosh and the other veterans as well.
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As he approaches the ranch house, Tayo notes that the surrounding land is lightly green this year, neither the red of drought or the aggressive green of the jungle. Tayo is reminded that the land remains strong even when Tayo feels as though he has lost everything. He enjoys listening to the grasshoppers’ hum and gathers pollen as gently as a bee would. He sees a snake wind through the sand on his way back and fills the track with yellow pollen.
True health for the land involves a balance between drought and over-saturation of rain. The land is resilient enough to endure periods of extremes, showing Tayo that he too can return to health after his tumultuous time spent in the violence of the white world. Tayo honors nature with the yellow pollen, a sacred ritual of the Pueblo people.
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Tayo sees the woman walking through the field of sunflowers towards him. Tayo believes he is dreaming, but the woman leads him back to her camp by the spring. The woman sits in the shade of a willow tree while Tayo watches beetles and bugs skate over the surface of a pond. Tayo and the woman make love next to the pond and Tayo falls asleep.
The woman appears out of the natural world, making her a cohesive part of Tayo’s return to nature rather than a distraction from this harmony. The peace and ease of their interactions is an important contrast to the competition and tension in the sexual relationships between native Americans and white women described earlier in the novel. Yet this ease is not simply because Tayo and the woman are both Native American, but because neither of them are hiding their Native American heritage.
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When Tayo wakes, he thinks the woman was another dream. But he then sees her footprints clear in the sand. The woman calls to Tayo and he finds her on the other side of a narrow canyon with her blue shawl full of plants. Tayo finally asks the woman her name, and she tells him to call her Ts’eh, as she is a Montaño and her true name is too long to pronounce. Tayo says he understands about nicknames, thinking about how Rocky’s Christian name was Augustine.
Ts’eh’s blue shawl echoes Night Swan’s blue clothing when Tayo visited her. As blue is a sacred color to the Pueblo people, this clothing marks both women as important carriers of lessons for Tayo. Ts’eh’s nickname helps reframe Rocky’s character. As much as Rocky rejected Native American culture, his use of a nickname involved a rejection of a white name and therefore indicates some remaining tie to his Pueblo heritage.
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Ts’eh shares little more about her family, as if she expects Tayo to have already heard all the gossip about them. Tayo wants to ask about Ts’eh’s siblings, realizing that the hunter must have been one of Ts’eh’s brothers, but he stops himself. As they walk back from the pond, Tayo asks Ts’eh how she knew he would be at the ranch house. Ts’eh laughs and says she had been there a week before Tayo came, so he must have known that she would be here.
As with Grandmother’s attitude towards gossip in the Pueblo community, Ts’eh’s beliefs about gossip show that it is a way that people can stay involved in other people’s lives. Now that Tayo knows he is not “stealing” Ts’eh from her rightful husband, they can have a more honest relationship. The way that it seems to both Tayo and Ts’eh that the other one came to them suggests that the world has chosen to bring Ts’eh and Tayo together naturally, rather than through human manipulation.
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Ts’eh collects plants and describes them as all different colors of the sky. As Ts’eh gathers seedlings, Tayo considers breeding his cattle with a yellow bull owned by Romero, one of Tayo’s cousins. The bull is a strong animal with one crooked leg from an old rodeo injury. Tayo brings the bull to visit the cows soon after, and the cows are wary of the bull at first. Yet soon the bull and the cows are cautiously grazing together as the calves play in between them. Tayo’s heart is full as he sees Josiah’s dream coming to life.
The way Ts’eh connects plants and sky is another example of the many connections between all parts of the natural world. The bull, a sacred yellow color, helps Tayo continue to the tradition of celebrating cultural hybridity that Josiah started. The bull seems to stand for Native American culture, both for its hide color and how it has survived an injury from white culture (the rodeo). The cows accept the bull, showing that peaceful coexistence between many different cultures can be possible.
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Ts’eh needs just one more plant, and asks Tayo to gather it for her if she is not here when the time comes. Ts’eh doesn’t yet know when she will leave, only that everything is always shifting. Tayo asks what color of sky this plant is, but Ts’eh says that this plant is the light of the stars and the moon. Tayo is awed by the peace of their days together and the love that he and Ts’eh share.
Tayo is again an integral part of a ceremony meant to restore balance to the world, this time ending the drought instead of returning cattle. Ts’eh brings all the elements of nature together in her bundles, with plants, rocks, water, sky, and starlight involved in some way. Tayo and Ts’eh’s peaceful life together is a model of how all human lives could be if humanity lived in harmony with nature.
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Robert comes to visit Tayo at the end of summer, and finds that Tayo is not planning to come home to the town any time soon. The others want Tayo to see a doctor again and Emo is spreading rumors that Tayo has gone completely crazy. Robert asks Tayo to consider coming home just to assure everyone that he is ok. Tayo agrees, but his mind is already on other things.
Emo has become so consumed by white culture that he sees living in the hills as crazy rather than as a return to nature. Though Tayo is clearly healthy and happy, the others do not trust this natural cure after so many years of white culture marking nature as something to fight against and dominate instead of live with.
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Ts’eh and Tayo find a dead calf the next time they walk down the canyon. Ts’eh comments that death is not as bad as the destroyers who prevent living people from ever feeling anything again. Tayo says that old Betonie knew of a way to stop the destruction and Ts’eh says it depends on how far he, Tayo, is willing to go. Tayo watches Ts’eh as she looks toward the mountain Pa’to’ch and feels that he will always know where she is.
Death is a natural part of the cycle of life, rather than the needless destruction and pain that the destroyers (i.e. white culture) cause in the world. While Betonie’s ceremony involving stars, the cattle, the woman, and a mountain seemed to be over after Tayo found the cattle, all four of those elements are also involved in Ts’eh’s final ceremony.
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The novel describes a ceremony in which the Montaño people paint the image of a she-elk on a cliff in order to celebrate the she-elk for her beautiful ability to conceive new life and carry the next generation of elk. Ts’eh and Tayo visit where the elk is painted, though the paint is faded because no one has come to repaint it since the war. Ts’eh reassures Tayo that the paint doesn’t matter as long as he remembers the story.
The elk represents the strength of new life and the future. The health of this future depends on how Tayo honors the past stories. As long as he remembers the sentiment of respect for life in the stories, the specific ritual of painting an elk can be changed.
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Ts’eh builds a fire and starts to cry. Tayo can do nothing to comfort her, simply asking why she is crying. Ts’eh says she knows how the destroyers want to end the story, by ending all life. Tayo will be persecuted on all sides if he returns to civilization because death is the only ending that witchery can understand. Though the white people might easily get bored and leave Tayo alone, Emo will continue to push until he kills Tayo.
The worst parts of human nature are given free reign in white culture, but the more pressing issue is Emo’s belief in the values of white culture. While white people are too self-absorbed to put in the effort of doing Tayo harm, Emo (under the influence of the destroyers) will tirelessly work to force Tayo’s story to have a tragic ending. The way that Ts’eh speaks about all this as if Tayo is explicitly a character in a story references the place that Silko intends l Ceremony to take alongside the ancient stories. Put another way: Ceremony is itself a story, itself a ceremony.
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As Tayo and Ts’eh watch the cows in the pasture, Ts’eh announces that they are coming to the end. She returns to the house and packs all her things in her blue shawl. Tayo, heart clenching at the thought of Ts’eh leaving, walks Ts’eh out to the road. He thinks back to the year before, when he and Harley rode down this road on a burro and a mule. This time, the surrounding country side is green. Ts’eh tells Tayo to remember everything and then walk down the road.
Though Ts’eh’s departure is sad, it is mitigated by the fact that the land is so much healthier than it was just a year ago. Mirroring the return to health in the environment, Tayo is also in a much better place. Betonie’s ceremony that blended traditional rituals with modern elements has seemingly been successful, even if Ts’eh’s ceremony still needs to be finished.
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Tayo wakes up feeling as if he is in the jungle, then realizes he is just in the cave where he and Ts’eh had slept on their last night together. He leaves, avoiding the road to walk over the rocks quietly so that he will not alert anyone who is looking for him. Tayo runs along the Acoma boundary fence and feels the wind blow like it did during the drought years. He decides he has to bring the whole story back to the elders and veterans of the Laguna community to make it right.
Tayo now trusts the natural world far more than he trusts the human world, given the major impact that the destroyers have had on white culture. By bringing the story to the elders, Tayo can hopefully help the rest of his community find healing as well. Tayo may be healed, but he must help the others of his community before he is truly finished with his task.
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Tayo goes back to the road, looking for someone who doesn’t know about the recent questions about Tayo’s sanity to give him a ride so that he won’t feed into the gossip that the Laguna community has been spreading about him. The mesa landscape is ageless, making Tayo feel as if his entire life is converging on this point. He walks north as the sun rises, then hears a truck rumble behind him. It is Harley and Leroy in the truck and Tayo is ecstatic to see his friends when he needs them most.
Here, Tayo fears the way that gossip creates divisions between people instead of bringing them together. The timelessness of the desert landscape connects Tayo to everything before and everything after – his own story is one among many, and also an echo of those other stories. As happened earlier in the novel, Harley and Leroy pick Tayo up, repeating another cycle. Yet the first episode in the truck did not end well, foreshadowing that this episode will not benefit Tayo either.
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Harley leans out the window, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and dark glasses. He and Leroy are so drunk that Leroy can’t even open the truck door without falling out of the car. Tayo helps him get back in and sits in the back seat. Harley and Leroy are celebrating the day they enlisted. They try to open another beer and it sprays all over Tayo. Tayo doesn’t want to drink, but he takes the beer that Harley offers.
Harley wears a shirt that is popular in “mainstream” American culture, another attempt to belong to America even though it is destructive to his Native American identity. Being around the other man undoes some of Tayo’s efforts to return to his Native heritage, as Harley and Leroy are able to pressure him to drink again.
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Harley says that he and Leroy have been driving around all night after starting at a bar in Gallup. Tayo doesn’t understand how they ended up going north on the Acoma road after starting in Gallup, but he doesn’t question their story. Tayo takes another sip of beer and decides to rest and avoid thinking of the ceremony so that he doesn’t become suspicious that his friends are working for the side of “witchery.” Tayo becomes just another drunk Indian.
It is painful for Tayo to accept that the people he loves may be working for evil, or have been taken over by the witchery (human greed and selfishness) that infects white culture. Tayo chooses to ignore that using alcohol as a numbing agent. And just as alcohol is a self-destructive “medicine” for all “Indians,” it will soon be clear that it is literally destructive for Tayo to indulge in it now.
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A while later, Tayo wakes up in the truck, with Harley and Leroy gone. Tayo gets out of the car and sits on a lava rock. He finds it hard to remember how he felt with Ts’eh, or with Betonie, believing in the old stories. Tayo sees Harley and Leroy’s footprints going up the hill and follows them, but stops halfway up. Tayo suddenly knows in his belly that Harley and Leroy are betraying him. Tayo goes back to the truck and finds a rusty screwdriver. He puts the screwdriver in his pocket and runs off down the road.
Harley and Leroy are unfortunately acting in ways that counter the old values of the Pueblo people. Tayo’s stomach, the place where he feels the connection to the stories that explain how Pueblo people should act, warns him that Harley and Leroy are dangerously out of balance with the Pueblo community. Tayo takes the screwdriver as protection if the others try to attack him. Tayo may defend himself with violence, which the novel has established earlier is not in concert with Native philosophy and only brings more evil into the world.
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The novel explains that the US Government came into the Cebolleta land grant looking for a specific, mysterious mineral. The drought had already made this land unusable, so the farmers don’t care what the government decides to dig for. In 1943, the mine that the government has dug floods, and the government closes the mine but leaves the guards until 1945. By then, they have other sources of uranium, and no longer have to keep the mine a secret. They leave behind only barbed wire fences.
The Cebolleta Land Grant was actually first stolen from the Navajo people, then taken from the Spanish by the American government. This competition over land rights deals only in the power and resources that the land represents, rather than the health of the land itself. White culture as seen in the American government destroys the land first through over-farming, and then by stripping it of minerals for their monetary and military use. The government abandons the land when it is no longer useful, even though they leave guards to ensure that the land is still their possession. The fences remain as unnecessary divides in the land even after the white people have left.
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Tayo crawls through the barbed wire and finds a stream. He drinks, but notices that the water is bitter – possibly from the uranium. He remembers old Grandma telling him about a night while he was at war when she saw a huge bright explosion. Tayo did 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 things that can unite all of humanity.
The mining efforts are still affecting the land, making the water impure long after mining activity has stopped. The mine is part of the ultimate culmination of all that the novel suggests is bad about white culture, as atomic bombs are a destructive power so vast that they by their very nature constitute a lack of respect for nature or the world. Tayo’s reference to a pattern recalls the poem-story about the creation of white people that mentioned a pattern of yellow rocks. That Tayo sees the bomb as having the potential to unite people against it indicates his ability to reach across borders.
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Tayo walks into the mineshaft, seeing the witchery’s pattern in the yellow striped rock. He realizes that his ‘crazy’ belief in the old stories was only a view of the world as it truly is, with no boundaries. Tayo looks back to the glimmer of night sky outside the mine and sees Betonie’s constellation shining bright and protecting him. The novel turns to a story-poem about Arrowboy, who spied on witches and prevented their magic from working properly.
Seeing the atomic bomb makes it clear that the old stories really are true, because the “ultimate weapon” that Americans used to win WWII was actually foretold by an ancient Native American story. Betonie’s constellation reappears, suggesting that Tayo is still in the midst of making his own story about resisting the witchery. Tayo takes inspiration from the poem-story about Arrowboy. By closely watching his own actions, Tayo might be able to prevent himself from joining in any witchery.
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Suddenly, headlights shine into the mine shaft and Tayo runs farther into the mine. Emo gets out of the car, and Tayo hears Pinkie and Leroy, but Harley is missing. The men build a bonfire outside the mine shaft and Tayo wonders if they are tracking him like an animal. From the outside, the three men look like a normal group of drunk Indians, but Tayo knows better about the influence of witchery now.
Though drunk Native Americans may seem harmless, Tayo knows that the impulse that drives Native Americans to drink also hides the violent greed that white culture pushes on everything it touches. Though Tayo never explicitly says why Emo might be hunting him, Emo’s vendetta against Tayo for being half-white is clearly at play here.
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Tayo is cold and hungry hiding in the mineshaft, and he begins to wonder how long he can last in there while Emo, Leroy, and Pinkie drink just outside. Suddenly, Pinkie slams a tire iron on the trunk of Emo’s car. From the screaming that results, Tayo realizes that Harley is tied up in the car. Pinkie drags Harley out of the car, strips him and throws the clothes into the fire. Harley’s brown skin looks pale in the moonlight.
Emo, Leroy, and Pinkie are all united against Harley even though Harley is a fellow Native American, and a fellow veteran. The true harm of the witchery is how it breaks down these connections and forces every man to act for himself against the entire world. Emo’s hatred of white people means that Harley’s paled skin turns him into a “white” person on whom Emo can take his revenge.
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Tayo creeps closer to the bonfire and holds the screwdriver in his pocket. Tayo realizes that Emo is punishing Harley for failing to deliver Tayo to him. Leroy holds Harley down as Pinkie cuts off bits of Harley’s skin. Emo holds a paper bag of Harley’s skin up to the sky and shouts for Tayo to come out and see Harley’s pain. Emo forces Harley to drink some wine and Tayo grips the screwdriver tighter.
Emo has descended into pure evil that delights in causing pain and taking life, but tries to blame these actions on Tayo – just as white culture destroys Native American communities and then tries to blame the Native Americans for being lazy or alcoholics. Tayo holds a tool, the screwdriver, that puts him in danger of becoming a “tool” for the witchery should he decide to use it.
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Tayo begins to plan how he can kill Emo with the screwdriver. Leroy and Pinkie begin to scuffle with each other and Tayo knows he should strike now while Emo’s back-up is distracted. Tayo hesitates for a moment, and then realizes that the witchery wants him to kill Emo in order to complete the deadly ritual of the autumn solstice. White people would have taken the murder as proof that Indians do not belong in their modern world and Tayo’s fellow Indians would have drowned in their own bitterness at this example of yet another drunk, savage Indian.
By killing Emo, Tayo would have added more evil into the world. By letting Emo live, Tayo proves that there are other responses to death and destruction. White culture does not, and cannot, understand this perspective. White people expect Native Americans to commit violence against each other because it is all they know themselves. While Tayo may not belong to the violent world that white culture has created, his knowledge of the past and faithful adherence to traditional values that respect life , the novel suggests, are actually crucial to humanity’s future.
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Tayo looks back up to the stars, unchanging no matter the time or place, as Emo, Leroy, and Pinkie drag Harley’s body to the car. Tayo decides to gather 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 storm clouds gather in the west and south. He thinks of his love for the land, and Ts’eh’s love for him, then crosses the river back to Laguna at sunrise.
The stars, like the desert landscape, remind Tayo that all the stories still apply in his life. He has a responsibility to finish the ceremonies and live according to the lessons that the old stories teach. Tayo finally reconnects with his family, even those who are dead, as the rain comes to end the drought. By refusing to kill Emo, Tayo has brought balance and healed both himself and the land.
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