Ceremony

Green Eyes Symbol Icon

Tayo has green eyes, a physical symbol of his mixed heritage. Born from a Pueblo Native American mother and a white father, Tayo’s green eyes show that he is a “half-breed” that doesn’t belong fully to the Native or the white world. At first, these eyes are a source of shame for Tayo. As a child, the other kids tease him and call him “Mexican Eyes” while Auntie resents Tayo’s presence as a constant reminder that her little sister (Tayo’s mother) embarrassed the tribe by sleeping with men of other races. As Tayo grows, though, he begins to see the strength he has from the two sides of his identity. When Tayo sleeps with Night Swan, a Mexican woman, Night Swan tells him not to be scared that he doesn’t look exactly like the other people of the tribe and that his eyes show he is uniquely suited to the changing world, implying that his hybrid background will help him to adapt and thrive in a world that is swiftly replacing cultural purity with cultural hybridity. The childhood jeer, “Mexican eyes,” now carries the weight of Mexican history, a nation which began in violence but eventually embraced the cultural mixing of indigenous and European peoples. Tayo later views his green eyes as a sign that he can “speak for both sides,” that is, understand both the Native and the white perspectives on the world in order to make a bridge between the two cultures.

Tayo later meets a medicine man named Betonie who also has green eyes due to the genes of Betonie’s Mexican grandmother. Betonie’s green eyes are a sign that Betonie is open to cultural diversity and adaptation. Betonie’s ceremonies are complex rituals that honor the traditions of the Native past while interweaving elements of the modern world that Native Americans now live in. Betonie, as shown by his green eyes, is able to take the best elements of many Native tribes (including Betonie’s own Navajo heritage and Tayo’s Pueblo heritage), as well as the Mexican and white cultures in the American Southwest and bring them together to form a ceremony that will return the entire region to balance with nature and end the drought. Tayo is the only one who can complete the ceremony because Tayo also understands the value of looking to all of these cultures for power instead of insisting on cultural purity. With their green eyes, Betonie and Tayo can see a future in which cultural hybridity is celebrated as an asset rather than a stigma.

Green Eyes Quotes in Ceremony

The Ceremony quotes below all refer to the symbol of Green Eyes. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of Ceremony published in 2006.
Section 2 Quotes

“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:
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Section 3 Quotes

They think that if their children have the same color of skin, the same color of eyes, that nothing is changing." She laughed softly. "They are fools. "You don't have to understand what is happening. But remember this day. You will recognize it later. You are part of it now."

Related Characters: Night Swan (speaker), Tayo
Related Symbols: Green Eyes
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
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Green Eyes Symbol Timeline in Ceremony

The timeline below shows where the symbol Green Eyes appears in Ceremony. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 3
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Native Americans in the Modern World Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
The army recruiter questions whether Rocky and Tayo are really brothers, due to Tayo’s green eyes , but Rocky insists. Rocky and Tayo enlist and then head back to the ranch.... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...to sell. Josiah had fallen in love with her the past spring, enchanted by her hazel eyes . The Corn Mother story breaks in to explain how a fly was born in... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...roof. Night Swan then tells Tayo that she has been watching him because of his hazel eyes . Tayo explains that the other kids teased him for his “Mexican eyes,” but Night... (full context)
Section 4
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...ways, and tells Tayo he can leave at any time. Tayo notices that Betonie has hazel eyes , like Tayo’s own, and decides he can trust Betonie. Tayo follows Betonie into his... (full context)
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
Tayo tells Betonie about Night Swan’s hazel eyes and Auntie’s suspicions that Night Swan was evil all along. Betonie does not respond to... (full context)
Storytelling Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...the day he was born and the other people tried to kill him for his hazel eyes . The Mexican woman saved Betonie and took him north to El Paso to raise... (full context)
Section 6
The Interconnected World Theme Icon
Ceremony, Tradition and Adaptation Theme Icon
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon
...stares at the mountain lion, chanting a mountain lion song. The mountain lion gazes into Tayo’s eyes for an instant then disappears into the forest. Tayo dusts the mountain lion’s footprints with... (full context)