Leslie Marmon Silko

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Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity 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.
Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Theme Icon

Ceremony’s setting in the American Southwest naturally includes the broad mix of cultures that call this region home. Silko explores the Anglo-American, Laguna Pueblo, Mexican, Navajo, Japanese, and other cultural influences on this region. The novel also suggests a very clear argument for the ways that those of different cultures can and should interact.

The novel asserts that cultures that are intolerant of cultural diversity, that seek either purity or domination, are destructive. The novel depicts “white culture” in these terms, portraying it as focused solely on wealth and dominance, and as a result showing no respect for other cultures or the earth itself. The novel shows how white Americans use, discard, and discriminate against every other group and explicitly connects white culture to a mindset that will lead to destruction, whether through thoughtless and greedy farming practices that worsen the drought or through the dominance-based logic that could result in the creation and use of a weapon like the atomic bomb. Yet while the novel’s attack on what it sees as “white culture” is unrelenting, it also depicts many Native Americans who believe in the need for a kind of Native American racial purity, to just as devastating effect. Auntie, for instance, hates Tayo for his “half-breed” blood from a Pueblo mother and a white father, and scorns her brother Josiah’s involvement with a Mexican woman. Emo, for his part, hates Tayo for being half-white, and seeks to kill him. In both cases, the insistence on racial purity in the novel leads only to the breakup and destruction of families and Native American communities more generally.

As opposed to one culture dominating another or the total separation of cultures, the novel sees hope in hybridity – the crossing of cultural boundaries while respecting what makes each culture unique. Again and again the novel portrays cultural mixing as a sign of strength. Tayo’s green eyes, a sign of his mixed blood, are singled out by the medicine man Betonie as a sign of the power that Tayo has to “speak to both sides” and form a bridge across cultures. Similarly, after Uncle Josiah falls in love with a Mexican woman named Night Swan, he buys a herd of hybrid cows that mix Mexican breeds with the northern Hereford breed. These cattle are smarter and tougher than pure-bred cattle, and are better able to survive in the drought conditions. Further, Betonie’s ceremonies that eventually heal the Southwest of the drought take power from many different cultures. Betonie’s native Navajo heritage combines with the power of his Mexican grandmother, who in turn takes power “even from the white man,” to create a ceremony that Tayo, a Pueblo Indian, completes using the Pueblo story of Reed Woman, Hummingbird, Fly, and the Corn Woman. Through these multiple examples, the novel builds up the argument that those who are able to take the best from different cultures will have the strength and adaptability to survive while those who remain stuck in one cultural mindset won’t.

To this end, the novel itself combines many different cultural influences, both in terms of form and content. Silko includes the Western prose style as well as Native American poetry/oral telling techniques, and she references stories from the Pueblo tradition, eastern philosophy, Christianity, and the beliefs of the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian nations of Ketchikan Alaska. Within Ceremony, Silko has made clear that only through adaptation and hybridization can new ceremonies be found that properly address the needs of the modern world. And so the novel, which Silko intends to function as just such a ceremony, itself must be a product of adaptation, itself must be a hybrid.

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Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity appears in each section of Ceremony. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity Quotes in Ceremony

Below you will find the important quotes in Ceremony related to the theme of Cultural Dominance, Purity, and Hybridity.
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:

“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:

"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:
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:

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:
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:

The people nowadays have an idea about the ceremonies. They think the ceremonies must be performed exactly as they have always been done, maybe because one slip-up or mistake and the whole ceremony must be stopped and the sand painting destroyed. That much is true. They think that if a singer tampers with any part of the ritual, great harm can be done, great power unleashed…That much can be true also. But long ago when the people were given these ceremonies, the changing began, if only in the aging of the yellow gourd rattle or the shrinking of the skin around the eagle's claw, if only in the different voices from generation to generation, singing the chants. You see, in many ways, the ceremonies have always been changing."

Related Characters: Betonie (speaker), Tayo
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

Some people act like witchery is responsible for every- thing that happens, when actually witchery only manipulates a small portion." He pointed in the direction the boy had gone. "Accidents happen, and there's little we can do. But don't be so quick to call something good or bad. There are balances and harmonies always shifting, always necessary to maintain.

Related Characters: Betonie (speaker), Tayo
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

'it never has been easy. It will take a long long time and many more stories like this one before they are laid low. …
"He reasoned that because it was set loose by witchery of all the world, and brought to them by the whites, the ceremony against it must be the same. …
This is the only way,' she told him. 'It cannot be done alone.
'We must have power from everywhere. Even the power we can get from the whites.'

Related Characters: Betonie (speaker), Tayo, Descheeny
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
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:

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: