In a song called Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes, the lyrics present a crisis in self-identity. “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique; like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes unique in each way you can see. But now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be, a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me. ” The lyricist struggles between his desire of individuality and his desire to be a part of a larger organization. As the song continues, he relates his story of learning to be at peace that the purpose of his life is to be a part of his community.
Tayo experiences a similar struggle due to his mixed blood. He is torn between the white culture that tells him to only be concerned with personal gain and the traditional Laguna Pueblo belief that all living organisms are a part of one life force. In the same manner that Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes discovered his purpose, Leslie Marmon Silko uses a variety of literary features to support her negative treatment of white selfishness to show Tayo’s discovery of his purpose. Silko encourages the reader to view the world in a more connected sense.
Leslie Marmon Silko repeatedly uses white characters as symbols to represent the idea of self-interest. Tayo is searching for Josiah’s cattle, which is symbolic for Tayo trying to find a balance between his white and Laguna Pueblo halves. After falling off of his horse, Tayo meets a group of Texans that portray the white stereotype of putting their own personal gain before that of others. After discovering tracks of a mountain lion, the men leave Tayo with one man saying, “greasers and Indians – we can run them down anytime.
But it’s been a couple of years since anybody up here got a mountain lion. pg99 Rather than looking at his town with a sense of togetherness or unity, the white man feels like he has to be the one in his town to catch a mountain lion. He views the mountain lion as lesser than himself and would be willing to kill it to gain recognition. His sense of pride is important to him and he is willing to endanger Tayo’s life to secure his own social success. One aspect of this country that many people love is the American Dream. The prospect of an individual who is able to have the opportunity to acquire whatever he/she wants based solely on their own desire to work inspires any people.
The United States of America has always been founded upon the ideal that any one person can acquire as much as they are willing to work to earn. Laguna Pueblo culture however, teaches that men, women, and animals are all one life force that depends on itself for survival. Thus, rendering the concept of working for your own personal benefit useless. When Tayo and Rocky are signing up to fight in World War II, the recruiter first tells them “Now I know you boys love America as much as we do, but this is your big chance to show it! pg. 64 At first, this seems like the recruiter is highlighting the fact that serving a higher purpose, in this case America, could have a positive outcome for these boys.
However, Silko’s use of diction and choice of the words “your big choice” shows the selfish undertones. Even when trying to recruit men to fight for one common cause, the man must tell them that they can work themselves into a place of higher status. Silko uses a much more positive tone when Laguna Pueblo belief regarding the connected state of nature.
Referring to old man Ku’oosh, Silko writes, “The old man only made him certain of something he had feared all along, something in the old stories. It took only one person to tear away the delicate strands of the web, spilling the rays of the sun into the sand, and the fragile world would be injured. ” Pg. 38 Leslie Marmon Silko uses a much more poetic tone when dealing with instances of Laguna Pueblo culture. She uses characters that have been established as wise to tell stories that relate to what Tayo faces in his life.
Ku’oosh tells Tayo about the importance of a community by warning him about the dangers of one person going astray. Silko teaches these lessons through wise Laguna Pueblo characters. One of Tayo’s problems is his feeling of empathy. Tayo has a tendency to experience the pain of other people. When Tayo is fighting in World War II, “Tayo could not pull the trigger. The fever made him shiver, and the sweat was stinging his eyes and he couldn’t see clearly; in that instant he saw Josiah standing there; the face was dark from the sun, and the eyes were squinting as though he were about to smile at Tayo.
So Tayo stood there, while they fired at the soldiers, and he watched his uncle fall, and he knew it was Josiah. ” Pg. 8 Tayo naturally forms bonds with people. He is able to relate to others and he wants to share that with someone. He was so overcome by emotion seeing his uncle being fired at that he could not do his duty. At the beginning of the novel, Tayo has nobody to receive all of the love that he has to give. Tayo craves a bond with somebody. This is why the characters Ts’eh and Night Swan and their relationships with Tayo are so important. They are symbolic of his connection between people.
Silko often teaches lessons in parallel. At the same time that Tayo is learning to come to grips with his role in Laguna Pueblo society, Silko uses the cattle to parallel his life. The cattle are a mixed breed just like Tayo; just like Silko. The cattle are a repeated symbol to Tayo’s life as he tries to rescue them and return them home. “Cattle are like any living thing. If you separate them from the land for too long, keep them in barns and corrals, they lose something. Their stomachs get to where they can only eat rolled oats and dry alfalfa. When you turn them loose again, they go running all over.
They are scared because the land is unfamiliar, and they are lost. ” Pg. 74 The description of these cattle mirror Tayo’s life in a multitude of ways. Just like the cattle being separated from the land for too long, Tayo is separated from his Laguna Pueblo culture for much too long while serving in World War II. When he returns home, he has problems with his stomach also. He constantly vomits whenever he thinks about the war as well as drinking to cover the pain, which is symbolic of his purging of white culture. Over the course of Ceremony, Tayo learns a great lesson regarding Laguna Pueblo culture.
He grows away from his original white tendencies and learns to conform to Laguna Pueblo culture. At the beginning of the novel, Tayo is concerned with himself. After returning home from the war Tayo is haunted by all of the people that he has interacted with and wants to be freed from those memories. On page 7 it says, “So Tayo had to sweat through those nights when thoughts became entangled; he had to sweat to think of something that wasn’t unraveled or tied in knots to the past- something that existed by itself, standing alone like a deer.
And if he could hold that image of a deer in his mind long enough, his stomach might shiver less and let him sleep for a while. ” Tayo begins the novel trying to separate himself from the memories and people of his past. He thinks that the way to escape the memories that haunt him is to attempt to untangle his life from those who were there at that time of his life. As the novel progresses, Tayo learns how to use other people to help him solve his problems rather than viewing them as a setback.
Similarly to Tayo, author Leslie Marmon Silko is part white, part Mexican, and part Laguna Pueblo. Tayo’s struggle to find a balance between the two halves of his culture is something that many people can relate to. Silko uses literary devices such as tone and symbolism to show the duality within Tayo that many people feel. Being of mixed blood myself, I understand the difficult balance of trying to identify with others. Tayo learns, however, that a sense of community can be a part of his healing ceremony.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 25 December 2016
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