Tradition and Renewal in Leslie Marmon Silko´s "Ceremony"

Essay, 2011

9 Pages, Grade: 1,5


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“The white men who came to the Laguna Pueblo Reservation and married Laguna women were the beginning of the half-breed. Laguna people like my family, the Marmon family. I suppose the core of my writing is the attempt to identify what is to be a half-breed or mixed blooded person; what it is to grow up neither white nor fully traditional Indian. It is for this reason that I hesitate to say that I am representative of Indian poets or Indian people, or even Laguna people, I am only one human being, one Laguna woman.” Leslie Mormon Silko on her writings

Leslie Mormon Silko, a Native American writer, grew up at the edge of the Laguna Pueblo Reservation, New Mexico, USA. Because of her mixed origins and for the fact that she was not living directly in the reservation and thereby in the pueblo society, she was not allowed to attend several rituals. Silko´s roots are Native American, Anglo American and Mexican American but she was raised and educated by her grandmother and aunts with the traditional Laguna stories. This led to a strong identification of her with the native part of her ancestry and to her writing, which always deals with Native American topics. Her writing includes autobiographical parts and lots of relations to tradition which only a member of this particular native tribe could describe as precisely as she does. In “Ceremony”, her highly regarded 1977 novel, these traditional relations seem to play an important role. The following essay will show how the importance of tradition for the Native American communities is expressed in the novel, and how it is responsible for the healing of the main protagonists illness. Tayo, the main character of Silko´s novel, a member of the Laguna pueblo tribe, embodies a lot of similarities with Silko. He has mixed origins. He is half white, half Native American. And although his half white background, he was raised from a Laguna Pueblo family and is familiar with his Native American culture and traditions. The Laguna is a Native

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American tribe of the Pueblo people who stem from west-central New Mexico, where several Pueblo tribes have their original origins, and where their reservations are located tody. Their today´s population is around 3500. Together with his cousin, Tayo went to World War II for the US Army. They were sent to the Phillipines, which was an important battlefield during the Pacific War between Japan and the Americans. They fought in the Bataan Death March, which costs 11000 men their lives. Back home, Tayo is suffering from what we as contemporary readers would define as post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder which can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. As an effect of this trauma, PTSD is less frequent but more enduring than the more commonly seen acute stress response. It is often sneered and not taken and accepted as a serious illness. In Germany, for example, it took decades of participation in wars until politicians spoke about these problems of their homecoming soldiers in public. The actual minister of foreign affairs was the first one to accept the problem, to give statements which led to more public discussion and to strengthen the psychological care for the traumatized soldiers. Silko deals with the topic as if it is a serious illness, as well. Tayo knows about his illness and clearly terms it as one, “I´m sick,” he says, “I´m sick, but I never killed any enemy” (36). The American government sent him to a hospital which must have been a mental hospital where he was drugged by the psychotherapists because he describes his stay there with the following words: “Everything in that place was white. Except for me. I was invisible. But I wasn´t afraid there. I didn´t feel things sneaking up behind me. I didn´t cry for Rocky or Josiah. There were no voices and no dreams. Maybe I belong back in that place (Silko 123).” The problem with post-traumatic stress disorder is, that there is no medicine which is able to heal the illness. The only way to deal with it, and to alleviate its symptoms is

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psychological care and support. The usual treatment of serious cases is made with the help of antidepressants, like in Tayo´s case, but this method only fights the symptoms and not the core of the patients suffering. On the one hand, Tayo´s suffering is presented as a serious illness, but on the other there is the lack of possible medicine which would help for a healing.


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Tradition and Renewal in Leslie Marmon Silko´s "Ceremony"
University of Stuttgart
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tradition, renewal, leslie, marmon, silko´s, ceremony
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Timo Dersch (Author), 2011, Tradition and Renewal in Leslie Marmon Silko´s "Ceremony", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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