The stolen land will eat their hearts – Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony from an environmentalist perspective

Term Paper, 2004

13 Pages, Grade: 2,3



1. Introduction

2.1 Crimes Against Nature
2.2 The Ignorance of the White Man
2.3 Tayo’s Mistake

3.1 Native Americans Living in Harmony with Their Environment
3.2 The Nature Helps the People
3.3 Tayo’s ‘Re-Conversion’ – Ts’eh

4. The Destruction of the Earth

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony is not only about Native American culture, it is also about the environment and how different ethnical groups deal with it. Even though they do not intervene in the story’s course, animals (except the cattle Tayo has to find), plants and last but not least the ‘land’ (as a term for all more or less ‘dead’ things in nature, like stones, e.g.) play a crucial role in this piece of fiction. This essay will take a look at the novel from an environmentalist perspective in order to show how nature is treated here by the humans and which effects are caused by this. It will also examine how this plays a role in Tayo’s personal fate.

In the case of Ceremony environmentalism is also humanism. Aboriginal peoples are very often connected with their land and everything in and on it in a way which is quite different from the European U.S. American way of living. Every harm done to ‘their’ land hurts them very much. This is also shown in Silko’s novel and therefore will be taken as a theme in this essay.

In a Native American culture as the Laguna Pueblo’s reality, dream and belief often become mixed. Therefore it will sometimes be necessary here to go beyond the actual events and get involved in what could be called ‘religion’ (even though the focus will mostly be on what really ‘happens’), speaking in Western terms. What is meant here are mainly the stories which are scattered throughout the book. These stories represent traditional Laguna beliefs ( the stories themselves reproduced in Silko’s literary modification) and offer a view on nature that is based on harmony and a peaceful living together.

But first this essay will deal with the bad things commited towards the environment, because this way the contrast to the positive actions and interactions with nature that form the second part will be as sharp as it should be seen.

As a last part will serve what can be considered the ‘environmentalist boiling-point’ of the book, the part in which the Native American ecocatastrophe is lifted on a global level.[1]

2.1 Crimes Against Nature

When the American continent was discovered by the Whites, its nature was untouched and beautiful because its human inhabitants were able to profit from it goods without harming it. But the conquest of the New World did no good to the environment there. The white people exploited its goods and gradually began destroying it. In Ceremony there is a passage which illustrates this quite good (although this is quite a few hundred years later, “in the early 1900s”[2]):

In the twenties and thirties the loggers had come, and they stripped the canyons below the rim and cut great clearings on the plateau slopes. The logging companies hired full-time hunters who fed entire logging camps, taking ten or fifteen deer each week and fifty wild turkeys in one month. The loggers shot the bears and mountain lions for sport. And it was then that the Laguna people understood that the land had been taken, because they couldn’t stop these white people from coming to destroy the animals and the land.[3]

Here we can see which impact the Whites had on the plants and the animals on the land that was formerly owned (if we can say that in this case) by the Laguna people. They did not only steal the land from its inhabitants, they also destroyed it.[4] At the latest at this point of the novel the reader has to understand what must have been a very important matter for its author, what became a crucial topic of the book: “a struggle between irreconcilable notions of land use and land tenure, a struggle between different cultural orientations towards the natural world.”[5]

The stealing of the land has also effects on the lives “of the tribespeople of Ceremony[6] because it “leads to bitter cultural self doubt”.[7] The Laguna Pueblos, as many other aboriginal people, are confronted with the loss of their land and their culture daily and their “mourning of the lost going on forever”[8] makes their lives sad and leads them to adoption of the white ways and alcoholism. This way the big dilemma of the modern Native Americans is produced and the crimes against nature become crimes against humans.[9]

2.2 The Ignorance of the White Man

In Laguna Pueblo belief it is not right to hurt an animal because everything in nature is considered equal. They have stories that explain how animals helped the humans long ago and therefore they understand why they should not kill them. The Whites who conquered their land and began to govern them do not share these beliefs.

This conflict becomes clearly recognizable when Tayo as a young boy kills flies for sport and is instructed by his uncle Josiah that this particular kind of flies once saved mankind in one of the Laguna stories (Later, when Tayo leaves a bar, he tries to close the door behind him fast so that no flies can come into the room where there are a lot of spirals with sticky fly paper). Tayo had killed the flies because his teacher in school had told him that they spread diseases and are to be extinguished. To strengthen this issue of lost respect towards animals, the narrator shows Tayo, having forgotten all his uncle’s teachings, acting similarly in the jungle when his cousin Rocky is dead.[10]

And the Whites do not only ignore the aboriginal beliefs – superstition or not – they also ignore the instincts of the animals. In the book this is represented by the opposition between the Hereford and the Mexican cattle. The Herefords are stupid and do not know how to survive in their surrounding while the Mexican cattle are strong, intelligent and can find water even in the driest regions, but not useful to the Whites because they can not get that much food out of them – and they kill them for sport, again.[11]


[1] Cf. Schweninger, Lee. “Writing Nature: Silko and Native Americans as Nature Writers.” MELUS, Vol. 18, No. 2, Varieties of Ethnic Criticism (Summer, 1993). p. 56.

[2] Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. p. 185.

[3] Silko, p. 185-186.

[4] Cf. Schweninger, p. 53-54.

[5] Stein, Rachel. “Contested Ground: Nature, Narrative, and Native American Identity in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.” Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. A Casebook. Allan Chavkin (ed.). Oxford etc.: Oxford University Press, 2002. p. 193.

[6] Stein, p. 198.

[7] Stein, p. 198.

[8] Silko, p. 169.

[9] Cf. Stein, p. 198.

[10] Cf. Beidler, Peter G. “Animals and Theme in Ceremony.” Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. A Casebook. Allan Chavkin (ed.). Oxford etc.: Oxford University Press, 2002. p. 18.

[11] Cf. Beidler, p. 17.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The stolen land will eat their hearts – Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony from an environmentalist perspective
University of Heidelberg
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
411 KB
Leslie, Marmon, Silko’s, Ceremony
Quote paper
Ole Wagner (Author), 2004, The stolen land will eat their hearts – Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony from an environmentalist perspective, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The stolen land will eat their hearts – Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony from an environmentalist perspective

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free