Within lived. The rich heritage behind lifeWithin lived. The rich heritage behind life

Within
the ceremony is the very multidimensional theme of race relations between the
native Indians and western whites. Throughout the novel, Silko exposes readers
to the main differences between the two cultures and how they were forced to
interact due to the fact they reside close together. The overall relationship
between the races can be summarized by the comparison between traditional and modern
views of the world. Hostility is the backbone of most of their interactions,
starting with the Natives being “fenced in” from the outside world.

As a whole, they disagreed on many aspects of everyday life and how it should
be lived. The rich heritage behind life within the reservation is obviously not
going to be understood by those who believe in material possessions and land
ownership. Disputes such as these are the cause of the severe lack of respect
the natives received from the whites. Throughout
Ceremony, Silko contrasts the materialistic
and selfish views of white culture to the communal and spiritual lifestyle of
the Laguna tribe in order to expand upon the gradual loss of authentic identity
by the natives through the disrespect and racism from those of western descent. 

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Silko uses constant references to authentic native myths
to represent the suffering western culture imposed on indigenous people. It can
be considered a cultural genocide, the idea that the native people had to
assimilate to the “new world” or they would have to face detrimental
consequences. The aspect of traditional education is very controversial in the
eyes of the local natives. Not only were they forced to learn and assimilate to
things that went against their core beliefs, but they also had terrible and
violent experiences in schools. The impact of history and myths in the everyday
life of the natives is shown in their feeling of powerlessness towards the
white man destroying Indian culture. The idea of the clash of the cultures is
shown in the story of the witch where she describes “stolen rivers and
mountains” and how this theft would cause “the people will starve and bring
terrible diseases the people have never known” (Silko, 169). The witch even
goes on to say that “entire tribes will die out” and that they would become
“corpses for their work” (pg.137). Not only further proving the white’s
authority over their tribe, this myth also represents how the Indians felt they
had no control in preventing withering of their culture. As a whole, oral myths
and sacred stories were their form of literature, further differentiating from
western culture. Silko’s writing embodies Native literary expectations because
it doesn’t follow the typical Western hero quest. Her attention towards myth
and magic provide for a unique rendition of the basic coming of age story.

In order to fully comprehend the changes the natives were
forced to go through, it’s important to understand the values of the authentic
native culture. The overall theme, the importance of authentic identity is
prevalent through their reliance on magic and witchcraft. Characters
continuously retell the stories of Native American history and stress the importance
of the original ceremonies are rituals. Silko’s constant placement of local
myths shows the impact old witchcraft had on their unique identity. Another vital
aspect of their beliefs is the love and respect towards animals and nature. The
Laguna tribe believed that animals were worth much more than surface value,
they represent larger and more controversial issues as well as are on the same
ranks as humans. A combination of these ideas is shown during sacrificing of
the deer. Tayo was born to love and appreciate deer, thus creating tension
between him and Rocky when “he took off his jacket and covered the deer’s head”
during the ritual (Silko, 74). Reliance on and claiming of animals is a common
thread throughout many indigenous cultures as well as the significance of land
and communal ownership. For example, the traditional belief system of the
Cherokee tribe includes ‘team building” and “community development” as well as large
importance of animals in the real world (Brenda Sunoo). Having a strong sense
of community and family is how the Native Americans thrive, and the rudeness
the Laguna people received worked by forcefully diminishing their overall
identity.

            Throughout
the novel, Silko describes the whites to almost reek of privilege. The overall history
of the white man includes many scenarios when they have had the upper hand. In
their culture, the idea of sharing and existing together is basically
invisible. They are described as selfish and individualized especially when it
comes to land ownership. Contrary to the respect land receives in a
reservation, the white man see’s earth and land as property for money. Within
the novel, they are defensive and selfish and say things such as “These goddamn
Indians got to learn whose property this is” (Silko, 245) in order to display
their materialism. A large part of their identity in the sense of power and
authority their history of superiority over Native Americans bring them. Battles
such as those at Wounded Knee in which soldiers of the United States massacred “the last great Sioux warrior chief” (John W.

Fiero) and innocent families on their own land, serve as
constant reminders that they “won” the fight towards supremacy. Overall, the controlling
acts such as racism and locking Natives into reservations created the decline
of their true identity. Forced assimilation originated from the white man’s
need to be right and desire for personal satisfaction, something Silko
described the Natives to never value. The subtle, yet major in tribe lifestyle,
ignorant ways the white man goes upon living their life in the novel reflect the
overall identity of western culture.

The
controversial existence of mixed breeds such as Tayo is the only aspect of Ceremony in which Silko exposes readers
to how Western culture and Indigenous culture work together. Tayo struggles in
creating an identity due to the fact that he’s unsure of which of his histories
he should embrace. The confusion brought by his struggle to adjust to civilian
life within the reservation, is the primary cause of his initial alienation. He
claims to be a voice for both sides “finding himself stuck between cultures,
neither wholly in nor wholly out of what may be his native society” (Silko,22).

In Tayo’s characterization and struggle for identity, readers are exposed to
the primary differences between each culture and how it’s almost impossible for
them to work together. Due to her history of Native American writing, Silko
provides more support towards the embracing of original Laguna traditions. The
story of the spotted cattle, rather obvious but nonetheless beautiful, portray
being mixed as possessing the best of both breeds. The mix blooded cows, whom
are “speckled
brown like a butterfly’s wing” (Silko,37), promote a positive combination of
races through their strong ability to survive. Tayo and the cattle as well,
further represent a change in the times where the whites inflicted their power
by attempting to adjust the authentic reservation lifestyle.

Not only Tayo, but the entire Laguna Tribe struggled to
establish and maintain selfhood. Being forced into constant interaction with
people who have opposing core values and beliefs can create difficulty in truly
emerging yourself in your culture. The imposing of western culture through
education and discrimination allowed for additions to Native identity that
would otherwise be non-exsistant. Other than disputes over land, the main
interaction between both races throughout the novel is the war. Enlisting and
being on a battlefield, fighting next men of different cultures, and receiving
attention from white women were the only times the Native American men felt equal
to the white man. Though returning home and still not being considered as
important as the white “war heroes”, Native soldiers felt a sense of respect
for once. The implementation of drinking and bar-going as a part of Laguna
culture is also a result of being a soldier. These men drank to forget the
terrifying aspects of war as well as the terrifying treatment they received at
the own home. To them, “belonging was drinking and laughing with the platoon,
dancing with blond women, and buying drinks for buddies born in Cleveland,
Ohio” (Silko, 66). Additions to Native male identity such as drinking are
rooted in their desire to befriend the white man, thus causing the loss of
their true culture.

            Another
very large portion of Native Culture is oral literature, or the telling of
traditional stories in order to explain events that occur in their daily life.

The Native Americans told tales of witchcraft and magic to continue the legacy
and beliefs of their ancestors as well as help in the understanding of natural
events. Generally,
“Native American writers seek to embody, articulate, and share reality as well
as bring the isolated private self into harmony and balance with this reality”
(John W. Crawford). Silko conforms to the literary ideals of Native Americans
by exposing her readers to the harsh reality that was the life of the Laguna
Tribe. Her constant references to ceremonies, legends, and sacred stories also
assist in her embracing of traditional tribal cultural literature. The Western
ideas of literature are considered to have more “fixed and static movement”,
meaning they “draw a hard and fast line between what is spiritual and what is
material” (Native American Literature). Ceremony
defies these Western expectations by possessing an overall spiritual tone
that allows for individual interpretation. On the other hand, the original
purpose of Western writing was for “religion and literature to accommodate one
another” (Susan E. Hill). Silko appeals to Western expectation through
continual references to the Native’s religious spirituality. Overall, her style
of writing is a representation of the mixed breeds she explains in Ceremony because she combines aspects of
both Western and Native literature. Tayo says “he recognized the thick white
skin that had enclosed him, silencing the sensations of living. … and he had
been left only with the hum of the tissues that enclosed him” (Silko, 229). Silko’s
mention of Tayo’s physical skin color wrapping his Indian identity describes Ceremony because the plot of the novel
explains how whites tried to prevent Native American’s from acting as their true
selves.

In the end, the novel discusses uranium
mining and the creation of the atomic bomb. Silko uses this addition to contrast
the peaceful and spiritual lifestyle of the Laguna tribe to the destructive and
money driven ways of Western culture. She closes with the union of both
cultures by saying everyone unties in the fact that we can be killed. Though
the Laguna tribe believes in the power and opportunities that come with the
afterlife, the whites don’t place the most importance on it. Silko’s message is
that despite all the differences between Indigenous and Western culture there
is unity in the fact there are no boundaries or restrictions on life and death.

By doing so, Silko not only conforms to the needs of Native American
literature, finding harmony in reality, but she also abides by Western literary
rules by straying away from story-telling and connecting the overall plot. Overall,
within her writing, she utilizes literary aspects from both cultures thus
creating a mixed breed of her own.