Racial Unity Through Ceremony Essay, Research Paper
Racial Unity Through Ceremony
Over the years, after wars and famine, peace-time and floods, few things have persisted to survive. Society, art, and other intangible objects as these are survivors of two millennia of human “progress”. Intelligent concepts and premises have also survived, as have emotions and morals. Even as these outstanding examples of humanity have survived, so have some less affirmative ideals lived on through our fore-bearers. Cultural, ideological, religious, and political supremacy are still abound today, as much as they were 50, 100, and even 5,000 years ago. In a shorter context, racism, the “cockroach” of human mentality, is still alive. It is the immortal insect that will live on as long as people tell their children to stay away from strangers, and others as equally unknown and different from the norm. Actively, society attempts to do away with it, while unconsciously, and quite willingly, hand feed its mandibles ourselves. There are, however, ever so few individuals in the world, that work to illustrate these infesting notions, and bring them to light, utilizing some of the constructive assets of the psyche, mainly arts and literature. One such person is Leslie Marmon Silko, a Native American author, and a target of such racist practices. In her book Ceremony, the topic of race and culture differences are dealt with thoroughly, as are the views that humanity should band together, or should accept that they are already tied together by fate, and face the problems that face every man. She utilizes inherent prejudices to draw lines between specific character groups, such as half-breeds, full-bloods, and quite otherworldly personalities, and then turns the readers intolerances about, bring to their notice that there are all characters are important to the “web”. Quite simply, Silko re-educates the reader by displaying equality through inequality and interconnection, while carrying them across time, planes of existence, and through their own minds.
Within the structure of Ceremony prose and poetry, story and narrative, are shaped to fit the challenges of Silko’s vision of racial equality. Her world of special consciousness is, in a very special word from the book, “fragile.” The old man Ku’oosh explains the meaning of fragile to Tayo, who is seeking (almost constantly) an understanding of the implications of ritualized vision, and the meanings of his own tormenting visions. Ku’oosh uses language with particular care, the narrator explains, as he reveals the meaning of “story in a story” Tayo is grouped with the reader as he hears the explanation:
“The word he chose to express ‘fragile’ was filled with the intricacies of a continuing process, and with a strength inherent in spider webs woven across paths through sand hills where early in the morning the sun becomes entangled in each filament of web. It took a long time to explain the fragility and intricacy because no word exists alone, and the reason for choosing each word had to be explained with a story about why it must be said this certain way. That was the responsibility that went with being human, old Ku’oosh said, the story behind each word must be told so that there could be no mistake in the meaning of what had been said; and this demanded great patience and love.” (Silko 36)
For Silko the responsibility that went with being human is expressed through the clarity of the story. Great patience and love are demanded of the story-teller not only so “that there could be no mistake in the meaning,” but also as a reflection of the full significance of the act of storytelling. Such as action interpenetrates the story-teller with other story tellers before him, showing that he is one and the same as every man before him, and with the intricacies of a continuing process of art. In a world of vision no word exists alone, that is to say, that each word is also just as important as the next; equal. Each word is caught within the fragile web of humanity to meaning, and each serves to reveal that very process of interconnection through it’s expression.
Tayo’s quest, though representative of his contemporaries, whether black or Native American, is more than allegorical. His is a journey within the metaphors that extend meaning. As Charles Larson observed, “the conflict is never a simple matter of Indian versus Caucasian, of right against wrong.” (Larson 150) Tayo turns to Betonie, at the advice of Ku’oosh, to understand and participate in a ritual that will restore him. Betonie, though old, has an open eye to the inevitable and natural changes within all men’s experience. He tells Tayo that “the people nowadays have an idea about the ceremonies must be performed exactly as they have always been done.” (Silko 132) Betonie then extends Tayo’s understanding of the white relation to the “people” through images contained in a poem which foretells the white man’s coming to the “people” long before the actual immigration. Only through shifting and growing in response to changes, such as the white movement across the continent, can individuals grow through ceremony and imagination. Betonie reminds Tayo, “otherwise we won’t make it. We won’t survive. That’s what they’re counting on: that we will cling to the ceremonies the way they were, and then their power will triumph.” (Silko 133) Tayo tries to believe Betonie, but his anger over “where the white people and their promises have left the Indians” destroys his ability to perceive the healing power Betonie offers. Slowly, in Silko’s ideal, Tayo must come to understand that merely assigning guilt and responding with self-destructive anger accomplishes nothing. For Silko, “white promises” are simply part of the web of man’s experience and of the witchcraft, the essential evil within all men. In short, people need to come to understand that it is not race that binds behavior, because all men are capable of, and frequently do, aiding in evil and their own undoing. It is the “trickery of witchcraft” that allows Native Americans to “believe all evil resides with white people.” Once this is known, Betonie states that:
“…then we will look no further to see what is really happening. They want us to separate from the white people, to be ignorant and helpless as we watch our own destruction. But white people are only tools that the witchery manipulates; and I tell you, we can deal with white people, with their machines and their beliefs. We can because we invented white people; it was Indian witchery that made the white people in the first place.” (Silko 133)
This passage from the novel is revealing on several highly metaphorical levels, and it’s ideas are repeated through the poetry of the long tale that follows Betonie’s explanation. Native American self-destruction and also white self-blame are rejected by Silko. She seeks to stimulate and confirm the Native Americans’ ability to “deal with the white people” through a consciousness of what is really happening. If the “Indian” is a being invented by white people, then “white people” are “invented” by Indians. All such labels are products of the need to define and separate; the results of such needs may well be destructive of individual growth and collective consciousness. At the center of experience are human beings in interaction with their surroundings. In reaching that center of imaginative consciousness, Tayo will cease, like all who achieve such consciousness, to be ignorant and helpless.
In Tayo’s search for inner awareness, the transcendence he looks for must come from within. Only an inner ceremony will restore him to wholeness. Finally he realizes that “he had arrived at the point of convergence where the fate of all living things, and even the earth, had been laid.” (Silko 257) He knows that 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 mile away, victims who had never seen these mesas… He cried the relief he felt at finally seeing the pattern, the way all the stories fit together — the old stories, the war stories, their stories — to become the story that was still being told.” (Silko 258)
It is through the spiritual experience Tayo discovers on the Mesa that he comes to see that death and destruction devour every man, whatever his invented label or color. Yet, each man possesses the pattern, the way all the stories fit together, to generate the whole wed of being. All men, regardless of creed are equal in the eyes of the witchery, and so should be in the eyes of men when they are faced by the witchery, and also when they are not.
Tayo heals himself through the power of his own consciousness, with his own ceremony. Yet such ceremonies of self understanding and understanding of others must go on, much like Tayo’s, for all of us to be able to overcome the witchery, the cockroach, that lies in every person. Leslie Marmon Silko’s vision extends beyond her Laguna Pueblo culture, to the white system of machines and beliefs, as she calls it. Ceremony brings to light the views that man and woman, humanity, should come about and realize, through a ceremony of conscious self-revelation, that all are equal parts in a web. A web that has already been made by the “spider woman” that has determined the fate of living things, be them native, white, or black. All it takes is for an acceptance, perhaps through an epiphany such to bring to light the desires all entertain, yet are lost when attempting to claim them. Silko reminds her readers that it may only be a ceremony, a key to consciousness, that would help us restore the fragile world with the acceptance of our interconnection.
Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Beacon Press. Boston, MA. 1986
The Book deals with Female influence in contemporary Native American tradition, specifically selected for Allen’s insight into Leslie Marmon Silko’s analogy in her book Ceremony
Brice, Jennifer. “Earth as Mother, Earth as Other in Novels by Silko and Hogan.” Critique. Winter 1998 pg 127-139.
An article about the more earthlike qualities of people, and how Silko personifies the earth to show how people and the earth are related, and how people are related to each other.
Larson, Charles. American Indian Fiction. University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque, NM. 1978
Insight on many Native American fiction writers and their works, specifically used for the work on Ceremony, and his views on racial, and internal conflict in the novel.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. Penguin Books. New York, NY. 1977
A complex and involving fiction novel, dealing with self healing and revelation, the main character Tayo, goes through a series of ceremonies after returning from a war to heal his mind and body.