Silko’s Ceremony

Topics: Ceremony

In Silko’s Ceremony, Tayo’s mixed-blood status is the point of departure for the entire premise of the book: “things which don’t shift and grow are dead things” (126). We meet several characters who do not shift or grow, who judge others simply for being different. They hold on to the idea that different races should not mix, that old ceremonies should not change, that certain people or races are to blame for everything bad in the world. Tayo is confronted with this judgment and disdain because he is a “half-breed.

” Although Tayo’s race is a source of grief for others, it is ultimately what helps save him.

Since he was a child, Auntie treated Tayo like an outsider, going out of her way to make him feel bad about what he is: the disgraceful child of her sister who shamed herself and her family by sleeping with white men. Abandoned by his mother when he was four, Auntie raised Tayo alongside her full-blood son Rocky; though they grew up close, Auntie always made sure Tayo felt less than, othered.

She had high hopes for Rocky, but Tayo was a burden, a remnant of his mother’s shame.

When Tayo returns from World War II, he has “battle fatigue” (what we now call PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder) and is struggling from guilt about the deaths of his cousin Rocky in the war and his uncle Josiah at home. Auntie takes on the task of taking him home to care for him, but she makes sure he knows it’s a burden to her:

Auntie stared at him the way she always had, reaching inside him with her eyes, calling up the past as if it his future too, as if things would always be the same for him.

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… Many years ago she had taken him to conceal the shame of her younger sister. Now she stood over the bed and looked at him, and if he opened his eyes, he knew he would see her probing for new shame (29-30).

From the moment Tayo was born, all he was and all he would ever be to Auntie is a half-breed. The shame she felt about her sister’s sleeping around with white men carried over to Tayo, and Auntie was always looking for ways to confirm her firmly held belief that Tayo was an embarrassment. Auntie’s harsh judgement isn’t reserved for Tayo only. She compares Night Swan, Josiah’s Mexican lover, to a “female dog in heat,” exemplifying her rigid hold to tradition and tribal purity and her lack of acceptance for difference and change (92).

Emo, a full-blood WWII veteran, hates Tayo simply because of his white blood: “the only reason for this hate was that Tayo was part white” (57). Through Emo’s hate and Auntie’s disapproval of Tayo’s very existence, we see how the mixed-blood can be at once part of his Native community and ostracized, making Tayo constantly aware that he doesn’t belong. We also see that Native Americans and their beliefs are not accepted in the white world, either: “Like the first time in science class, when the teacher brought in a tubful of dead frogs, bloated with formaldehyde, and the Navajos all left the room; the teacher said those old beliefs were stupid” (194). By not fitting neatly into either culture, the mixed-blood is rejected by both.

Tayo’s mixed-blood is not only a problem for individuals, it also poses a problem for his healing process. When he first returns sick from the war, he sees white doctors in a hospital, but their treatment is ineffective. Though a white doctor tries to talk with him and medicate him, an inner voice tells Tayo that the doctor, “can’t talk to you. He is invisible. His words are formed with an invisible tongue, they have no sound” (15). The white doctors cannot connect culturally with Tayo who is rooted in his Pueblo culture; their worldviews are different, so healing through medication does not work for Tayo.

When the white doctors do not work, Tayo’s grandmother suggests Ku’oosh, a traditional healer. Auntie protests, “You know what people will say if we ask for a medicine man to help him. Someone will say it’s not right. … He’s not full blood anyway” (33). Auntie is more worried about what others will say than curing Tayo, and she suspects Ku’oosh’s medicine will not work because Tayo is of mixed-blood. Despite her objections, the medicine man is called. In his attempt to heal Tayo, Ku’oosh speaks to Tayo “softly, using the old dialect full of sentences that were involuted with explanations of their own origins, as if nothing the old man said were his own but all had been said before and he was only there to repeat it” (34). Ku’oosh uses words and a ceremony that has always been used, that was used when the world was very different, before white people came, before rampant alcoholism, before atomic bombs. Ku’oosh does not understand Tayo’s modern world, high tech war, or contemporary anxieties, so healing through his old ways cannot cure Tayo.

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Silko’s Ceremony. (2022, Jun 28). Retrieved from

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