Free Postcolonial Criticism Of Ceremony Essay Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: America, United States, Culture, Literature, White, Identity, Tradition, Ceremony

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/01/10

Postcolonial criticism explores works from the perspective of racial and ethnic relations based on a world that is still dealing with the effects of Western/white colonialism and imperialism, which historically subjugated many indigenous peoples and forced them to live as the Other. Postcolonial critics, in practicing this lens, “examine the representation of other cultures in literature as a way” of rejecting universalist claims across cultural and ethnic boundaries, tying members of a population to their unique ethnic experience (Barry 134). To that aim, exploring Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony from a postcolonial perspective allows for discussion of how the novel treats hybridity, and offers the possibility for transcendence and positive change through acknowledging ethnic differences between whites and Native Americans.
One of the central ways in which the main character, Tayo, navigates his Native American heritage is by connecting tradition with his fortunes. Whenever Tayo (or any of the characters in his ancient stories) forgets tradition, terrible things happen. Native American characters are shown to be uniquely concerned with remembering tradition, as with the activities of the medicine man; by stealing crates of artifacts, it allows him to ensure that the Native American tradition is preserved. Tayo’s encounter with the medicine man Ku’oosh relies heavily on the unique differences between Native American and white culture, which are substantial:
“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 there could be no mistake in the meaning of what had been said” (Silko 32).
Here, the intrinsic nature of Native American culture is argued to be incomprehensible to English-speaking ears; Tayo (and Silko) insist that it is people’s duty to preserve their culture as authentically as possible, even if that means it cannot be communicated to others outside that culture.
However, just as Tayo must reconcile his Native American self with his white self, thus embracing his hybridity, Native Americans must be able to adapt to new times and experiences. For example, Tayo’s medicine man, Ku’oosh, is unable to heal him because of his adherence to Native American ceremonies rather than modern medicine. Betonie mentions that traditions have to be changed and redefined all the time in order to keep up with the world, which is constantly changing and shifting: Characters who blindly stick to the text of tradition find nothing but loneliness and despair, whether Native American or white; “Indians or Mexicans or whites – most people are afraid of change” (Silko 98). Auntie, for example, is extremely dedicated to traditions, but this leaves her cold and alienated when she disapproves of interracial relationships. By contrast, Josiah is able to adapt traditions to the time, as evidenced by his interbreeding of cattle to create a hybrid that will adopt the best traits of both Hereford and Mexican cows. This particular move, for example, echoes Tayo’s need to acknowledge his own hybridity as a half-white, half-Laguna person.
Tayo’s fragmented identity in the wake of his experiences in World War II evince not just the horrors of war, but the fragmenting of his multicultural identity. Being Laguna is an inextricable part of his identity, and the immense discrimination he experiences plays a significant role in his own mental anguish. Tayo has never felt that he truly belonged to anywhere, even as a child, and struggles to re-insert himself in the community after coming home from war. However, by the end of the book he manages to find himself a stronger sense of identity by more fully recognizing his Native American nature and the social discrimination that surrounds him thanks to white hegemony. In learning about his people through the witchery poem, Tayo realizes that “the hostilities and divisions that he sees everywhereare all the result of this fatal opposition between alienated subject and objectified world” (Stein 203). This also involves reconciling his love for his family, which is deeply connected to his connection to his heritage: “nothing was ever lost as long as the love remained” (Silko 220).
Both through the exploration of mixed tradition and heritage, a postcolonial analysis of Ceremony sees the book heavily discussing issues of hybridity and the chance for transcendence. Native American culture is shown as being deeply in flux throughout the novel, as personified by Tayo’s own manic, divided identity and personality. Tayo’s own recognition of his illness, and the dissatisfaction that occurs when seeking ostensibly ‘authentic’ Native experiences, showcases the need to simply reconcile both cultural halves of his personality. As an extension of that, Native American culture is shown to need substantial adaptation to fit into a newer, more multi-cultural world, rather than strictly adhering to the old ways which threaten to disappear forever due to cultural erasure.

Works Cited

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory. 1995.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. Penguin Books, 1977.
Stein, Rachel. “Contested Ground: Nature, Narrative, and Native American Identity in Leslie
Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.” Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony: A Casebook (2002): 195.

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