The novel Ceremony, published in 1977, is rightly considered Silko’s best work to date. The theme of the one-sided military experience of the Indians naturally merges in the book with the theme of bitterness over the lost land, with the rejection of which all the social rights of the “native Americans” were threatened. As Tayo moves from chaos to harmony through “ceremony” – ritual cleansing from evil and suffering – Silko unfolds the historical turning point that occurred in the minds of the Indians in post-war America (Gale, Cengage Learning 54). At the ending of the novel, the choice of Tayo to reunite with the pueblo leads to healing not only for the character himself but for the community. Only through learning about his own culture and embracing it is Tayo able to find close the gap that he is meant to cover as part of this society. He can thus contribute to Pueblo and make it better off.
Tayo begins to understand that there is no chaos in the world but only connections and interdependencies. His previous state of rejection from nature was just a severe mistake that needs to be corrected. The character realizes that he himself is not the center of the universe but only a part in the collision of the universal forces of destruction and creation. This comprehension was given to him by the author through familiarization with nature. Silko colorfully describes how, with the help of the sage Betoni, the hero comprehends his place in the historical cycle. In his mind, the legendary past of the Indians, the war, and modernity fall into place.
One of the most important stories beats for this narrative is Tayo’s confrontation with Emo near the end of the story. The choice not to kill Emo then works towards the goal or displays the main character’s growth, as well as his understanding of the village traditions. An abstinence from violence sets the main hero apart from the antagonist, signifying his character’s mental maturity and various positive qualities. The man chooses to follow through with the ritual in order to save his people and contribute to the common good instead of embracing hate and anger. Portraying a person that in another story, might have “deserved” to be killed, Silko makes an active choice to spare Emo for the sake of sending a message. To promote growth, healing, and prosperity in the community, fostering a culture of kindness and nonviolence is necessary.
The violence and inhumanity of war are what brought suffering to many of the work’s characters. Tayo’s circle of friends, his drinking buddies, have mostly endured the same struggles as he did and came out as changed people. Tayo’s participation in the conflict rewarded him with trauma and an inability to lead a comfortable life. Therefore, the negative experiences of the military are directly contrasted with the village traditions, focusing on nature and harmony. As a result, Tayo’s choice allows him to both mentally and metaphorically move on from the horrors of war and be born back into happiness. The author uses a narrative to highlight the pointless nature of armed conflict and the frequent disregard people have towards their society.
Gale, Cengage Learning. A Study Guide for Leslie Silko’s “Ceremony.” Gale, Study Guides, 2017.