Leslie Silko's Ceremony

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In Ceremony, Leslie Silko brilliantly crosses racial styles of humor in order to cure the foolish delusions readers may have, if we think we are superior to Indians or inferior to whites, or perhaps superior to whites or inferior to Indians. Silko plays off affectionate Pueblo humor against the black humor so prominent in 20th-century white culture. This comic strategy has the end-result of opening our eyes to our general foolishness, and also to the possibility of combining the merits of all races. Joseph Campbell wrote in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space of the change in mythologies away from the local and tribal toward a mythology that will arise from "this unified earth as of one harmonious being." Ceremony is a work that changes local mythologies in that more inclusive spirit. Silko is the right person to have written this book. She herself is a mixed-blood, and her experience has evidently given her access not only to a variety of problems, but also to a variety of styles of clowning and joking.. .. Although Ceremony is serious, offering a number of valuable propositions for our consideration, the narrative also spins a web of jokes in the morning sun.... The ceremony Silko narrates is that of a Navajo sing, but one not sung exactly as it would have been done before whites arrived in New Mexico, nor sung by a pure-blood Indian, nor sung on behalf of a pure-blood Indian. As is traditional, the ceremony is to be completed after the sing by the sick man, a Laguna named Tayo. His efforts to finish the ceremony by correct action form the last half of the novel, just as the first half was composed of the events which made him sick. These two series of events, taken together, make It clear that what the Veterans' Administrati... ... middle of paper ... ...nce great culture is being lost or replaced by an Anglo culture that does not have the same respect for nature. .. and is in some ways morally inferior to it" [according to Edith Blicksilver in Southwest Review, 1979]. The celestial laughter Silko calls forth by her Ceremony shows that Indian civilization is living and has the potential to transform Anglo culture. As she said in a 1978 interview [in American Studies in Scandinavian, 1981], "These things will only die if we neglect to tell the stories. So I am telling the stories." Moreover she has turned the quietest laugh against the loudest. With the help of Indian humor, even if we do not entirely get her jokes, she purifies us of our illusions about white culture, and those about Indian culture as well. Ultimately she demonstrates that combining our cultures, as her narrative does, has the power to civilize both.
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