Response Piece – Silko & Benedict
As noted in the response by Janet Tallman, there are three main themes concerning Ruth Benedict’s ethnography of Pueblo culture, Patterns of Culture, and Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony. Both detail the importance of matrilineage, harmony and balance versus change, and ceremonies to the Pueblo Indians. It is important to note that Silko gives the reader a first-hand perspective of this lifestyle (she was raised in the Laguna Pueblo Reservation), while Benedict’s book is written from a third-person point of view. Because of this, it was fairly easy to see how much of the actual culture was overlooked or misinterpreted in Benedict’s work. While the above-mentioned themes about Pueblo Indians were indeed mentioned in her book, Ceremony allows the reader comes away with a better understanding of why they lived as they lived, and how their lifestyle choices impacted every decision they made. As in my first assignment, my interpretation of the books was that Silko’s was from a much more personal perspective; a luxury provided because her book is to be enjoyed as a fictional novel instead of an academic text.
Set against the backdrop of post-WWII reservation life, the struggles of the Laguna Pueblo culture to maintain its identity while adjusting to the realities of modern day life are even more pronounced in Ceremony. Silko uses a wide range of characters in order to give a voice to as many representatives of her tribe as possible. The main character, Tayo, is the person with whom the reader is more than likely to relate. The story opens with him reliving various phases of his life in flashbacks, and through them, the reader shares his inability to discern reality from delusion, past from present and right from wrong. His days are clouded by his post-war sickness, guilt for being the one to survive while his cousin Rocky is slain, and his inability to cope neither with life on the reservation or in the outside world. He is one of several representations of the beginnings of the Laguna Pueblo youth interacting with modern American culture.
Tayo’s aunt (Auntie) is the personification of the Pueblo culture’s staunch opposition to change. She is bound to her life and the people around her; more so because of the various “disgraces” brought upon her family by her nephew Tayo being a “half-breed”, her brother Josiah’s love af...
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...of looking within themselves for the causes of their misery, they chose to blame the white man for their misfortunes. At the same time, they were causing pain and suffering unto themselves by punishing those who were deemed too different (Emo trying to kill Tayo and settling on Harley) and shunning any changes to life as they knew it.
By the end of the novel, Tayo represents the potentially new world for Pueblo culture. As Betonie said, elements in the world began to shift and it became necessary to create new rituals in order to keep the ceremonies strong. This represents a very modern view on Pueblo life (Silko’s) of the price tribe people must pay in order to survive in this world. As shown by Tayo’s final change, Silko sees it as necessary to maintain the essential parts of Pueblo culture in order to maintain the web that connects all its people together; but one must also learn to adapt and accept the new world created around him or her in order to survive. “Don’t let them stop you,” Betonie said in page 152, “Don’t let them finish off with this world.” Stagnation is just as damaging as overwhelming change.
Leslie Marmon Silko - Ceremony
Ruth Benedict - Patterns of Culture
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