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Literature Study GuidesCeremonySection 2 Family Stories Summary

Ceremony | Study Guide

Leslie Marmon Silko

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Ceremony | Section 2 (Family Stories) | Summary



When Tayo comes home from the war, Auntie picks him up from the train station. She brings him home and cares for him, even though she doesn't love him. When Tayo was a boy, she took him in to "conceal the shame" of her younger sister, Tayo's mother, who bore Tayo from a white man. Now, she took Tayo in because "he was all she had left." Auntie believes she has sacrificed herself to her family, and her suffering continues by taking Tayo in for the second time. Auntie's husband, Robert, seems overwhelmed on the farm without Rocky or Josiah to help him. Tayo hopes he will get better soon so he can pull his weight around the farm.

One afternoon, Tayo wakes up crying, and old Grandmother shuffles over to his bed. She wants to call the tribal medicine man, but Auntie scoffs that it wouldn't help because Tayo isn't "full blood." Auntie worries that calling the medicine man will reignite the gossip about Tayo's parentage. In the end Grandmother wins, and the medicine man, Ku'oosh, visits Tayo's bed. He speaks to him in the "old language" and wants to know what happened in the "White Man's war," but Tayo simply repeats, "I'm sick." Ku'oosh claims to worry about what will happen to "all of us" if Tayo and the rest of the Native American veterans don't get well again. He gives Tayo some herbal remedies, which only makes Tayo cry harder. That night, Grandmother feeds him blue cornmeal mush, and he doesn't vomit it up. He dreams about the other veterans who are alcoholics now, and of his time in the army. His mind flashes back to the moment he saw Rocky die in the prison camp.


Storytelling plays an important role not only in the preservation of culture but (as Auntie proves) also in the preservation of self. To appease her misery, Auntie tells herself many stories about her sacrificial role within the family. Auntie dreams of life outside the reservation, but unlike her younger sister, she was never brave enough to leave. This explains her support of Rocky shunning his native culture to pursue a "white" life playing football at college. When Rocky died, Auntie's dream of "something more" died with it. While she has always cast herself as the sacrificial lamb who gave up so much to raise Tayo, she perpetuates stories of her suffering, perhaps to cover up the disappointment she feels with herself. Both Laura (Tayo's mother) and Josiah subverted cultural norms by having cross-cultural relationships. Auntie, however, remains in a boring marriage, caring for her aging mother and her "half-breed" nephew on a ranch that perpetually suffers from drought. Her life is hard and offers her little happiness. By highlighting her suffering, Auntie gives meaning to her life. In her mind, she suffers for a greater good: her family's respectability. She agrees to take Tayo back to the ranch to recover rather than leave him in the veteran's hospital because "she needed a new struggle, a new opportunity to show ... she had still another unfortunate burden."

Against Auntie's judgment, Grandmother brings the old medicine man, Ku'oosh, to see Tayo with the hopes that traditional medicine will heal him when Western medicine could not. Ku'oosh asks Tayo many questions using "old language," which leaves Tayo feeling inadequate and childish. Because of the isolation of his upbringing, Tayo feels disconnected from his native culture, which adds another layer of insecurity to Tayo's struggle to communicate his story: "Tayo had to strain to catch the meaning [of Ku'oosh's words] ... he could feel shame tightening in his throat." Because Tayo feels separated from the "old world" Ku'oosh represents, he cannot fathom how to explain to the old man what he saw and did during the war. Ku'oosh notes that in his day, "you couldn't kill another human being in battle without knowing it." Soldiers in World War II, of course, used bombs, machine guns, and airplanes, leaving Tayo unsure of whether he actually killed anyone. Given this divide, Ku'oosh recognizes that his ceremonies will do little to heal Tayo from the wounds of modern warfare.

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