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Literature Study GuidesCeremonySection 3 The Attack Summary

Ceremony | Study Guide

Leslie Marmon Silko

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Ceremony | Section 3 (The Attack) | Summary



Harvey and Tayo arrive at the bar on their donkeys. Tayo drinks his beer slowly, feeling the memories churn inside him. He remembers being with Rocky years earlier when Rocky killed a deer. Tayo wanted to observe some of the Native American traditions, and Rocky begrudgingly gave in. Despite being "full blood," Rocky would much rather be known as "an A-student and all-state in football" than for his cultural heritage. Tayo also remembers the last time he was at this bar, when he attacked fellow vet Emo. Harvey fidgets in his chair, clearly nervous about how Tayo will react this time, but assures him, "you weren't crazy. You were just drunk." Tayo remembers how Emo had been "asking for it" that day. Emo loved to talk big about white women he bedded but disparaged everything associated with "white men." He mean-spiritedly teased Tayo, revealing his own jealousy: "You think you're hot shit, like your cousin ... Maybe you aren't no better than the rest of us, huh?" When that failed to elicit a response, Emo began shaking a little glass jar full of teeth he removed from dead Japanese soldiers: "Emo fed off each man he killed, and the higher the rank of the dead man, the higher it made Emo." As Emo played with the teeth, something inside Tayo snapped and he lunged toward him with a broken bottle: "Killer!" he screamed. "Killer!" He stabbed Emo in the stomach with the broken bottle, thinking "he would get well if he killed him." When the cops arrived and arrested Tayo, he felt no regret. He only felt tired.


Later in the novel, it is revealed that there are two forces in the world: life and destruction. The war has negatively affected all the Native American veterans who gave so much to a war that didn't benefit them. White America continues to steal Native American land, exploit their culture, and denigrate their beliefs. In these ways, white America threatens to destroy Native American culture, while at the same time demanding the bodies and souls of Native American men for its survival. Although Tayo, Emo, Pinky, Harley, and Leroy are American, they aren't part of white culture. Emo brags about the white women he has slept with as conquests because without the army uniform tying him to white America, he never would have had a chance with them. As Tayo learns more about his "battle fatigue" later in the novel, he learns about the Native American belief that witches created white men as a dare, and that white culture serves only to destroy Native American culture. Essentially, Native American culture serves life and white culture serves destruction. For Emo, his degrading words and sadistic actions with the teeth suggest he has been swallowed up by this destruction and has become himself a "destroyer." On the surface, when Tayo attacks Emo in the bar, it looks like a struggle between good (Tayo) and evil (Emo). Yet Tayo's belief that Emo's murder would make him better is being whispered into his ear by destruction itself, as he comes to realize later in the novel. It is only by honoring life, even the life of his enemies, that Tayo can be healed.

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