HomeLiterature Study GuidesCeremonySection 4 Josiahs Plan Summary

Ceremony | Study Guide

Leslie Marmon Silko

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Course Hero, "Ceremony Study Guide," June 1, 2017, accessed December 17, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Ceremony/.

Ceremony | Section 4 (Josiah's Plan) | Summary

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Summary

The narration flashes back to when Rocky and Tayo joined the army. The recruiter comes to the reservation hoping to speak to a large group of possible enlistees, but only Rocky and Tayo show up. The recruiter says, "I know you boys love America as much as we do, but this is your big chance to show it!" Rocky had been dreaming about enlisting with the hopes it would allow him to see the world. Tayo, on the other hand, felt conflicted over his responsibilities at home. But when Rocky refers to Tayo as his brother during the conversation with the recruiter, he changes his mind: "And my brother ... If we both sign up, can we stay together?" It was the first time anyone in Auntie's family had ever acknowledged him as one of their own. Growing up, whenever someone mistook him to be Auntie's son, she quickly corrected them: "That's Laura's boy ... you know the one." On the night Laura dropped Tayo off, he had clung to her, weeping. Josiah calmed him by saying Rocky would be his brother now, but even then, Rocky screamed and ran away, "I don't want no brother!" Auntie was always suspicious and aloof toward him, treating him for years like a foreign body in her home. Her attitude changed whenever someone else was around, but she and Tayo were always aware of the "private understanding" between them: "She wanted him close enough to feel excluded, to be aware of the distance between them." She regularly pulled Tayo aside to tell him terrible things about his mother, refused to show him affection, and purposely excluded him. In the end Josiah encourages Auntie to let Tayo enlist alongside Rocky: "Let him go ... you can't keep him forever." Tayo promises Auntie he will bring Rocky back safely from the war.

Before the war, Josiah had partnered with Tayo in a cattle-breeding plan, which made Tayo feel special. Josiah decided to breed a new kind of cow, resistant to drought, by breeding Ulibarri cows with dairy cows. His Mexican girlfriend first proposed the plan, so Josiah didn't feel comfortable sharing it with anyone but Tayo. When he hears about it later, Rocky scoffs, saying cattle breeding should be done by scientists. Auntie smirks at Rocky's assessment, proud that her son is becoming "someone who could not only make sense of the outside world but become part of it." The narration switches to Josiah's perspective, as the narrator recounts Josiah meeting his Mexican girlfriend, an ex-flamenco dancer called Night Swan. When she hears about the affair, Auntie fears the cross-cultural relationship will reignite the rumors about their family she had fought so hard to suppress after Laura and Tayo: "I try to tell [Josiah] to stay with our own kind; but he doesn't listen to me."

Analysis

This section focuses heavily on the theme of culture clash. As in previous sections, the scene with the army recruiter and the young men highlights the divide between white and native culture. The recruiter speaks condescendingly to Rocky and Tayo, underscoring their segregation by suggesting they're allowed to fight to "prove" they love the country as much as "we" (white people) do. Although his motivations were selfish, wanting to see the world, Rocky gives his life defending a country that mistreated his people, which further highlights the recruiter's offensive attitude. Tayo must live with the emotional scars of his wartime experience without proper veteran care. The novel suggests Tayo will heal once he reconnects with his culture, yet when he returns from the war, this seems impossible. The culture clash occurs because the white culture in Tayo's life—Indian school teachers, army doctors, even Rocky's education—suggests Native American culture is primitive, worthless hokum. Tayo is shamed into rejecting native care, like the ceremonies Ku'oosh offers, because accepting the treatments would be akin to accepting the racist stereotype that Native Americans are "primitive." Of course, Tayo's shame is compounded by his belief that he doesn't even belong to Native American culture in the first place. This culture clash is seen again with Josiah's plan to breed drought-resistant cattle. Tayo supports Josiah's plan and feels touched his uncle would share the secret with him. Rocky, on the other hand, suggests that the real problem with people on the reservation isn't their lack of education, it's that they don't even recognize their own ignorance.

The theme of culture clash can also be seen in the destruction of relationships, particularly in Auntie's mind. Auntie believes members of her tribe, and especially members of her family, should "stay with our own kind." When they dare to step outside those expectations, Auntie is outraged and deeply ashamed. Her shame about Laura manifests in Tayo's emotional abuse. The shame of Josiah and the flamenco dancer manifests in lies about the ranch that keep Josiah from traveling. The novel makes clear that the biggest threat to native culture is its erasure, most particularly the erasure of its stories, but Auntie is so determined to protect Laguna purity that she destroys relationships in the process. Although protecting native culture is important, Ceremony also suggests the value of transition, or honoring Native American culture in new ways, is also important. Tayo, for example, is not full-blood Laguna, but by the end of the novel, he embodies and preserves its culture far more than Rocky—a full-blood Laguna—ever did. What is the point of continuing to invest in purebred Hertfordshire cows, Josiah wonders, if they cannot survive a drought? By cross-breeding, or taking the best of two different varieties, a stronger, more resilient cow emerges.

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