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Literature Study GuidesCeremonySection 5 Night Swan Summary

Ceremony | Study Guide

Leslie Marmon Silko

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Ceremony | Section 5 (Night Swan) | Summary



Before the war, Tayo tries to perform the ancient rain dance ceremony to dispel the drought. Because no one has taught him the old ways, he simply follows what feels right: "The things he did seemed right, as he imagined with his heart the rituals [should be]." When the rains come, everyone is delighted. Josiah is too busy to visit Night Swan, so he asks Tayo to deliver a message to her. She almost immediately begins to seduce Tayo. She says she had been watching Tayo: "I saw the color of your eyes." After they sleep together, she says, "You don't have to understand what is happening, but remember this day." Tayo doesn't understand, and she continues, "You will recognize it later. You are part of it now."

The narration shifts to the present, and Tayo can no longer find Harley at the bar. He had left him earlier and visited a Mexican café infested with flies, but he has returned to the bar. He starts walking home, via Cubero where Night Swan had lived. He stops at her old apartment, long since abandoned. He enters and tries to reconnect to the space, to her energy, but he feels nothing. He walks all the way home, feeling slightly better, and announces that he can begin helping Robert around the farm. Robert nods but suggests that Tayo still needs help. Some of the elders suggested Tayo visit another medicine man, one further afield. Ku'oosh's ceremony hasn't helped any of the veterans. Shortly after, they drive to Gallup, where the great Native American festival is held for tourists each year. Tayo looks around and sees all the alcoholic Native American mothers and their children, born from white tourist fathers. The mothers live only for alcohol, in pathetic squalor, which reminds him of his own upbringing. His mother had once lived in the same squatter arroyo, and he had struggled to survive there. Once, authorities had taken him to an orphanage, but his mother eventually collected him, having completed some sort of hospitalization. They were back at the arroyo before long, where his mother worked as a prostitute. Eventually, the police came to round up the children again, tearing down the shanty houses, but Tayo escaped that fate, ending up with his mother's family on the ranch. He was separated from his mother, but knew, like always, she would eventually come back to him.


This section focuses on transitions, particularly as Tayo transitions from boy to man by sleeping with Night Swan. Night Swan chooses Tayo because of his eye color, recognizing him as mixed race, as she herself is. Night Swan recognizes the power of belonging to two cultures and blames Laguna cultural discontent on the quest for racial purity: "They think that if their children have the same color of eyes, that nothing is changed ... they are fools." Sex empowers Night Swan, and she uses it to also empower Tayo. Although it seems strange that she would seduce her boyfriend's nephew, Night Swan plays an important role in teaching Tayo about the value of mixed heritage. Although "pure-bloods" fight against it, change is happening everywhere. Later in the novel, Tayo will fall in love with another strong woman, Ts'eh, who takes up Night Swan's message.

This section also gives the reader backstory from Tayo's past. He, like so many Native American women and children, fall victim to cultural appropriation at the hands of white "destroyers." The town of Gallup embodies this culture clash in which white tourists come from all around to marvel at Native American culture. However, the tourists aren't interested in actually learning anything about Native American tribes. Dancers from all across America come together to perform generic dances that don't even represent their unique cultures, and tourists buy generic "Indian" jewelry and artifacts that have no cultural history. Tourists come to see them as entertainment, while completely disrespecting actual Native Americans that live in the area. White tourists sleep with Native American prostitutes, like Tayo's mother, without caring what becomes of the women (or their illegitimate children) later. Tourists throw bottles and harass the homeless Native Americans living in the arroyo, while polluting the land, refusing to pay Native American workers fair wages, and contributing to the alcoholism that destroys families.

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