na ceremony reading questions

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Reading Questions for Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

This novel can be tough to navigate, but these questions can help you understand themes present in the novel as well as characters’ motivations. Please work on these questions as you read and submit your answers by the due date.

  • This text is difficult to read due to the shifting of scenes and time without warning. How does this technique help the reader to participate in Tayo’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences? Is its influence on the narrative consistently the same, and is it always effective?
  • How does Tayo’s status as a half-breed influence his choices, his thinking, and the way he is perceived by other characters in the novel? What tensions and conflicts does his mixed ancestry contribute to Silko’s story?
  • How do the poems and legends that are interspersed in Silko’s text influence your reading of the novel? Why do you think Silko centers Emo’s tale of debauchery on the page in the same way that she centers the older, sacred stories?
  • One aspect of white culture that Tayo especially resents is the way in which its educational practices, particularly instruction in the sciences, dismiss Native beliefs as “superstitions.” What are the similarities and differences between the way Tayo feels about the treatment of his ancestral beliefs and the way in which a believer in the creation stories of Genesis might respond to Darwinism? To what extent is the novel a story of the struggle between technology and belief?
  • How do the cattle and other animal presences in the novel function to illustrate the traditional values of the Laguna tribe and their conflicts with the principles and desires of white Americans?
  • Ceremony offers the suggestion that the European settlers of America were created by the “witchery” of a nameless witch doctor. What is the effect of this assertion? Does it make white people demonic by intimating that they are agents of evil, incapable of doing good? Or, to the contrary, does it somehow absolve them from blame because they are merely tools of the “Destroyers” and are not really responsible for their actions?
  • How does the gambler’s story relate to Tayo? Is this related to the witchery or destroyers on page 229? How are the gambler and witchery stories similar to Tayo’s encounter with Emo?
  • What is the role of the woman? What does she represent and how is she different from other women in the book?
  • Silko, who has suffered from headaches, depression, and nausea similar to those that plague Tayo in her novel, has said, “I wrote this novel to save my life.” How is Ceremony a novel of salvation, for Tayo, for its author, and for its readers? What are the limits to the salvation that it appears to offer?

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