Response Piece – Silko & Benedict
As noted in the response by Janet Tallman, there are three main themes concerning Ruth Benedict’s ethnography of Pueblo culture, Patterns of Culture, and Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony. Both detail the importance of matrilineage, harmony and balance versus change, and ceremonies to the Pueblo Indians. It is important to note that Silko gives the reader a first-hand perspective of this lifestyle (she was raised in the Laguna Pueblo Reservation), while Benedict’s book is written from a third-person point of view. Because of this, it was fairly easy to see how much of the actual culture was overlooked or misinterpreted in Benedict’s work. While the above-mentioned themes about Pueblo Indians were indeed mentioned in her book, Ceremony allows the reader comes away with a better understanding of why they lived as they lived, and how their lifestyle choices impacted every decision they made. As in my first assignment, my interpretation of the books was that Silko’s was from a much more personal perspective; a luxury provided because her book is to be enjoyed as a fictional novel instead of an academic text.
Set against the backdrop of post-WWII reservation life, the struggles of the Laguna Pueblo culture to maintain its identity while adjusting to the realities of modern day life are even more pronounced in Ceremony. Silko uses a wide range of characters in order to give a voice to as many representatives of her tribe as possible. The main character, Tayo, is the person with whom the reader is more than likely to relate. The story opens with him reliving various phases of his life in flashbacks, and through them, the reader shares his inability to discern reality from delusion, past from present and right from wrong. His days are clouded by his post-war sickness, guilt for being the one to survive while his cousin Rocky is slain, and his inability to cope neither with life on the reservation or in the outside world. He is one of several representations of the beginnings of the Laguna Pueblo youth interacting with modern American culture.
Tayo’s aunt (Auntie) is the personification of the Pueblo culture’s staunch opposition to change. She is bound to her life and the people around her; more so because of the various “disgraces” brought upon her family by her nephew Tayo being a “half-breed”, her brother Josiah’s love affair with a Mexican woman and her younger sister abandoning the tribe to live amongst the white man. The reader can see how she feels forced to abide by unspoken rules established by her tribe, and Silko emphasizes in her how one person’s disgrace shames every person with whom they are connected. As the eldest daughter in her family, it is her duty to tend the household, took after her mother, and to raise Tayo after he was abandoned by his mother at a young age.
In contrast to her strict adherence to Pueblo life, she is also a devout Christian. At several times in the story there are...