Ceremony (Silko novel)

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Leslie Marmon Silko - Ceremony.jpg
Author Leslie Marmon Silko
Cover artist Lee Marmon (First Edition)
Country United States
Language English
Genre Fiction
Published March 1977 Penguin Books
Media type Paperback
Pages 262
ISBN 0-14-008683-8
OCLC 12554441
Followed by Storyteller (1981)

Ceremony is a novel by Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko, first published by Penguin in March 1977. The title Ceremony is based upon the oral traditions and ceremonial practices of the Navajo and pueblo people.


Ceremony follows the troubles of Tayo, a half-white, half-Laguna man, as he struggles to cope with Posttraumatic stress disorder after surviving World War II and witnessing the death of his cousin Rocky during the Bataan Death March of 1942.

After spending several months recovering from injuries sustained during his captivity at a VA Hospital in Los Angeles, California, Tayo returns to his family's home at Laguna Pueblo. Tayo suffers from increasing mental instability and turns to alcoholism to escape his inner turmoil. Tayo eventually turns to traditional pueblo spirituality and ceremony as a source of healing.


Silko began early work on Ceremony while living in Ketchikan, Alaska in 1973 after moving there with her children Robert and Kazimir from Chinle, Arizona. The family relocated so her then-husband John Silko could assume a position in the Ketchikan legal services office. Ketchikan was John Silko's hometown.

Silko held a contract with Viking Press to produce a collection of short stories or a novel under editor Richard Seaver. Having no interest in creating a novel, Silko began work on a short story set in the American Southwest revolving around the character Harley and the comical exploits of his alcoholism. During this early work, the character Tayo appeared as a minor character suffering from "battle fatigue" upon his return from World War II. The character fascinated Silko enough to remake the story with Tayo as the narrative's protagonist. The papers from this early work are held at the Yale University library.

In February 1974, Silko took a break from writing Ceremony to assume the role of a visiting writer at a middle school in Bethel, Alaska. It was during this time Silko penned the early work on her witchery poetry featured in Ceremony wherein she asserts that all things European were created by the words of an anonymous Tribal witch. This writing plays a formidable role in the novel's theme of healing. An expanded version of this work is featured in Storyteller.

The poetic works found in Ceremony were inspired by the Laguna oral tradition and the work of poet James Wright whom Silko developed a friendship with after meeting at a writer's conference at Grand Valley State University in June 1974 and years of written correspondence. These letters would be featured in the work The Delicacy and Strength of Lace edited by Ann Wright, wife of James Wright, and published in November 1985 after the poet's death.

Silko completed the manuscript to Ceremony in July 1975 shortly before returning to New Mexico.


  • Tayo, World War II veteran of Laguna Pueblo and Anglo descent
  • Betonie, mixed-blooded Navajo healer
  • Ku'oosh, Laguna kiva priest
  • Uncle Josiah, confidant to Tayo who died during WWII
  • Ts'eh, Native American woman whom Tayo loves and lives with in the forest
  • Rocky, Tayo's cousin. Died during the Bataan Death March
  • Harley, friend to Tayo and fellow WWII veteran
  • Old Grandma, family matriarch and believer in customary pueblo religion
  • Auntie, Rocky's mother and primary care-taker of Tayo during his childhood. Catholic convert who rejects the Pueblo religion
  • Laura, known primarily as "Little Sister." Tayo's mother and sister to Auntie. Known for causing controversy to her family for becoming impregnated by a white man and for her rampant alcoholism
  • Uncle Robert, Auntie's husband
  • Emo, veteran and antagonist to Tayo
  • Pinkie, fellow Veteran and follower of Emo

Further reading[edit]