This essay deals with the traumatic issues in the Native American society, as provided by Leslie Marmon Silko, whose focus was on a traumatised individual of two cultures in the World War II. The article will also point to the potential of Christianity and cultural connections in causing trauma to an individual. In the ceremony, Silko demonstrates various paradoxes of the American history, culture, and values. While Tayo struggles with internal conflicts, Silko also reveals the struggles of Americans in her writing. She details the relationship between Native Americans and Americans through Tayo’s bicultural experiences. America, whish prides itself as a free land, devalues, and discriminates its native citizens. In addition to this, the bravery ideal of American’s is tested through war. The Native Americans are dying in the war for the country that took over their land yet this prompts no one to think of the bravery ideal.
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Silko commences the story with an introduction of the Native American values, which are linked to the benefits of oral tradition. This is evidence of the nature of America to record history. Despite history’s attempt in sustaining the culture f Native Americans, the American people usually manipulate or discredit history as a way of justifying their actions. Silko seems more interested in the interplay between physical and psychological violence against the Native Americans, as well as trauma therapies, which are carried out through cultural constructions of ethnic identity, history, and memory. The novel examines the functions of personal and collective memory in the disentanglement of ethnic identities, which act as healing device for a traumatic disorder. Through the unfortunate life of Tayo, Silko illustrates that the violence that an individual may suffer does not only stay inscribed in their minds, but also affects their physical being.
The novel begins by illustrating the story through “the thought woman” who is also referred to as the spider woman in Laguna cosmology. In Laguna cosmology, telling a story and weaving it are linked in that the spirit being who tells the story; the human and the animal, weaves human history webs, which illustrates the woman’s history. Leslie Silko portrays the story of Tayo, a half breed of a white father and a Laguna mother, Tayo comes back from WWII with an illness; Past traumatic Stress Disorder. Despite the many deaths Tayo has witnessed, the killing of his uncle Rocky carries the most powerful weight on his memory. In order to create the traumatic web of Tayo’s life, Silko navigates from this symbolic traumatic event, which marked the beginning of Tayo’s suffering. The Laguna’s “thought woman” appears in the text, through Auntie, Betonie (medicine man), Tse (the Katsina Spirit), and te Night Swan. These people are responsible in for webbing the story, by either complicating Tayo’s trauma or disentangling it. They do this by revealing certain events or lines that traumatize Tayo in order for him to disentangle them. They also narrate traumatic circumstances to Tayo, which may help him understand his situation. Tayo has a memory return by listening to Betonie’s songs, stories, and ceremonial words. Tayo is able to remember these because the medicine man uses repetition. Repetition helps people who are traumatized remember things, and so, it should be compulsory. The stories that the medicine man use are phenotypical as they combine both the cultural and structural components f the Native American people. They are symbolic and cultural, made through history and created by social change.
The first Laguna medicine man, Ku’oosh failed to heal Tayo because he used old stories that failed to recognise Tayo’s illness (Silko, 36). Ku’oosh’s stories and songs lack symbolic value as they are historically cut off. In his attempt to heal Tayo, Ku’oosh repeats old songs and stories in the old Laguna dialect (Silko 34). This is significant of the argument that culture assimilation has erased the cultural potential of language. Ku’oossh also tells Tao that whenever a person speaks or tells a story using words, they must provide meanings to the words they choose in order to prevent confusion of the intended meaning (Silko 35-6). The words the Ku’oosh talks about resemble sites and symptoms of trauma. They are trauma symptoms because their indifference repetition provides evidence of the unfortunate irrelevance of the traditional Laguna language in the contemporary context. Furthermore, they are trauma sites because they open a web of trauma to Tayo once he fails to comprehend them. This sets Tayo apart from his historical web.
The stories in Ceremony are sacred and symbolic in that they represent an unconscious part of a culture and the behavioural regiment of the self within a group. Through repetition, it is easy to preserve the historical and symbolic impact of these stories. Despite being traumatizing, this repetition becomes effective in Betonie’s trial to heal Tayo. As Tayo tries to obtain emotional balance by disentangling his memory webs, the stories that Betonie repeats lose their Freudian sense. This is because the stories move away from the “repetition compulsion” by Freud. Repetition compulsion is a regression and sickness symptom according to the Freudian theory. It also helps in overcoming trauma. This symptom is neither elementary nor instinctive as it is consequential because of acculturation. According to Silko, the repetition is neither unconscious nor primitive as people desire and is conscious about it, so it becomes a cultural and personal reparation condition. Additionally, in relation to Freud, the repetition is a death drive, which counters cultural death thus putting itself in the service of life and history. As Tayo pays attention to the repeated stories by Auntie, Betonie or the Night Swan, he is able to reminisce about past events by the coming together of the historical and structural events. He is able to make meaning of the traumatic web. In Ku’oosh’s world, the symbolic order of words in Laguna lose autonomy because the culture of the Laguna people is imaginary and renews itself via rehisoricizing and taking into account the changes that take place in the world around (Marmon 78).
The direct consequence of recalling history is a concept that is global and web like lies on one’s ability to remember and understand the cultural specificity as well as differences. This novel represents the Laguna trauma web as part of a historical web consisting of a multiplicity of stories intertwined through an individual, Tayo. Eventually, Tayo identifies the junction points between all the stories and words he hears, and the events he undergoes. Tayo’s trauma is closely linked to Rocky’s death though Tayo seems unaware of this. The elements in this culture’s traumatic web include the loss of balance in Pueblo community, the war, loss of language by Tayo, acculturation and rain cursing. Other elements such as Tayo’s original traumas seem nonexistent as the writer constructs it through a web of western symbolic desire. This makes the memories unproductive because it becomes forced autonomy. Its disconnectedness from the complex web history prevents an insightful envisioning of trauma. Silko discourages symbolization through multiplication of thinking that a trauma’s origin is non-existent because of spatial restrictions o f space or time. In addition to that, she portrays death as stories that need to be told in repetition in order to counter stories that support the repetition of symbols that are familiar and convenient in helping Tayo heal.
These stories are not only unproductive, but dangerous too as they erase Tayo’s historical characteristics, especially the materiality of trauma, death and history. Despite these, Tayo finds trauma again in the web’s history, and is able to understand his connection to warfare. He remembers his uncle’s face through a Japanese man, and this allows him to recall that death, pain and fear are inked to him through this enemy; the warfare. In this situation, the symbols that prevent his healing disappear.
The novel defines both history and trauma as intermingled webs that can interconnect human lives despite their differences in cultures. It also brings the idea of community autonomy together, hence advancing a relationality argument that people are not only constituted by their relations but are also disposed by them. Silko takes up the theme of connectedness among histories and human stories, which argue that personal, cultural, and historical traumas are all linked together (Dalenberg 87).
Silko uses poetic language to create beauty in the practices and rituals of the community in order to develop a traditional native story. She also uses metaphors in her story. For example, to illustrate Tayo’s state of mind at a hospital, she uses “white smoke” (Silko 15). The war traumas left Tayo feeling foreign, not only to his body, but to his family, past and friends.
There are fundamental connections between Tayo’s mind set and his physical well-being. In studies and research regarding memory and its use, the body is usually viewed as a memory medium. These studies suggest that bodily experiences engrave themselves as memories to the body. This brings forth the argument that the body is the trace to an individual’s identity and history. Furthermore, collective memory is also directly written on an individual’s body. This is because institution and socialization agents, as well as punishment are usually culturally engraved in the body. Tayo’s body is injured in the war. The scar he has is a representation of an enduring memory, and acts as a historiography of war battles and events. For any identity to occur, the identification of these physical memories is crucial.
In conclusion, it is important to note that Silko sought to address the relationship between the Americans and the Native American citizens during the World War II. She does this by narrating the story of half-breed of the two cultures, Tayo. Tayo, returning from the war to his people in Laguna Pueblo, has an illness, the contemporary equivalent of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. To heal him, he goes through the hands of two medicine men; Ku’oosh and Betonie who try to heal him by using a repetition of words, stories, and songs about his culture and background. Ku’oosh fails to succeed because Tayo has lost his memory for the language that Ku’oosh uses. However, Betonie seems to get through to Tayo, as he uses familiar stories and words. Through repetition of these words and stories, Tayo recognises his problems and starts disentangling his traumatic experiences. This method of healing is synonymous to Freudian theory of uncovering what is in the unconscious mind through constant repetition and remembering. Through this process, Tayo is able to connect his cultural background with his experiences and bring to the surface what trouble him. This paper has also looked at the use of language, metaphors, and poems to portray the creativity of Silko. In addition to this, the writer seeks to portray the evident connection between physical pain and memory. Tayo’s experiences, which are engraved in his body, provide traces for uncovering his memories.