Places: Ceremony

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1977

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Shortly after World War II

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Gallup

*Gallup. CeremonyNorthwestern New Mexico city on the Puerco River that is the seat of McKinley County. With Navajo communities to the north and west, Zuni to the south, and various Pueblo tribes to the east, Gallup is an important regional center for Indian arts and crafts, as well as an area headquarters for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The protagonist, Tayo, goes to Gallup to ask a medicine man named Betonie for a special ceremony. Betonie cures with elements from contemporary culture, such as old magazines and telephone books, as well as with native ceremonies. He explains Tayo’s sickness as due to witchery.


*Laguna. Tayo’s home, the center of Laguna Pueblo culture, located about fifty miles west of Albuquerque, to which he returns after the war. Historically, Laguna Pueblo became one of the most cosmopolitan pueblos because of its position on a major east-west route that later included a train line; the pueblo is also the birthplace of author Leslie Silko.


*Philippines. World War II combat zone in which Tayo served before returning to New Mexico. Recalling that he was unable to fire upon Japanese soldiers because they seemed to resemble his uncle, Tayo begins the novel thinking himself insane and begins his quest to find a ceremony that will cure him of his madness.

*Mount Taylor

*Mount Taylor. Snow-capped New Mexico mountain northwest of Laguna Pueblo that is usually visible from the town. Known to the Laguna people as “Tsepina” (woman who walks in the clouds), the mountain is considered a holy place. Tayo eventually actualizes much of his personal ceremony in the wilderness area by the mountain.


*Paguate. Small village about six miles north of Laguna Pueblo that is believed, in Laguna cosmology, to be the Place of Emergence–the place where human beings emerged into the present world from the worlds below. Flooded underground uranium mines near Paguate represent an evil re-rendering of the natural landscape that Tayo struggles to overcome throughout the novel.

BibliographyAllen, Paula Gunn. “The Feminine Landscape of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.” In Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs, edited by Paula Gunn Allen. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1983. A foundational essay that articulates the importance of the feminine in Tayo’s healing, written by a Laguna Pueblo writer and critic.Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. A central work by one of the most important literary and cultural critics of American Indian writing and life. The seventeen essays contained in this collection range from discussions of myths and symbols to contemporary literature, from traditional family structure to American Indian feminism. Of particular interest is Allen’s essay devoted to Ceremony.Coltelli, Laura. Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. A useful collection of interviews with major American Indian writers, including Leslie Marmon Silko. Includes a substantial discussion of Ceremony.Garcia, Reyes. “Senses of Place in Ceremony.MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 10, no. 4 (1983): 37-48. An exploration of the sense of place embodied by Tayo at the end of the ceremony. Also shows the importance of language and story in reorienting Tayo into his “place.”Larson, Charles R. American Indian Fiction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1978. An early but helpful critical study of American Indian writers. Provides a good overview of the literary context and tradition from which Silko writes.Lincoln, Kenneth. Native American Renaissance. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. An excellent introduction to the writing of American Indians. Provides necessary background to understand key works. A thorough discussion of Silko’s Storyteller and Ceremony is included.Manley, Kathleen. “Leslie Marmon Silko’s Use of Color in Ceremony.Southern Folklore 46 (1989): 133-146. Draws upon anthropology and Laguna mythology to explore the meanings of various colors in particular settings.Nelson, Robert M. “Place and Vision: The Function of Landscape in Ceremony.Journal of the Southwest 30 (1988): 281-316. A detailed examination of landscapes and Tayo’s movement through them to reach his ultimate healing. Discusses the relationship between particular figures and particular landscapes. This essay is especially thorough and useful in interpreting the novel.Ruppert, James. “The Reader’s Lessons in Ceremony.Arizona Quarterly 44 (1988): 78-85. Ruppert suggests that the reader, like Tayo, experiences the fusion of story and reality and can ultimately learn the same lesson Tayo learns, namely, that the world is unified through appropriate storytelling.Swan, Edith. “Laguna Symbolic Geography and Silko’s Ceremony.” American Indian Quarterly 12, no. 3 (Summer, 1988): 229-249. A thorough discussion of Laguna spiritual beliefs and symbols. Colors, animals, myths, and landscape are all explained in detail.
Categories: Places