I am glad I read this before I learned it had Spark Notes. I get all intimidated with Spark Notes. I am always afraid that when I read a Spark Notes book I will miss the central point and all those peripheral points, all those weighty meanings and subtleties. Because while I am busy enjoying the story and anxious to find out what happens next, maybe I should be paying more attention to those small nuances, so I can appear, you know, like, totally profoundly clever.
This book was written in 1977 by a Native American writer, so we are talking synchronicity here, what with the Dakota Pipeline Access issue going on right now,and the fact that I had just read The Liberation of Ravenna Morton, which I talked about here. But this is not about Big Oil, it is about PTSD, essentially. And race. And bigotry. And old Native American customs and beliefs.
Ceremony follows the troubles of Tayo, a half-white, half-Laguna man, as he struggles to cope with post traumatic 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 at a VA Hospital in Los Angeles, recovering from injuries sustained during his captivity, Tayo returns to his family’s home at Laguna Pueblo. In bits and pieces, we learn of his desperate childhood with a Native American mother who is now an alcoholic and lives with other homeless on the banks of the river in Gallop. He is always hungry, and is on his own to find food and shelter while his mother ‘entertains’ men for the price of a bottle or some food. When the shanty town of cardboard boxes and makeshift hovels is cleared out by the authorities, 4-year-old Tayo is reluctantly and grudgingly taken in by Auntie, his mother’s sister, who does not want him or like him because he is mixed race, a reminder of the shame her sister has brought to the family.
Mixed blood people — individuals who, in a sense, find themselves stuck between cultures, neither wholly in nor wholly out of what may be their native society: too often they are viewed suspiciously by both of the peoples whose blood they carry.
The story is told in flashbacks, remembrances, hallucinations, and dreams. I am sure I missed a lot of the symbology in the dreams, because as I have told you several times, I am not interested in dreams. I am not interested in people’s dreams in Real Life, because dreams are just stories the mind makes up, and fun as they may be for the dreamer, who cares if they are not your own dream. So dreams in fiction are just fictitious constructs in the middle of a fictional work, so really, duh.
As do many sufferers of PTSD, Tayo has an alcohol problem, as do his friends, and after a drunken bout, Tayo stabs a ‘friend’ in the stomach. He is then sent back to the VA hospital for another stint.
When he returns home after treatment, he is at loose ends, slides off into dream-like trances, and otherwise acts in ways that make his family and friends somewhat nervous. It is suggested that rather than being hauled off again to the VA hospital, he go see a medicine man, who takes him on a dreamquest, where he is told there are certain acts he must do to heal himself and the world. He is taught that the white man was created by witchery.
He meets a mixed race Mexican-Indian woman in the local town and falls in love with her, and his relationship with her weaves in and out of the story.
It took me a while to get really into the book, but once I did, I realized how magical and spiritual it is. It is a composite of Native American beliefs and practices, the doings of the white man, the down to earth human relationships, the idea of race and how it affects the people.