Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony was published in March 1977. It narrates ceremonial practices and oral traditions of the Pueblo and Navajo people of the Native America. The storyline is based on the troubles of the protagonist Tayo, a cross child between the Laguna (Native American) and white parent, as he struggles to rejuvenate his fatigued self from the upshot of the bruising battlefield experiences he had during the World War II. Furthermore, Tayo is also grappling to come to terms with the death of his cousin Rocky that he witnessed during the 1942 Bataan Death March. Having stayed at the Los Angeles based VA Hospital for three months nursing the wounds he sustained at the time of his captivity, Tayo returns to Laguna Pueblo for the much awaited reunion with his family. While at home, Tayo slips into alcoholism so as to evade horrible memories of the experiences he had at the battlefield. At the end of the novel, Tayo resorts to the traditional healing ceremony of the pueblo people, to break away from his mental anguish.
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Similarities between the characters Tayo and Betonie
The two main characters: Tayo and Betonie do have a lot of shared tributes as presented by Silko in the Ceremony. First and foremost, both Tayo and Betonie have been influenced by the confluence of the white and Native American cultures. It is most remarkable that Tayo symbolizes the confluence of the conflicting white and Native American cultures given elements of both cultures are present in his divergent ancestry; Tayo was born to a Laguna mother and a white father though he grew up never to set an eye on any of the parents. Even though, Betonie could not trace his ancestry to the white and Native American roots like Tayo, his magical nature connects him pretty much with the mundane details of both the Native American and white societies like no other. In other words, Tayo and Betonie have a mixed identity that make them fit in both the white and Native American cultures.
In addition, Tayo and Betonie were both privileged to get their education at the white-run boarding schools- an event that puts them at odds with the Native American society. Suffice it to say, their mixed cultural identities symbolize the onset of the ongoing cultural integration in the world. In other words, the two characters serve as agents of cultural transformation at the time. This phenomenon, as manifested in the two characters – Tayo and Betonie – sends out strong signals: that the cultural barrier between the Native America and white cultures is on the verge of disintegration; and practices of racial discrimination prevalent in both societies were on red alert in the post-war era.
Finally, Tayo and Betonie both depict cultural clashes between the white and Native American cultures. They serve as the model characters in whose experiences the readers perceive how it feels like to be a Native American in the white society and vise versa. Through Tayo’s experience in U.S. Army, it is apparent that he was discriminated against and forced to carry out cold blood executions of the Japanese soldiers by his white counterparts because of his Native American ancestry. He is also viewed as unworthy of the military service by the white soldiers. During his childhood days, Tayo is constantly reminded of his difference by his caretaker Auntie in form of a reproach back at his foster home. Similarly, Betonie also has a fair share of his nasty experiences in both the white and Native American societies because of his dual cultural identity. The book also shows how Betonie was locked out of sacred center in the white dominated reservation.
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Differences between Betonie and Tayo
In the novel, Silko has pointed out clear differences between the two interdependent characters – Tayo and Betonie. The most prominent difference lies in the nature of the two characters: whereby Tayo is a human being whose personality is manifested in the physical body since he was born of two human characters – his Laguna mother and an unknown white father. The half-white and half-Laguna Tayo grew up just like any other child in the neighborhood. In his early childhood and high school days, he freely interacted with other children some of whom he befriended with for the entire period he was under the foster care of Auntie. His childhood friends included Pinkie, Emo, Leroy and Harley. Unlike the case of Betonie, Tayo proves his human nature in the sense that he was born to human parents, raised up by his grandmother in the family of Auntie after the passing on of his Laguna mother, and further led a normal life marred with ups and downs here and there while serving in the U.S. Army and shortly thereafter.
On the other hand, Betonie is sort of a deity and a magical character who reigns in the spiritual realms. More often than not, the character is depicted to be in constant communication with the invisible spirits and have the predilection to tell atypical stories, which human characters could seldom fathom in the context of the physical world around them. Contrary to Tayo who was born to human parents, the childhood story of Betonie remains mysterious and magical following his own testimony that he descended from the spirits of a woman who once drooped on a treetop in search of an estranged husband. To the shock of readers, the powerful medicine man, Betonie, is the living agent of the Laguna traditional spirituality through whom the divine ceremonies are performed.
It, therefore, goes without saying that the divine nature of Betonie makes him more confident than Tayo. Betonie is a powerful medicine man whose spirits shuttle between the mythical and real worlds back and forth appeasing the Laguna spirits through spiritual ceremonies. As such, the character is an integrated part of the Laguna spirituality fully endowed with power to rule in the spiritual realms. Constant communication between Betonie and spirits and the spiritual authority wielded by him over the physical world grants him more confidence over the traumatized Tayo. Besides his mental anguish, seemingly Tayo is not at peace with the Laguna spirituality hence he badly needs to be cured of the carnage he committed against the spirits during the war. In short, the raging feelings of guilt, torment, and helplessness render this literary hero less confident.
Relationship between Betonie and Tayo
As explained in the book, Betonie is the only one who is capable of helping Tayo out in his mental anguish owing to his spiritual nature. As illustrated in the novel, he is the only medicine man in the whole generation of those of Laguna who is endowed with the spiritual capability to perform and complete spiritual healing ceremonies for Tayo through specialized observation and appropriate advice. In all sphere, Betonie is the only medicine man cum teacher who can adequately equip Tayo with the much needed faith and spiritual tools in order to complete the healing ceremony. Furthermore, Betonie is likely to help Tayo because he not only exhibits kindred spirit to the traumatized war veteran, but he is also wise enough, to understand Tayo like no other character in the novel.