Returned from combat, Tayo, a mixed-blood Laguna, struggles to regain his health and mental equilibrium. Suffering from what his physicians term "battle fatigue" and the lingering effects of malaria, Tayo had become dysfunctional when he was ordered to shoot several of the enemy and sees in them the faces of his own ancestors.

Later, at the VA hospital, Tayo is told by white doctors to avoid "Indian medicine" and to remove himself as far as possible from his community and heritage. He is heavily sedated and experiences himself as "white smoke."

After he leaves the hospital and returns to his aunt and her family, Tayo's illness worsens (including chronic nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, and weeping). Finally his grandmother calls in a traditional healer who starts Tayo on an intense journey of inner healing (and encounters with other Native American healers) and reconnection with his painful but rich past.


This is a powerful indictment of assimilation as it is played out in the medical arena. The physicians (unwittingly, one suspects) not only help maintain Tayo's illness, but add to it with their injunctions against all that is in Tayo's heritage ("No Indian medicine," they insist [pg. 3]). For Tayo, institutionalized medicine, especially psychiatric medicine, spells nothing short of destruction.

Silko deftly (and beautifully) examines the effects of internalized racism and colonization on the health of Native-Americans. Tayo, as a mixed blood and as one whose mother's chronic alcoholism had rendered her unfit to care for him, must confront his own self-hatred and shame. The novel is shot through with poetry and myth that suggests the healing power of story and the reclamation of one's past. Ceremony provides an important and provocative critique of modern medicine.


Viking: Penguin

Place Published

New York



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