Ceremony : Characters

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  1. Auntie

    Auntie is Tayo's aunt on the reservation who raises him from the age of four, after her sister drops the illegitimate boy on her doorstep. Auntie is strict and severe, a devout Catholic, but though she keeps Tayo at arm's length, the two understand one another.

  2. Betonie

    Betonie is a tall and strange older medicine man who lives in the hills above Gallup. He is a half-breed Navajo, controversial for modifying the old ceremonies to accommodate the modern times. In his hogan he stores roots and other medicine items as wells as phone books and calendars. He speaks perfect English and has traveled extensively, understanding how the white world works.  He teaches Tayo how to live and move ceremonially in the landscape, to heal and make contact with the powers of the land.

  3. Descheeney

    Descheeney is Betonie's grandfather who was a traditional Indian medicine man. He married a young Mexican refugee who taught him a different kind of magic. Together, they learned how to modify the ceremonies to deal with the evil brought by the whites. They had a daughter who was Betonie's mother, and she taught him this magic.

  4. Emo

    Emo is a full-blood Laguna, who has hated Tayo the half-breed since childhood. They served together in the marines during World War II, and since then, Emo has been a violent and drunken braggart. He has turned into a killer, killing all his friends—Harley, Leroy, Pinkie—and he tries unsuccessfully to kill Tayo.

  5. Old Grandma

    Old Grandma is the one who suggests a ceremony to cure Tayo of his war stress. She treats Tayo as one of the family and tells him Indian lore. He realizes she is blind from seeing the first atomic bomb set off at White Sands.

  6. Harley

    Harley is one of Tayo's bar buddies, a war veteran who served with Emo on Wake Island and won a Purple Heart. He is big and stocky and good-natured but made fun of by Emo for being stupid. He is tortured by Emo in an attempt to get Tayo to defend him, so he can kill Tayo. Harley is killed by Emo.

  7. Helen Jean

    Helen Jean is one of the prostitutes Harley and Leroy run around with in Gallup. She is an Indian girl who left the reservation thinking she would get a job to send money home to her sisters. Instead, she is forced into prostitution. She seems to be a portrait of what happened to Laura, Tayo's mother.

  8. Lalo

    Lalo is a Mexican who runs a bar that serves Indians. Josiah goes there often, despite Auntie's disapproval, and that is where he has an affair with the dancer, Night Swan.

  9. Laura

    Laura is Tayo's full-blood Indian mother who left the Laguna reservation and became a prostitute in Gallup. She kept Tayo with her until he was four. They were living in the slums and she finally abandoned him with her sister (Auntie). Although she brings shame to the tribe, the author sees her as a sort of Yellow Woman figure, a culture heroine who sleeps with the gods for the good of the tribe. In this case she brought Tayo who would do a ceremony to save the people.

  10. Floyd Lee

    Floyd Lee is a white rancher in the foothills of Mt. Taylor who stole Josiah's spotted cattle. Tayo breaks into his ranch and steals them back.

  11. Josiah

    Josiah is Auntie's brother who lives with her and her husband. He is the one who took in Tayo and raised him as a son. He is the father figure for Tayo who feels he somehow caused his death by leaving for the war. Josiah died and lost the cattle while Tayo was gone. Josiah's dream was to have a cattle ranch run by Tayo and Robert and himself. He teaches Tayo native lore. Tayo's ceremony includes getting back Josiah's cattle and realizing his dream.

  12. Old Ku'oosh

    Old Ku'oosh is the Laguna medicine man who first tries to heal Tayo with ceremony and herbs. When they don't work, he recommends Betonie, the controversial Navajo medicine man.

  13. Night Swan

    The Night Swan is an elderly Mexican dancer at Lalo's bar who has an affair with Josiah, and then seduces Tayo. She is seen as a powerful witch who can create spells with her dances, but she turns out to be wise and sympathetic to Tayo, initiating him into manhood.

  14. Pinkie

    Pinkie is one of the Laguna boys who returned from the war only to become a hoodlum. He dies as a member of Emo's drunken gang.

  15. Robert

    Robert is Auntie's husband, the father of Rocky. He is kind to Tayo and treats him as a son. He runs the family farm and sheep ranch, and Tayo works with him as he grows up and after he recovers from war stress.

  16. Rocky

    Rocky is a handsome and strong Laguna boy, the son of Auntie and Robert, and the cousin of Tayo. Tayo and Rocky are raised as brothers and enlist together in the war. Rocky is the leader, the one with promise, the favorite of Auntie. He rejects his Indian background, wanting to make it in the white world. He expects to be a war hero and return to a football scholarship at college. Instead, he is killed in the Philippines, and Tayo feels guilt that he was not the one killed instead of Rocky.

  17. Shush

    Shush is the boy who is Betonie's helper. He is raised by bears and brought back into the human world by a medicine man, but never completely human again.

  18. Tayo

    Tayo is the main character, a young war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome after World War II. He enlisted with his cousin Rocky in the marines and served in the Philippines, fighting the Japanese. Tayo was unable to kill the enemy and felt he was a coward. He feels guilt for surviving the war while the favorite at home, Rocky, was killed. Tayo is in and out of hospitals, unable to be cured of his mental stress, hallucinations, constant vomiting, and weakness. He goes home to the reservation but feels that he is a burden there to his family. He cannot function and ends up hanging out with the other war veterans who all became drunks. He is different from his friends, however, for though a half-breed, he respects the old Indian ways and has a strong moral character. He hates Emo's violence, and he understands that Emo was not a war hero but a victim of the white culture. After the war, the Indian veterans are not respected as true Americans. They do not belong and become self-destructive. Tayo alone survives because he surrenders to the wisdom of the medicine men who know the secrets of nature. Tayo goes through a ceremony in which he becomes a man, recovering the stolen cattle, and falling in love with the medicine woman, T’seh.

  19. T’seh

    T’seh is the medicine woman Tayo meets on Mt. Taylor who helps him get back his cattle. He falls in love with her and it is implied, they meet when they can. He respects her holy vocation, which means she wanders around healing people and the land with her knowledge of herbs and roots. She has a magic shawl with the pattern and colors of storm on it that bring rain and snow. When she spreads it out, the storm comes, and when she folds it up, the rain stops. She has a house on Mt. Taylor with a husband hunter, who, it is implied, is a mountain ka'tsina or mountain spirit. Like Yellow Woman she sleeps with him to bring deer to the people. The man is seen carrying deer. It is accepted by the hunter and by Tayo that she is beyond social boundaries and does what she likes. She is beautiful and kind and heals Tayo with her love. He lets her go where she will and does not try to own her. She also seems to be a half-breed, part Mexican, from the Montaño family, who live on the borders of respectable life. She teaches Tayo how she can live in the borderland, in the world of her medicine magic. She does ceremonies for him to keep him safe.

  20. Leroy Valdez

    Leroy Valdez is one of Emo's war buddies and one of the drunken crowd Tayo hangs out with. Leroy turns on Tayo to gain favor with Emo, but is killed by Emo.

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