Ceremony :Novel Summary: Pages 55-107

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Summary of pages 55-107

Tayo and his buddies get drunk at the local bar. Emo is the leader first cursing white men for leaving them a desert land of drought to live in, then bragging about sleeping with white women, but finally bragging about his war experiences and how the Indians were the best American soldiers because they knew how to kill. Emo produces his little bag in which he carries the teeth of a dead Japanese soldier. Tayo stays in the background of these scenes, getting drunk and going to the bathroom to throw up. Emo hates Tayo because he is part white. Tayo is used to being hated for being a half-breed.

This whole scene is a flashback to the time Tayo went crazy when he was drunk and tried to kill Emo with a broken beer bottle. He sees Emo as a killer who enjoys killing. He snaps when Emo makes a comment about his mother sleeping with white men. They take Emo away in an ambulance and Tayo in a police car.

Another flashback shows the time army recruiters approached the teenage boys, Rocky and Tayo, saying they could fight for America like other Americans. Rocky sees the picture of a man in uniform and asks if he could be a pilot. The recruiter lies and says yes. Then Rocky asks if he and his brother Tayo join up together, would they be able to stay together?  At home, Tayo suddenly remembers he made a promise to Josiah to let Rocky leave home to go to college, but he would stay to help with the farming and cattle. Josiah gives permission for both to go off to war, and then Tayo promises Auntie to bring back Rocky safely, for he knows if anyone is to get killed, it must be he.

A flashback to childhood shows the night that Tayo's mother left the four-year-old boy at her sister's house, leaving him for good. Her brother, Josiah, was the only one who was kind to him, taking the crying boy and telling him he would have a brother now, Rocky. Auntie was always cruel to him, making him feel excluded from the attention she gave her own son. Josiah, Rocky, Old Grandma and Robert accepted him. Later, as Rocky grew up he withdrew from his mother into the white world, and it was Tayo who understood her and stayed by her. They shared a secret about his mother. Auntie tells him the time she went to the river at dawn and saw his naked drunken mother, understanding that she had become a prostitute.

Uncle Josiah gets into the cattle business and Tayo had planned to work with Robert and Josiah after high school graduation. Josiah buys cattle that can survive in the desert drought from a Mexican. They let them wander free but brand them.

Tayo does not tell on Josiah when he goes secretly to see his Mexican girlfriend  at Lalo's bar. She had been a dancer, called the Night Swan, and she dances for Josiah. She tells him stories of how she performs ceremonies with her dancing. Auntie is angry that her brother brings shame to the family. Once Tayo has to take a note to the Night Swan that Josiah cannot come, and she seduces him.


A series of flashbacks from Tayo's point of view reveals his character, upbringing, and the attitude of the other Indians toward him.

Tayo believes when he is drunk and Emo is taunting him that he will get well if he kills Emo. He is temporarily insane because Tayo is the one who is nonviolent, sickened by the violence of the war and people like Emo. He feels confused with all these different emotions and inputs and does not know whom or what to trust. His reaction to Emo shows that anyone can kill under extreme stress. Though Emo and Tayo have always hated each other, it is worse after the war. Emo brings on his war trauma.

Tayo remembers when Rocky talked them both into signing up to be soldiers. He did not want to, but Rocky called him his brother, and that was the first time it had ever happened, for he had always been singled out as a child of shame, “Laura's boy.” 

Laura was an Indian woman, Auntie's and Josiah's sister, seduced as a young woman into the white world, proud she could attract men. From the fleeting images of her it is understood she became a drunken prostitute, bringing shame to her people. They feel her loss as a collective event. Auntie is not trying to hurt Tayo, it comes out. She tries to hold the shame for all the people, trying to atone with her fits of anger, and Tayo understands this.

This revelation of his mother's fall is associated with images from Indian lore and bits of poetry about the Indian goddesses, showing the mother in another light, other than that of a common prostitute. In Laguna myth, the culture heroine, Yellow Woman, sleeps with various men to bring gifts to the people. Yellow Woman is central to the author's storytelling and appears symbolically as Tayo's mother Laura and as the medicine woman later on, T'seh.

While Tayo works with Josiah to herd sheep and cattle. he teaches him Indian lore. Tayo is naturally attuned to prayer and ceremony, understanding instinctively how to see the land ceremonially, with all the creatures working together. The insects and animals tell whether it is going to rain. When he sees a hummingbird, he knows it is good luck, and the next day it rains. This incident of how the young Tayo is attuned to ceremony foreshadows the healing ceremony he will undergo. He knows how to read the land and creatures in the Indian ways.

The scene in which the Night Swan seduces the young Tayo happens during a rainstorm, suggesting she is some rain or fertility goddess. She talks to Tayo sympathetically about being misunderstood as a half-breed and tells him not to mind. She is called a witch but seems to be full of wisdom and foretells his experience with the medicine woman, T'seh.

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