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Contrasting notions of victimhood and perpetration in Leslie Marmon


Silkos Ceremony and Art Spiegelmans Maus: the psychological legacy of
Euro-American colonialism

Both Silko and Spiegelmans texts present victims of genocide remembering their peoples
destruction and viewing the perpetrators of that destruction. There are several contextual
differences to first acknowledge before viewing contrasting victim/perpetrator paradigms in
Ceremony and Maus to demonstrate the psychological legacy of modern-day Euro-American
colonialism.

The first difference is the narratives historical timeframes compared with when their
respective genocides occurred. Spiegelmans frame narrative and his fathers recount of his
Holocaust experience takes place in 1978 and 1979 and only 34 years after the event itself.
Silkos characters remember the Native American Holocaust that took place, militaristically
at least, centuries before they were born. Notions of victimhood and perpetration in Maus
(1991) originate from first-hand experience and surviving a militaristic genocide. Ceremonys
(1977) characters however recall a historical genocide and its victim/perpetrator paradigm
through a lense that, despite tribal attempts, has for centuries been conditioned by the
perpetrators.

Secondly, Vladek remembers and presents his Holocaust experience from a historical
context where it has ended. Spiegelman produces his text and victim/perpetrator paradigm
from an identical context. Silkos Native characters are however still colonised by the federal
government and their Euro-American worldview. The genocide continues not militaristically
but culturally. She produces her text and victim/perpetrator paradigm from a similar, and in
comparison to Spiegelman, less secure colonial, and crucially not post-colonial, context.

The final fundamental contextual difference is in the historical metanarratives
surrounding the genocides. This has two distinct aspects. Firstly, the global metanarrative of
the Jewish Holocaust recognises it as one of the worst, if not the worst, war crimes ever
committed and an example genocide at its most inhumane. The Native American Holocaust
however suffers from a lack of validation from the world community and its failure to offer
an escape route (Fogelson 66) as it continues. The dynamics of experience are similar in
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both Holocausts (Duran 62. Cook-Lynn 190/191) with the crucial exception that the world
has not acknowledged the Holocaust of native people within the North-Western
hemisphere (Fogelson 30). Secondly, the acceptance of responsibility for the genocide by
the perpetrators differs and is vital. The German state and, aside from a tiny minority, the
German people have widely and publically accepted German guilt for the Holocaust (Barkan
15). Since Adenauer, reparation has been viewed as a moral, legal and political
commitment despite the fact that the enormity of the ethical and moral crimes made a
comprehensive restitution impossible (Barkan 27). Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung (the
struggle to come to terms with the Nazi past) and Wiedergutmachung (literally the making
of good again but meaning reparations for the Holocaust) are creative compound nouns
revealing that the active process of accepting responsibility permeates even the peoples
language. The American government and people have neither admitted nor recognised the
unexamined crimes at the core of a great nation developed since 1776 on the provocative
principles of capitalist democracy (Cook-Lynn 187) as criminal (Cook-Lynn 52, 93, 94, 194.
Silko 76). This difference is clearest in the countries capitals. Washingtons main monument
commemorates the federal governments first president, that governments establishment
and by extension the genocide that it required. Berlins equivalent is The Monument to the
murdered Jews of Europe. By erecting the visibly striking monument in its centre, the
German state publically accepts its role as perpetrator and literally sets its guilt in stone.
This affords Spiegelman a perpetrator/victim paradigm that is, ideologically speaking,
officially unavailable to Silko.

A brief history of Native American injustices should substantiate the claim that
Native Americans are victims of various forms of genocide. Genocidal violence by European
settlers is well documented from first contact to the closing of the frontier and Wounded
Knee Massacre in 1890. The concept of reservations gained popularity after 1790 (Janke
157) and led to the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and forceful relocations westwards in The
Trail of Tears. What followed can only be described as governmental administrative policy
implemented to systematically eradicate Native American culture and consequently the
Native American. The General Allotment Act of 1887 assimilated Indians by means of
individualising them and destroying their collective tribal identity (Janke 158. Porter 53). 86
million acres of Indian land was lost over the next forty seven years (Janke 159) as a tribal
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cosmology considering land to be used by all and owned by nobody (Fogelson 48) was
replaced. Reservations where Indians could be confined, controlled, civilized, and
Christianized (Fogelson 50) were never adequate for economic and cultural survival (Porter
52). Three quarters of tribally owned land is hot desert (Janke 159, 160) and classified as
arid or semi-arid (Janke 161). Indian Boarding schools formed part of a pattern of erosion
of Indian family life (Porter 50). The forced Euro-American assimilation of children aimed to
eradicate Native American culture internally as future generations would be unwilling, if not
unable, to preserve it. The Indian Reorganisation Act of 1934 marginally empowered Native
Americans but between 1945 and 1950, federal policy was in a period of transition from the
old policy of Indian self-determination to the new policy of termination (Ronald 165). House
Concurrent Resolution 108 saw criminal and civil law override tribal law (Ronald 165). The
post-war Native American population movements from reservations to urban areas (Ronald
165) proved traumatically disastrous (Janke 167) and between 1952 and 1962, sixty-one
tribes, groups, bands, and communities were stripped of federal services and protection
(Porter 57). The government denying responsibility for Native American issues continued
under Reagenomics. Spending on both Native health care services and funding for Indian
higher education were halved and the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget suffered an $80
million dollar cut (Janke 156). This policy pushed tribes towards relationships with multi-
national corporations seeking to extract resources from reservation lands (Porter 61).
American policy towards Native Americans has moved from the absence of programs for
changing Indian culture to a program of replacement (Janke 170) as their cosmology is seen
as incompatible and largely valueless within a Euro-American free market economic
structure.

I therefore view Ceremony as a colonial text with its Native Americans continuing to
exist under and in opposition to a colonial power and its conditions of politically sustained
subalternity (Krupat 73). Ceremony focuses on the Laguna Pueblo and despite the colossal
variations between tribes, their individual histories, cultures and interactions with
Europeans, this essays focus is relevant to most modern Native Americans regardless of
geographical location and tribal background.

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Firstly, Silkos characters present notions of victimhood and perpetration that
contrast Spiegelmans. They appropriate perpetration, responsibility and guilt for their
genocide to themselves as Natives and to their Native cosmology and indicate the
psychological impact of their successful colonisation in accordance with Duran and Duran.
Maus features less prominently because it is a text that despite framing its narrative in the
United States largely concerns a historical event featuring Europeans and taking place in
Europe. It initiates to present a clear yet problematic victim/perpetrator paradigm and
demonstrate the contrasting psychological clarity that comes with a post-genocidal
historical metanarrative of absolute victimhood and perpetration. What further complicates
Native American notions of victimhood and perpetration then is that European settlers
were, unlike the Third Reich, incredibly and unwaveringly successful in their imperialistic
takeover. They are thus unrecognised as colonisers and criminals.

Secondly, the invading force remains and reminders of total colonial subjugation are
constant through visual reminders of how Europeans use the novels natural environment.
This conflicting use of space furthers psychological complications as Native American
cosmology is constantly undermined and proven to be incompatible with the Euro-American
culture that dominates it.

Third and finally, Silko attempts to reclaim tribal identity within a colonial and post-
tribal context through her texts overarching form, chronology, and structure. Ceremonys
hybridity of Native American and European literary traditions replicates the colonial
experience for the benefit and understanding of readers outside of it. They must culturally
assimilate themselves to understand the text and complete Silkos ceremony. Rather than
acknowledge a victim/perpetrator paradigm based on Native/European binary opposition,
Silko, her text and her characters rely on and adopt aspects of European culture. The reason
for this is that under the post-tribal context of 20
th
century Euro-American colonialism and
with the available historical metanarrative, there is no other choice.

Art Spiegelman presents his fathers memory of his Holocaust experience as well as
his own memory of textual construction in Maus through strikingly visual and iconic,
colourless imagery. The focus here is how Spiegelman the author and not the character
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portrays Germans and Jews to reflect notions of victimhood and perpetration from a Jewish
perspective.

All characters in Maus are visually anthropomorphised. Germans are cats and Jews
are mice. Spiegelmans victim/perpetrator paradigm is straightforward. He invokes an iconic
and natural predator and prey relationship that is well known even amongst children. It
characterises Germans as active, predators and perpetrators and Jews as passive, prey and
victims. It is unambiguously emphatic and, whether disregarding or using historical context,
creates predisposed sympathy and opposition within the reader. It creates an explicit and
absolute victim/perpetrator paradigm between Jews and Germans that is easily available to
Spiegelman because of the Holocausts historical metanarrative. This contrasts Silkos in its
simplicity and Manichean and binary nature.

Allocating victim status to Jews who died in or survived the Holocaust is undebatable
and it is with Mauss portrayal of Germans that problems arise. Spiegelman presents victim
and perpetrator as fundamentally dissimilar and, more importantly, two homogenous
groups. This is so important when focusing on perpetrator status, and therefore
responsibility and guilt, because the German people are without exception and regardless of
their role in the Holocausts orchestration all cats. In its homogenous totality, the symbolism
attaches an equal degree of predatoriness, perpetrator status and responsibility and guilt
for the Holocaust regardless of situational circumstance.

As Vladek stumbles upon a garage (Spiegelman 269) he meets a non-uniformed
civilian, perhaps the owner, who is portrayed as a cat. Shortly after he encounters a non-
uniformed woman, also represented by a cat (Spiegelman 273). Female civilians then are
given the exact same perpetrator status as the Auschwitz guards, the Wehrmacht and the
SS. Whether these civilians are direct or indirect perpetrators of genocide through either
collaboration or compliancy with a genocidal regime is irrelevant here. What is vital is that
no differentiation in the nature or extent of their perpetration and that of Germans directly
involved in the extermination process is made. Homogenously allocating guilt and
responsibility to an entire nation regardless of individual participation and circumstance
seems at best careless and at worst deceptive. Spiegelmans victim/perpetrator paradigm
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ignores masses of discourse surrounding civilians and the allocation of responsibility, the
degree to which individual guilt differed amongst Germans, forced participation and the
relationship between responsibility and autonomy under the Nazi state. It is an absolutely
unhelpful and inaccurate way in which view the relationship between every German and
every Jew during the Holocaust. With his masks (138-157), Spiegelman has a device that
would allow him to implicate individuality and role performing within homogenous groups.
It therefore appears either deliberate or careless to characterise all Germans as absolute
perpetrators without differentiation and simply because they are German. The German
housewife should not be viewed as equally responsible for the Holocaust as the SS soldier or
Kommandant.

Spiegelmans victim/perpetrator paradigm then reveals in its flawed simplicity how
available an absolute historical metanarrative is to victims of this particular genocide. It can
be argued that Spiegelman simply portrays Germans and Jews according to his fathers
stereotypes. He nonetheless has a responsibility to clarify this or present history and the
individuals acting within it accurately. He uses the historical metanarrative available to
create a paradigm where Germans hold perpetrator status not based on their actions and
circumstance but their German nationality. Maus perpetuates the inaccurate and damaging
stereotype that Germans and Germanism and Nazis and Nazism are synonymous. As a
graphic novel this is incredibly problematic. The form is highly accessible and more likely
than others to be read by children and viewed as an objective representation of the
Holocausts perpetrators.

Mauss, Vladeks and Spiegelmans notions of victimhood and perpetration are
directly contrasted in Ceremony. Silkos characters homogenously impose genocidal
responsibility, guilt and perpetrator status on themselves rather than the perpetrators. The
text operates under a context where the perpetrator of its respective genocide is victorious
rather than defeated, internationally supported rather than detested and continues to
impose its imperialism. What results is a completely different type of victim/perpetrator
paradigm that is more accurate than Spiegelmans in its psychologically complexity.

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In criticising and providing alternatives to therapy based on Western European
psychological healing practices, Duran and Duran in Native American Postcolonial
Psychology (1995) highlight psychological results of the colonisation process.
Ceremonys characters reflections on Native Americans and Native culture and Europeans
and Euro-American culture emanate internalized oppression. Unlike Spiegelmans
dissimilarity between two homogenous groups, they express a desire to emulate the
perpetrators and their culture. Duran and Duran state that, following a continuous
genocidal assault and its success, with the complete loss of power comes despair, and the
psyche reacts by internalizing what appears to be genuine power the power of the
oppressor (Duran 29). Self-worth also sinks to a level of despair tantamount to self-hatred.
(Duran 29). Native Americans then adopt facets of Euro-American culture and aggressively
reject tribal culture and cosmology. This blurs the distinctions between perpetrator and
victim from victims perspective.
This colonial despair sees Rocky emulate the Euro-American to harness his power in
displays of self-hatred. Academically successful and athletically talented, he is told that only
the Natives on the reservation will limit his success (Silko 47). Auntie sees his and her own
success bound to him being what white people wanted in an Indian (Silko 47). The
consequences of forced acculturation and the constant pressure to assimilate to the
lifeworld of the perpetrators of the Holocaust (Duran 32) resonate through his
embarrassment at Indian hunting rituals (Silko 47) and advocation of scientific objectivism at
the expense of tribal custom (Silko 48). His scientifically logical concern for biological
contamination of meat overpowers the century long traditions of the tribal preparation
process. Adopting a scientifically objective and post-Enlightenment European world view
over tribal cosmology extends to cattle rearing. He scorns at Tayo and Roberts amusement
at potentially contributing to the official body of knowledge surrounding cattle rearing from
an Indian perspective and praises science as omniscient (Silko 69). For Rocky, ignorance is
the trouble with the way people around here (the reservation) have always done things
they never knew what they were doing (Silko 69/70). Rockys self-hatred manifests itself in
the aggressive rejection of Native cosmology and adoption of a Euro-American worldview as
he emulates the perpetrators of forced acculturation and genocide.
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Emo also rejects Native cosmology when considering the reservations drought and
mocking the Native American creatrix as an old dried-up thing! ( Silko 23). Thing here is
vital. Emo objectifies the natural world. He therefore adopts the Euro-American view of the
natural world as inanimate rather than an animate organism intertwined with the existence
of man (Duran 15, 17, 33). He effectively kills the Creatrix, demeans Native cosmology and
adopts the dominant Euro-American culture in an act of self-hatred.
Self-hatred is externalised by Emo and Leroy as they torture Harley. Duran states
that Native on Native violence often serves a dual purpose (29). It achieves momentary
catharsis for an attacker whilst they simultaneously destroy a part of themselves that
reminds them of their helplessness and lack of hope within the colonial context (29). In
essence, the individual attacks his or her own projection in a person close by (29) without
realising that he/she would really like to vent this rage on the oppressor. (29). Emo
attempts to goad his original target by calling Tayo a white son of a bitch (Silko 234). He
does so whilst torturing Harley and reminding him of his Nativism through forced alcohol
consumption (Silko 234). He utilises the drunken Indian stereotype whilst reflecting how
problems plaguing the Native community have become part of the Native American
heritage (Duran 35) and also reveals the externalised self-hatred behind the aggression. He
attacks Harley whilst reminding him of his Nativism in order to attack Tayo for his Euro-
American hybridity.
Forced cultural assimilation here has created perspectives associating success with
the Euro-American and his world view and irrelevance and failure with Nativism. This self-
hatred blurs the lines between victim and perpetrator from the characters perspectives as
they internalise the oppression of the coloniser because of his omnipotence. Mauss notions
of victimhood and perpetration are contrastingly clear concepts that are attributed to
groups homogenously in accordance with a concretely Manichean historical metanarrative.
Certain Natives in Ceremony are unable to view themselves, other Natives and Nativism in
terms of absolute victimhood and Euro-Americans as responsible for their peoples
genocide. This is because the genocide was and is seen as inevitable and unstoppable and is
therefore unacknowledged. Spiegelmans paradigm is simple because the way in which his
genocidal victims and perpetrators are viewed and view each other is fairly uncontested.
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Such a Manichean paradigm is unavailable both to Silko and her characters who experience
a colonial and imperialistic process that remains unacknowledged as one.
This lack of recognition leads to Native American inability to construct a
victim/perpetrator paradigm and is juxtaposed against constant visual reminders of
colonialism that manifest themselves in Euro-American use of the natural world and
reservation land. Such use is a continuous visual reminder that Americas dominant culture
acts ideologically and spiritually in opposition to Native cosmology and, in its unwavering
presence, that this tension cannot be challenged.
The world existing for the purpose of human domination and exploitation the core
of most Western ideology is a notion that is absent in most Native American thinking
(Duran 15) and results in the Soul Wound (Duran 24) or the spiritual damage caused to
Native Americans through the colonisation process. Judeo-Christian belief systems include
notions of the Creator putting humans in charge of all creations (Duran 17). This creates a
narcissistic worldview that decreates and destroys much of what is known as culture within
Native cosmology (Duran 17).
Josiah telling a young Tayo this is where we come from, see. This sand, this stone,
these trees, the vines, all the wildflowers (Silko 42) reflects Native comsologys
interconnectedness between man and nature and reflects how reservation land is the site
of origination in narratives of ethnogenesis (Fogelson 48). Character descriptions based on
natural imagery function similarly to connect man and nature. Tayos belly was smooth and
soft, following the contours of the hills and holding the silence of the snow (Silko 191) and
Betonies cheekbones were like the wings of a hawk soaring away from his broad nose
(Silko 109).
As Tayo penetrates Night Swan, he feels how the warmth closed around him like river sand,
softly giving way under foot, then closing firmly around the ankle in cloudy warm water
(Silko 168). This sensually natural simile indicates Native American psychology towards the
natural world. Tayos sexual encounter with the ambiguous Night Swan who resembles the
Earth Mother connects the creative processes of humans and nature. Intercourse is as
fundamentally necessary for the creation of human life as water, along with sunlight, is for
new life in nature. The two processes are interconnected throughout Ceremony as the
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Laguna Pueblo will ultimately become extinct and unable to retain their culture if the
drought continues. This spiritual rather than sexual encounter then reminds the reader of
tribal holism by relating human and natural life and death.
Silko provides Tayo with a narrative perspective that is incredibly connected to the
functioning of natural life forces. Tayo observes how a spider drank from the edge of the
pool, careful to keep the delicate eggs sacs on her abdomen out of the water (Silko 87) and
shiny black water beetles pushed across the bottom of the pool, leaving trails of tiny air
bubbles twisting to the surface (Silko 206). Tayos perspective is hyper-observant of natural
life and its functions. He not only recognises the presence of miniscule life but also its
microscopic processes at an imperceptible level. He must therefore sense rather than
observe what is happening underwater on the pools bottom and the specific cautions of
the spider. He shares a consciousness with the natural world.
The difference between the Euro-American and Native view on mans relationship
and interconnectedness with nature is exemplified with the mountain lion. Tayo respects
the mountain lion and performs a ritualistic offering as he laces its footprints with yellow
pollen (Silko 182). The white hunters hunt the lion (Silko 188), probably for its fur or status
as a trophy because they comment on its size. It is non-coincidently the footprints that the
hunters notice and that lead to their decision to hunt. Silko then presents an obvious
cultural contrast as Tayo and the white hunters react absolutely antithetically to the same
stimulus. Tayo offers something symbolically to the mountain lion and pragmatically to the
natural world through the eventual distribution of pollen. He reaffirms the connections and
symbiosis between himself, the animal and the pollen and its germination process. The
hunters however simply take and alter the natural world with no regard for contribution or
sustainability.
Through this ideological difference, the Euro-American physical imposition on the
land equates to a psychological imposition on Native Americans (Duran 25) and constant
visual reminder of their colonised status. Tayo admits how Native Americans had seen the
cities, the tall buildings, the house and the lights, the power of their weapons and machines.
They were never the same after that: they had seen what the white people had made from
the stolen land (Silko 156) and now every day they had to look at the land, from horizon to
horizon, and every day the loss was with them; it was the dead unburied, and the mourning
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of the lost going on forever (Silko 157). Gallups railroad functions similarly as its sight
forces Betonie to recall that when the railroaders came and the white people began to
build their town, the Navajos had to move (Silko 108). Land ownership is a direct reminder
of colonisation. Floyd Lees fence, erected to lock the mountain in steel wire, to make the
land his (Silko 174) is as ideologically restrictive and imposing as it is physically. Tayo cuts
into the wire as if cutting away at the lie inside himself. The liars had fooled everyone,
white people and Indians alike; as long as people believed the lies, they would never be able
to see what had been done to them or what they were doing to each other (Silko 177). The
physical barrier is a reminder of the Euro-American colonialism dominating the landscape
and Native psychology. Tayo recognises colonial internalisation and the culturally dominant
view or lie of how to interact with the nature and rejects them both in cutting the wire. An
artificial spacial boundary then permanently reminds how Euro-American culture dominates
and undermines Native cosmology. The legitimacy of this dominance and the genocide it
required and still requires is the lie that Tayo challenges.
The Jack-pile site best represents the tension Euro-American colonial presence
creates with Native American cosmology. Tayo traces the connections between the siting of
Trinity atomic test site on colonised Native lands and the vast human costs of the bombs
exploded at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Tillett 61) and the governments occupation when
extracting uranium (Silko 226). Grandmothers reaction to the tests however presents
greater tension. The light resulting from the release of atomic energy was so big, so bright
even my (her) clouded-up eyes could see it (Silko 227). She thought she was seeing the sun
rise again (Silko 227). Silko aligns sunrise and the unnaturalness of atomic energy as the
ultimate expression of deliberate unbalancing of natural forces (atomic energy is released
when the nucleus of a heavy atom is split not a naturally occurring phenomenon on earth)
(Rainwater 132). She juxtaposes the utterly destructive, Frankenstein-esque perversion of
nature with the natural worlds regular function that provides life, rather than death, to its
organisms. Sunrise is vital in Ceremony and Laguna Pueblo culture. The word opens and
closes the texts orally poetic frame and forces the reader to recognise and in completing
the text pay homage to Native American storytelling. By comparing and replacing natural
sunrise with the release of atomic energy, Silko makes abundantly clear the contrast in how
the Laguna Pueblo and the federal government use and view natural resources and the
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sacredness of natures energetic processes. The flash and the Jackpile mines sight causing
Tayo to trace the connections reflects how Euro-American use of space in the novel is not
only antithetical to Native American cosmology but culturally destructive in what it
symbolises. It acts as a psychological attack based on ideological incompatibility to remind
Native Americans of their helplessness and their colonisers omnipotence.
Ceremony then is rich in examples of the difference and resulting tension between
how Euro-American culture and Native cosmology view the natural world through Euro and
Native Americans use of the novels space. This difference is visible to Native Americans
through physical changes to the land in numerous forms that, in their constant and
unchallenged presence, remind Natives that they are colonial subjects to a coloniser and his
antithetical world view that cannot be challenged. This ultimately leads to a greater sense of
hopelessness and self-hatred as Native American cosmology is undermined as valueless. The
desire to emulate the Euro-American and rejection of Native cosmology increases as a
result. The colonisation of externally natural space then results in the colonisation of
internally psychological space and makes creating a clear victim/perpetrator paradigm even
more difficult. Natives fail to see their culture as having value in the country they live in and
fail to see themselves as victims of genocide. Mauss victim/perpetrator paradigm is simpler
because Vladek reflects on his Holocaust experience from within a space that is not visually
shaped according the antithetical values of his genocides perpetrators. Indeed, it can be
argued that Americanism and Nazism are seen by Vladek as Spiegelman as as polar as Jews
and Germans in Americans representation as dogs (Spiegelman 272). Natives see their
continuing subjugation in a use of the natural world that contradicts and undermines their
cosmology. This forces them to reject their tribal identity because it has no place in a society
shaped by the Euro-American coloniser and makes constructing an accurate
victim/perpetrator paradigm impossible.
Unlike Maus, Ceremony suggests a Manichean victim/perpetrator paradigm based
on Euro-Americanness and Nativism is impossible. Instead Silko forces her reader to
understand the psychological legacy of Euro-American colonialism by imposing Native
cosmology on readers familiar with European literary tradition to mimic colonialism. She
creates and legitimises cultural hybridity to present Native American cosmology as
meaningful within the dominant Euro-American society.
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Her and her characters position is what Giorgio Mariani terms post-tribal. She is
able to acknowledge that the cultural universe of their (her) ancestors has only imperfectly
survived (Mariani 2) and indicates the advent of a neo-colonial power whose existence has
affected and will inevitably continue to affect, the destinies of what once was an
independent Native American tribalism (Mariani 16). The effort to retain a pre-capitalist,
non-individualistic, communally-orientated culture has been dealt a severe blow by the
encounter with the dominant society, and no longer holds (Mariani 17). She mimics the
colonial process by imposing a Native cosmological view on her reader who then recognises
that it can still generate meaning and value. This process is Silkos real ceremony and is
achieved by nativising chronology, form and structure.
Ceremonys chronology is based on a temporality that is not, as with Euro-American
concepts, strictly linear (Tillet 58). Silkos novel regularly flits between the pre- and post-
war periods, the war itself, Tayos childhood and the mythically ancient chronological
setting of the analogous stories. Transitions are often unmarked in terms of chronological
setting and are thus chronologically ambiguous. Silko utilises that Western thought
conceptualizes history in a linear temporal sequence, whereas most Native American
thinking conceptualizes history in a spatial pattern (Duran 14) to create a sense of unease
within her reader who cannot deduce when the passage they are reading takes place.
Where, rather than when, events take place is important. Ceremonys unlinear
understanding of time also speaks not just to a history of the past but to a consciousness
that is ongoing (Porter 42). As with the Native American view on nature, holism connects
different points and people in the past with those in the present. Chronological ambiguity
heightens this interconnectedness. It contrasts Euro-American notions of time and mimics
the colonial process within the reader who feels anxiously unacquainted with an opposing
world view that is forced upon them through the texts chronology.
A reader unfamiliar with Native cosmology must culturally assimilate themselves to
fully understand the novel. Silko taps into what Taylor calls the Eurocentric strategy for
possessing what cannot be understood if not mastered, and not mastered as long as it is not
understood (25) to force the reader to view the text through a Native lense to understand
and complete or conquer it. Ceremony has no chapters but a series of natural breaks
that emulate the pauses of oral storytelling (Tillett 58). Absent chapters reaffirm holistic
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interconnectedness in the avoidance of the traditional method of dividing narrative into
clear and individual sections. Silkos visually-clear chapterlessness and lack of chronological
clarity creates a chronologically and geographically confusing (Nelson 249) narrative that
forces readers to confront an overpowering and dissimilar world view.
The defining form and structure of English prose interspersed with Native poetic
narrative however is more indicative of Native interconnectedness and Silkos attempt to
mimic the colonial processs. The novel opens and closes with poetry from the Laguna
Pueblo oral tradition. Native poetry framing a European invention antithetical to a tribal
vision of the world (Mariani 2) in the novel reflects its overarching importance in
understanding the story. Tribal poetry breaks up prose and the transitions in form are clear.
Stanzas replace prose and Silkos characters and plot are analogised with stories and
characters from tribal cosmology. It is the readers task to create meaning from the mythical
stories to find comparisons between Ceremony and tribal myth to explain why events
happen the way that they do and what they mean. Understanding that Tayo and the other
characters rejection of the legitimacy of Native cosmology and the fascination with Kygo
magic in the story parallel one another is vital to understand the drought and Tayos loss of
tribal identity. That understanding the tribal poetry is vital in making sense of the text
legitimises tribal cosmology in a 20
th
century Euro-American context. Tayo and the reader
must realise the value still carried in Native myth. This is Silkos ceremony. Tayo embraces
his tribal identity and avoids witchcraft whereas the reader accepts the meaning in the
mythic poetry and applies it to the historically real narrative. Just as Tayo is assisted by
Kuoosh and Betonie, so is the reader assisted by the text (Rainwater 131). Ceremony seems
to have a European and a tribal narrative, and it is Silkos requirement of the reader to blur
the lines between both to legitimise Native cosmology. And from her post-tribal position,
legitimisation is all Silko can do. Simply through its ability to generate meaning, Native
cosmology becomes meaningful and of value within the 20
th
century Euro-American colonial
context. In the texts hybridity, Silko recognises that Native superiority is an irrelevant
concept against the omnipotence of the Euro-American world view. The semiotics of the
hybridity reflect Silkos call for the necessity of assimilation between both the Euro-
American worldview and Native world view. That Silko realises the necessity for assimilation
reflects the difficulty with which Native Americans create victim/perpetrator paradigms. She
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rejects the notion of a Euro-American/Native perpetrator/victim paradigm because the
psychological legacy of 20
th
century Euro-American colonialism would make it pointless to
do so.
Nothing is that simple, he said, you dont write off all the white people, just like
you dont trust all the Indians (Silko 118). Betonies advice to Tayo exemplifies the
contrast between how Silko and Spiegelman choose to present homogenous notions of
genocidal victimhood and perpetration. As a result of differing authorial context and
historical metanarrative, Silko and her characters ability to form binary oppositions
between themselves and their genocidal perpetrators is hugely more complex than in Maus.
The psychological legacy of 20
th
century Euro-American colonialism differs from that of the
European Holocaust because imperialistic subjugation continues under the guise of America
as the great democratizer, the great assimilator, all-knowing and all-powerful, organizer of
the world (Cook-Lynn 154). Silko must embrace the world view of the genocidal
perpetrator. Spiegelman must not. As a result, Ceremonys notions of victimhood and
perpetration cannot be binary because of lacking psychological clarity.











16 Connor Neilson


Works cited
Primary texts
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2006. Print.

Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2003. Print.

Secondary literature
Barkan, Elazar. The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices.
Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001. Print.
Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. Anti-Indianism in Modern America: A Voice from Tatekeyas Earth.
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007. Print.
Duran, Bonnie and Eduardo Duran. Native American Postcolonial Psychology. Albany: State
University of New York Press, 1995. Print.

Fogelson, Raymond D.. Perspectives on Native American Identity. Studying Native America:
Problems and Prospects. Ed. Russell Thornton. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press,
1998. 40-59. Print.
Janke, Ronald A.. Population, Reservations, and Federal Indian Policy. Handbook of Native
American Literature. Ed. Andrew Wiget. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996. 155-173.
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Krupat, Arnold. Postcolonialism, Ideology, and Native American Literature. Post-colonial
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Mariani, Giorgio. Post-Tribal Epics The Native American Novel Between Tradition and
Modernity: Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd., 1996. Print.
17 Connor Neilson

Porter, Joy. Historical and cultural contexts to Native American Literature. The Cambridge
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Tillett, Rebecca. Contemporary Native American Literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
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18 Connor Neilson

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22 Connor Neilson