Personal and Cultural Identities in “Ceremony” by Silko


Self-consciousness, as a significant part of personal identity, largely determines not only the views on certain concepts but also the ability to adapt to society within the framework of specific living conditions. Those communicative, religious, and other beliefs that a person follows are the background for the perception of reality. In the context of studying the cultural aspects of people’s interaction, it is essential to identify how the individual characteristics of consciousness are related to the living environment. As a basis for evaluation, the work Ceremony by Silko will be used to provide the possible manifestations of the cultural implications of beliefs and convictions that influence personal identity. Also, additional academic resources will be involved to prove particular hypotheses and assumptions. Personal and cultural identities are closely related concepts because the formation of a harmonious and holistic personality is the outcome of those influences that are typical for certain living conditions.

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Pursuit of Personal Identity

When analyzing the primary source by Silko on the issue of personal identity, one can give specific examples confirming the relevance of this phenomenon. For instance, the author notes the main character, Tayo, doubts whether white people would allow him as a member of a mixed Native American race to take the train (Silko 61). Such reflections indicate that Tayo unknowingly identifies himself as a member of another circle of society, and his minority has distinctive laws and the principles of interaction. These observations may be traced throughout the novel as the reasoning of the character. At the same time, the man is deeply puzzled by this issue and, in particular, his mixed origin. As Silko notes, Tayo’s relationships with some characters, such as Emo, are strained because of this factor (30). The man’s attempts to get to know his essence by evaluating the existing cultural background is one of the tools for self-analysis (30). As a result, the assumptions about self-identity intersect with the fundamental features of the environment in which the main character grew up and was raised.

Such a desire for self-knowledge is a natural stage of personal development. Moreover, since Tayo experienced the harsh events of hostilities that he recalls periodically, his worldview changed. Avila argues that “the healing power of sacrifice” is one of the tools to achieve satisfaction due to the sense of importance that a person receives while benefiting society (54). Tayo, as a character with deep feelings, moves to reason on this topic, but his thoughts are usually interrupted by doubts caused by beliefs that were laid in deep childhood. In particular, his anxieties about witchcraft and harm to the world around him reflect his essence as a person convinced of the correctness and integrity of those truths that he learned long ago. He has his own interpretation of the behavior of “the witchery people” who are not able to grow or improve anything (Silko 64). As a result, Tayo’s cultural background has a significant impact on the personal development of the character and his beliefs.

Relationship of Culture and Personality

The story of the novel by Silko cites those problems that are relevant in modern society and often become the subject of controversy on the topic of cultural differences, in particular, racial inequality. According to Concannon, in the complicated conditions of tribal development, the indigenous peoples of North America are forced to adapt to the new conditions of life, which largely contradict their basic ideas about morality, friendship, and other phenomena (183). However, judging by the events described in the Ceremony, even under such conditions, the main character, as a representative of a cultural minority, demonstrates adherence to his own and independent discourses on religion, the purity of soul, and independence (Silko 41). Such an approach proves that persistent beliefs formed as a result of cultural development have a significant impact on lifestyle and behavior, thereby creating a characteristic image of a personality.

In everyday life, the specific characteristics of one’s culture are perceived as a given. Nevertheless, they become noticeable and obvious when meeting with representatives of other backgrounds. A person begins to realize that there are other forms of experiences, behaviors, and ways of thinking that are different from usual ones. A different understanding of good and evil, justice and freedom, and other phenomena may lead to distinctive and unconscious reactions to the same events among the representatives of different cultures. Not only individual-specific programs of action can be unconscious, but also basic meanings and values ​​expressed by the system of world outlook universals. As a person with a deep spiritual organization, Tayo understands that it is necessary not to oppose but look for something in common, which unites the cultures of different nations (Silko 126). These cultural characteristics are spiritual, moral, ideological values, language, and behavioral patterns. They are the central components of any individual’s cultural identity.

Impact of External Factors

Despite the fact that cultural background is a significant aspect affecting the personal identity, some external factors can also influence the perception of the world. Silko gives an example of Tayo talking to his friends, Leroy and Harley, who help him to distract from complex thoughts and forget about the difference of origin (124). An opportunity to spend time in a certain communicative circle may have a special impact if people are united by a common goal to which they aspire. Accordingly, the role of friends and acquaintances is important in the formation of personal identity.

The despair that arises as a result of disappointment in the surrounding reality may be the result of established views. However, certain circumstances, such as the encounter of Tayo with the mountain spirit, can change individual representations, and the character understands that “by losing himself he is able to become whole” (Avila 54). Situations and events that encourage people to take certain actions may shape new priorities due to acquired experience. Thus, personal identity is not a constant variable since various factors, including both cultural background and communicative situations, can influence certain attitudes and beliefs.

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The concepts of personal and cultural identity are closely related, and on the example of the novel by Silko, one can see how strongly the views inherent in childhood affect certain life circumstances. Additional external factors, such as events or acquaintances, can also play a role in forming priorities and an outlook on life. Rethinking values ​​under the influence of the environment is a natural phenomenon because life in society imposes certain obligations and responsibilities. Further research on this topic may concern the analysis of specific human behavioral patterns, for instance, aggression, apathy, or fun, on the perception of reality.

Works Cited

Avila, Monica. “Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony: Witchery and Sacrifice of Self.” The Explicator, vol. 67, no. 1, 2008, pp. 53-55.

Concannon, Kevin. “Deer-Hoof Clackers and Coke Bottles: The Construction of the Postcolonial Nation in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.” Ariel, vol. 35, no. 3-4, 2004, pp. 183-201.

Silko, Leslie M. Ceremony. Penguin Books, 1986.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Personal and Cultural Identities in “Ceremony” by Silko'. 10 September.

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