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Use of Medicine in Ceremony

To understand the use of medicine to cure illness in Leslie Marmon Silko's 1977 novel Ceremony, medicine must be regarded within a cultural context. Traditional Western medicine is based on the belief that illness is organically determined, relying mainly on drugs and antibiotics for cures. Other cultures, such as the American Indian culture portrayed in Ceremony, tend to believe that all aspects of the self, including the emotions and spirit, need to be considered in treating illness. In Silko's novel, the two differing views of medicine result in a cultural clash that impacts the character of Tayo. Part of the clash is based on the ramifications of the American colonization of Native Americans. The Indian approach to illness differs from that of western medicine in that most illnesses are thought to have a spiritual origin and therefore can only be cured by contact with the spiritual world through the intervention of a holy man, a medicine man or shaman.

Tayo suffers from the effects of malaria and what later came to be termed Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).His condition is both medical and psychiatric. The Army medics "called it battle fatigue and they said hallucinations were common with malarial fever" (8). While the malaria and PTSD are contracted when he was a soldier in World War II, his depression and physical symptoms such as vomiting and hallucinations are also rooted in the conditions of his earlier life, and his designated place as a "half-breed"-- half Indian, half white/Mexican in American society. This designation place holds true for Tayo's adult life as well. The white schools Tayo was forced to attend, the Army, the doctors and the VA Hospital, all try to convince Tayo that the Native American traditions are incorrect. The white Army doctors advise Tayo to use only western medicine: "No Indian medicine" (34). In effect, the Army doctor is telling Tayo to reject his native pueblo culture; the insinuation i...

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Use of Medicine in Ceremony. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:06, August 15, 2020, from