Silko once explained the Pueblo linguistic theory to an audience (found in Yello Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit) and that theory explains the narrative technique of her novel.
“For those of you accustomed to being taken from point A to point B to point C, this presentation may be somewhat difficult to follow. Pueblo expression resembles something like a spider’s web-with many little threads radiating from the center, crisscrossing one another. As with the web, the structure emerges as it is made, and you must simply listen and trust, as the Pueblo people do, that meaning will be made.”
Not knowing the above theory, critics have lauded Ceremony’s non-chronological narrative. Silko’s purpose in using this technique for her story is to mimic, once again, the zig-zag pattern of the corn dance as well as to stay true to ThoughtWoman. That is, the whole of the novel is a ceremony that the reader performs with every new reading. It is intended to blur the distinction between real time and story time in such a way that the reader is better able to empathize with the perspective of a traditional Pueblo like Grandma: “It seems like I already heard these stories before … only thing is, the names sound different.”
Additionally, the narrative is told in third person mixed with traditional narrative. The stories of Thought-Woman, the Gambler, and the witches provide context for the saga of Tayo within the larger context of the Pueblo story. The Pueblos see themselves as their language, as a story. “I will tell you something about stories! … ! They aren’t just entertainment.! Don’t be fooled.! They are all we have … ! all we have to fight off! illness and death. As such, there are no boundaries between the present ceremony Tayo performs and the whole ceremony the people perform to stay in balance with their belief system. “You don’t have anything/if you don’t have the stories.”
Along with praise for her narrative technique, Silko is applauded for her close observation of human behavior. She remains true to life without idealizing her characters or setting. Her story is set in the depressed Laguna Reservation where, she says in passing, the orchards have been ruined by uranium runoff, drought is ruining crops, the Herefords are dying, and the young men are drunk. She pulls no punches in describing Gallup and she makes no effort to idealize her characters.
So a realistic picture is painted of society on the reservation after World War II. However, in doing so, she does not make the people out to be pathetic-Robert, Ku’oosh, Auntie, and Josiah are all respectable people. Nor does she make them into incredible heroes.
Silko’s characters are struggling to negotiate the best route of survival in a world that they perceive as being dominated by destructive forces. Finally, as a result of their trials and tribulations, these people have a wisdom they would like to share with the white world if the white world would just pause to listen.
An apocryphal story has it that when an Indian was praised for his poetry, he said, “In my tribe we have no poets. Everyone talks in poetry.” There is no clear distinction between prose and poetry among people who have an oral tradition and a pietographic literature called codices (none but a handful of the codices remain). Silko took advantage of this and of her English language education to invent a written Pueblo style. By using the page itself, she mimics a pictograph in her opening quatrains. The blend of prose and poetry throughout the novel enable her to weave new events with old stories.
Silko’s style also allows her to save the old stories by spreading them. The affinity she creates between herself and Thought-Woman, as well as Tayo and various story figures, allows her to tell many stories in one novel. The result is that many readers who know nothing about the Laguna Reservation feel like an old friend to the characters in the novel.
Stereotypes are employed throughout the novel, such as the archetype of the drunken Indian. But the novel uses these stereotypes about Native Americans to tell a powerful and potentially subversive story. The figure of the drunken Indian is used to illustrate how negative images of Native American have become ingrained in the American consciousness. In another instance, by making use of the clownish vets, she can warn America that not only are the Native Americans not defeated but they are making a comeback. All of this is done within the Pueblo style because, in fact, clowns are a big part of Pueblo ceremonies.
Part of the Pueblo technique of storytelling is the belief that the story exists in the listeners. This cuts both ways; part of the reason the novel succeeds is that white society expects Native Americans to include myth and ceremony in their explanations for the world. So while Silko can offer a solution for veterans, for example, she can also speak to mainstream whites because she is telling a Native American story. Even her accusations of white America are done in a Native American way-by a story about witches. Lastly, in an almost harmless way, Silko is telling Americans beforehand that Native Americans will get justice all in good time.
Marie Rose Napierkowski, Novels for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 4, Leslie Marmon Silko, Gale-Cengage Learning, 1998