In Ceremony, Leslie Silko brilliantly crosses racial styles of humor in order to cure the delusions the readers may have, if we think we are superior to Indians or inferior to whites, or perhaps superior to whites or inferior to Indians. Silko plays off affectionate Pueblo humor against the black humor so prominent in 20th-century white culture. This comic strategy has the end-result of opening our eyes to our general foolishness, and also to the possibility of combining the merits of all races. Ceremony is a work that changes local mythologies in that more inclusive spirit.
Silko is the right person to have written this book. She herself is a mixed-blood, and her experience has evidently given her access not only to a variety of problems, but also to a variety of styles of joking in a sense. Although Ceremony is serious, offering a number of valuable propositions for our consideration, the narrative also spins a web of jokes.
The ceremony Silko narrates is that of a Navajo song, but one not sung exactly as it would have been done before whites arrived in New Mexico, or sung by a pureblood Indian, nor sung on behalf of a pureblood Indian. As is traditional, the ceremony is to be completed after the singing by the sick man, a Laguna named Tayo. His efforts to finish the ceremony by correct action form the last half of the novel, just as the first half was composed of the events that made him sick. These two series of events, taken together, make it clear that what the Veterans' Administration doctors have labeled battle fatigue is, in Tayo's case at least, really a struggle to make a decision about death. He tries two ways of responding to its invasion of his life that do not work-self-erasure and killing an agent of death. Finally he is able to find a way of opposing destruction which will not lead to his erasure as a force on the reservation, not allow anyone to kill him, and most important, not change him too into an agent of death.