In the novel, Silko explores the gender roles of four women and the significance to the development and actualization of Tayo’s character. These four women are Tayo’s birth mother, Auntie, old Grandma, and Ts’eh (a Montano). Because Tayo is of mixed ancestry, half white and half Native American, Tayo discovers he has a “natural” cultural flaw imposed upon him at birth, which would linger and expand into adulthood.
At four years old, Tayo’s birth mother left him with his Aunt and Grandmother so they could raise him as their own due to her alcohol addiction and vicarious life-style.
“He didn’t remember much: only that she (mother) had come after dark and wrapped him in a man’s coat – it smelled like a man – and that there were men in the car with them . . . he clung to her because when she left him, he knew she would be gone for a long time . . . there were tears all over his face and his nose was running (Silko 65-66).”
Nonetheless, Tayo’s sense of emptiness and abandonment began.
Auntie raised Tayo and was the mother figure he lacked. However, Auntie reluctantly accepted this responsibility because she could not bear to raise a child that brought the reservation shame by his mother’s mistake. On the other hand, Auntie willingly accepted Tayo to “conceal the shame of her younger sister (Ibid 29).” This contradiction, made Auntie hesitant toward Tayo as he was not her real son and was also a “half-breed.” For Tayo, this only added to his feeling of displacement and the feeling of being “invisible (Ibid 14).” Auntie would give her affection and attention to her natural son Rocky, and would intentionally make Tayo feel excluded.
“It was a private understanding between the two of them. When Josiah or old Grandma or Robert was there, the agreement was suspended, and she pretended to treat him the same as she treated Rocky, but they both knew it was only temporary (Ibid 66-67).”
Moreover, this treatment towards Tayo had only added “salt in the wound.”
After the war, Auntie nursed Tayo because “he was all she had left (Ibid 29)” after Rocky was killed in action and Josiah had passed. Tayo would wake up crying after dreaming about how much Josiah had loved him and always hugged him when he was a child (Ibid 32). Now he realized that there wasn’t a place left for him and he would never find peace (Ibid 32). Auntie may have felt she mothered him (out of duty), yet to Tayo she was just someone who looked after him.
Unlike Auntie, old Grandma, does accept Tayo as her own blood and wants only the best for him. For instance, when Grandma suggested,
“that boy needs a medicine man. Otherwise, he will have to go away,” Auntie retaliated with “Oh, I don’t know, Mama. You know how they are. You know what people will say if we ask for a medicine man to help him. Someone will say it’s not right. They’ll say, ‘Don’t do it. He’s not full blood anyway (Ibid 33).’” However, Grandma stated “he’s my grandson. If I send for old Ku’oosh, he’ll come. Let them talk if they want to (Ibid 33).”
In other words, Grandma is more concerned about the health and well being of her grandson rather than the gossip of the other tribesmen. The love and compassion demonstrated by old Grandma allowed Tayo to experience some feeling of belongingness, however not enough to make Tayo feel whole.
It is when Tayo meets and falls in love with Ts’eh, a mystical character that appears and disappears in various parts of the novel, that he completes his healing journey. The significance of Ts’eh to Ceremony is very powerful and vital to the recovery of Tayo. She lives up in the rim rock and is in tune with the land and her surroundings. Being torn between the white world and the Indian world and the unfortunate circumstances of his upbringing, leaves Tayo feeling invisible and hollow inside. Ts’eh helps him to become in touch with his Indian side and to feel strength and power from the land.
She teaches him the importance of certain plants, flowers, and ceremonies and how they are significant to Native American culture and survival. Thus, after falling deeply in love with her, Tayo begins to feel alive again. He
Word Count: 735