Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup
American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
Home About Unit Index Archive Book Club Site Search
1. Native Voices   

1. Native Voices

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities
- Overview Questions
- Video
- Author
- Context
- Creative Response
- PBL Projects

Activities: Author Activities

Leslie Marmon Silko - Teaching Tips

Back Back to Leslie Marmon Silko Activities
  • In her book The Sacred Hoop, author and critic (and cousin of Silko) Paula Gunn Allen makes a rather bold statement about the position of women in American Indian cultures: she argues that "Traditional [American Indian] tribal lifestyles are more often gynocratic [governed by women] than not, and they are never patriarchal." Other scholars have refuted aspects of this statement (for example, people have argued that the Sioux and other Plains tribes were in fact patriarchal). However, it is clear that Allen's statement is important for understanding American Indian communities such as the Pueblos that were matrilineal (descended through the maternal line) and/or matrifocal (female-centered). Allen and others have argued that readers should pay attention to the way gender functions in texts by writers from gynocratic communities since gender is constructed differently in such communities than it is in mainstream American culture. As your students read Ceremony, you might want to ask them how gender is being constructed in this novel. How does Tayo compare to traditional European American male icons (e.g., John Wayne) or even to Black Elk? How do the female characters compare to female cultural icons in American culture?

  • Some readers have suggested that Tayo's encounter with Ts'eh in Ceremony resembles a Yellow Woman story. Told by the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest, Yellow Woman stories dramatize how humans interact with spirits in the world once it has been created. Although there is always variation, Yellow Woman stories often involve a young married woman who wanders beyond her village and has a sexual encounter with a spirit-man; sometimes she is killed, but usually she returns to her family and tribe having grown spiritually, and therefore has an empowering influence on the people in general. In her influential essay "Kochinnenako in Academe," Paula Gunn Allen points out that Yellow Woman stories are "female-centered, always told from the Yellow Woman's point of view," and that they generally highlight "her alienation from the people," but that her apparently transgressive acts "often have happy outcomes for Kochinnenako [Yellow Woman] and her people." This suggests, Allen argues, "that the behavior of women, at least at certain times or under certain circumstances, must be improper or nonconformist for the greater good of the whole." Like many Native American stories, these narratives have the communal function of both drawing socially important boundary lines and observing where they sometimes need to be transgressed. In particular, according to Allen, they emphasize "the central role that woman plays in the orderly life of the people." Leslie Marmon Silko frequently draws from the Yellow Woman tradition when she writes of empowered (especially sexually empowered) and empowering women like the spirit-being Ts'eh. Why do you think Silko includes Tayo and Ts'eh's encounter in her novel? What is the purpose of the Yellow Woman story? How does she update the story? What is the purpose of Silko's novel? What is the role of the oral tradition in general in Ceremony?

Slideshow Tool
This tool builds multimedia presentations for classrooms or assignments. Go

An online collection of 3000 artifacts for classroom use. Go

Download PDF
Download the Instructor Guide PDF for this Unit. Go


© Annenberg Foundation 2017. All rights reserved. Legal Policy