115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

"A Hideous and Desolate Wilderness": In Search of the Promised Land in Silko’s Ceremony

Laura J. Veltman, California Baptist University

Using Puritan typology to tie the Puritans to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, William Bradford and other early Americans drew on the Old Testament to shape a vision of colonization as possession, taking away the “Devil’s territories” from the “savage inhabitants.” Leslie Marmon Silko in Ceremony, as part of her plea for hybrid and evolving stories, revises this trope of wilderness, calling for new explanatory metaphors for understanding and relating to the land.


Gaston Bachelard notes that "There is no such thing as neutral space." That is, physical spaces exist alongside of narratives which imbue those spaces, and the objects and even people within them, with particular meanings. In this vein, scholars such as R.W.B. Lewis, Thomas Lyon, and Barbara Novak have highlighted the ways that, throughout American history, Judeo-Christian tropes of wilderness, garden, and paradise have offered powerful metaphors in art and literature for viewing the American landscape, shaping Americans’ understanding of nature as dichotomous, such that humans are outside of, rather than part of, nature. Such metaphors have thus tended to undergird attempts to accrue and control land, an establishing of borders often at the expense of peoples, cultures, and animal and plant life within those spaces. I argue that Leslie Marmon Silko in Ceremony undermines the epistemologies inherent in such metaphors while also calling for new stories and metaphors that reflect these alternate worldviews. In the novel's insistent celebration of hybridity, she demonstrates how spiritual practices, like nature itself, find renewal or drought in relation to how their narratives are controlled, their borders policed.