Response #4: Applying Cesaire to Ceremony

Sarah Jang
Professor Alvarez
14 April 2011

“Thingification” : Discovering the Effects of Colonialism in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony

People are created and are meant to have a relationship with one another. This is seen throughout history where people have interacted with each other in different ways whether it is through wars, collaborations, or exchanges. However, the idea of the relationship has been warped and has taken on different forms that are unfair and unequal. One of the distorted relationships we often look at and critique is the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. Aimé Césaire addresses this issue in his book, Discourse on Colonialism. He states that colonization is a form of “’thingification’” (Césaire 42). Within Leslie Marmon Silko’s text, Ceremony, we find the effects of this relationship and the mentality that takes over.

Césaire declared, “colonization = “thingification” (42).  This meaning that both colonizer and colonized become inhumane; one becoming an “animal” by force and the other becoming inhuman by subjecting others. This is seen in Silko’s Ceremony between Tayo and the Indians and the white people who have sent them off to war to fight for their country. There was a disillusionment of amends of their relationship where they, the Indians and the white people, have become equals. However, Tayo states,

“Here they were, trying to bring back that old feeling, that feeling they belonged to America the way they felt during the war. They blamed themselves for losing the new feeling; they never talked about it, but they blamed themselves just like they blamed themselves for losing the land the white people took. They never thought to blame white people for any of it; they wanted white people for their friends. They never saw that it was the white people who gave them that feeling and it was white people who took it away again when the war was over” (Silko 39).

This distortion of the relationships between the colonizer and the colonized reveals the mentality where one desires to belong and be accepted. Their relationship was exploited and left the colonized empty and used. Césaire stated, “No human contact, but relations of domination and submission which turn the colonizing man into a classroom monitor, an army sergeant, a prison guard, a slave driver, and the indigenous man into an instrument of production” (42). The “white man” has turned the Indians into an instrument of production, leaving them the empty feeling of what was once thought to be human contact and a relationship (Silko 39). Tayo embodies this relationship; he wrestles with himself and his memories of war. He is constantly heaving up food and emptiness from his body. He was used in the war to gain nothing, he was colonized to fight for “his” country and in return, nothing. The colonizer has exploited and has “‘thingified'” him (Césaire 42). He has become nothing more than a tool to them.

In regards to responding to colonialism outside of the text, Leslie Silko Marmon addresses the effects of colonialism in her story, Ceremony, through the character Tayo and his insights on his fellow Indians. He states the things no one wants to speak or think about. He states the truth.

Works Cited
Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000. Print.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. United States of America: Penguin Books, 1986.Print.

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