The Role of Women in Leslie marmon silko’s novels

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Masaryk University in Brno

Faculty of Arts

Department of English and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Hana Staňková

the Role of Women in Leslie

marmon silko’s novels

B.A. Major Thesis

Supervisor: Mgr. Kateřina Prajznerová, M.A., PhD.


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently, using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the works cited.


Hana Staňková


I would like to express many thanks to my supervisor, Mgr. Kateřina Prajznerová, M.A., PhD for her kind help and valuable advice.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction...............................................................................................................5

    1. Leslie Marmon Silko and Her Definition of Womanness...............................6

    2. The Importance of the Settings in Defining Female Characters..................11

  2. The Destroyers.........................................................................................................16

    1. Auntie................................................................................................................16

    2. Leah Blue...........................................................................................................19

  3. The Healers..............................................................................................................24

    1. Night Swan. ......................................................................................................24

    2. Ts’eh..................................................................................................................28

    3. Laura.................................................................................................................33

  4. Conclusion................................................................................................................36

Works Cited.............................................................................................................39

  1. Introduction

Leslie Marmon Silko is one of the best-known Native American writers; she is widely acclaimed as a novelist, poet, essayist and short story writer. But above all she is a gifted storyteller. All the novels she has written so far – Ceremony (1977), Almanac of the Dead (1991), and Gardens in the Dunes (1999) – are in fact representations of storytelling. They are populated by a broad range of characters representing diverse social backgrounds, skills and perceptions of the world. Although Silko uses both male and female characters to create her novels and to make the messages of her novels clear, the female characters are, in my opinion, of particular significance. Silko develops them profoundly, irrespective of whether they are major or minor characters, and their positions in the novels are very often crucial. No matter whether they appear good or evil, they all are (or become) very strong and determined to struggle through their lives, regardless of what hardships they are exposed to or what origin they are. They never surrender. They influence other people, men in particular, in positive as well as negative ways.

In this thesis I concentrate primarily on the novels mentioned above and on Silko’s female characters. Firstly, I want to introduce Silko’s background because it has been a major source of inspiration for her writing, and I also intend to explore the features that are characteristic for her novels, i.e. Silko’s definition of womanness and the importance of the settings in defining female characters. I believe that without these features it would be difficult, maybe even impossible, to identify and explore the true function and significance of female characters in Silko’s novels. Secondly, the main aim of my thesis is to show how Silko creates her heroines, either major or minor ones, and what ideas and traditions they represent as well as what they have in common, in what they differ and what their impact is on other people’s lives. I divide the women into two groups: the healers – embodiments of creative power, and the destroyers –embodiments of destructive power.

Apart from two of Silko’s other books, the compilation of essays, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (1996), and the collection of poems, short stories, photographs and family history, Storyteller (1981), that have been invaluable help in learning about Silko’s background and the importance of some of the features that keep occurring, I have also consulted various sources concerning Leslie Marmon Silko and her work. Paula Gunn Allen’s book, The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Tradition, has helped me to divide the female characters from Silko’s novels into two groups, whereas the majority of the sources I have employed concentrate on particular novels and their most prominent features, which has enabled me to see the individual characters in context. Furthermore, I have also applied anthropological surveys and essays to support my thesis concerning the significance of women’s roles in Leslie Marmon Silko’s novels.

    1. Leslie Marmon Silko and Her Definition of Womanness

To understand the importance and the functions of the female characters in Silko’s novels properly it is necessary to take into consideration Silko’s background. Silko was born in 1948 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the eldest of three daughters (Nelson). Her family was a “mixture of Indian, Mexican, and white” (Silko, Yellow Woman 17) and lived on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation. While Silko was being brought up, she learned all the traditional stories from her female relatives. Most influential were Aunt Susie, an educated woman interested in history whom Silko admired for her wisdom and patience (Silko, Storyteller 4), and Grandma A’mooh who took care of Silko when her mother was at work (Silko, Storyteller 33). They both are among the first ones Silko remembers in Storyteller. And to both of them Silko refers to as really talented storytellers. It is likely they were Silko’s first role models and encouraged her to follow their example, which may be the reason why she began writing stories while she attended elementary school (Nelson). Later on, when she studied at the University of New Mexico, she and all other students were encouraged to write about what they know (Silko, interview with Thomas Irmer). As Silko herself explains: “All I knew was my growing up at Laguna, recallings of some other stories that I had been told as a child” (Silko, interview with Thomas Irmer). That was the real starting point of her writing career, since then she has published miscellaneous books: her first book was Laguna Woman (1974), a collection of poems (Cain 1123), followed by the books I have already introduced, i.e. Ceremony (1977), Storyteller (1981), Almanac of the Dead (1991), Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (1996), and Gardens in the Dunes (1999).

Although in her novels Silko comes back to her Native American ancestry, she also integrates her Euro-American heritage. In his essay “A Laguna Woman” Robert M. Nelson claims that Silko was “born and raised at [. . .] cultural intersection” and hence “grew up becoming part of both Anglo and Keresan1 cultural traditions”. Silko knows both worlds, the Native American world and the Euro-American world, very well and that is why she can create various female characters of different origins, even mixed ones, of any social background. However, Silko frequently uses the same themes which help to determine the female characters in her novels, i.e. their roles in everyday life as well as in the context of the tradition of mythical stories.

In her collection of essays, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, Silko at least three times refers to someone in general, i.e. to a narrator (32), a speaker (48) and a person (91), as to a woman. This cannot be just a coincidence. I suppose Silko does so intentionally. She simply demonstrates what is natural for her because of her Laguna Pueblo ancestry: “because the Creator is female, there is no stigma on being female; gender is not used to control behavior. No job was a man’s job or a woman’s job; the most able person did the work” (Silko, Yellow Woman 66). By this she illustrates the equality of men and women that had existed before missionaries from Europe came and introduced Christianity worshipping a male God, who first made a man, then a woman, by which women were considered subordinated to men. In her novels Silko comes back to the traditional equality of men and women and explains that she does so “because Laguna Pueblo cosmology features a female creator, the status of women is equal with the status of men, and women appear as often as men in the old stories as hero figures” (Silko, Yellow Woman 70). Therefore it is no wonder that Silko portrays women as the real heroines of her novels even if some of them appear only on a few pages. She elaborates their personalities deeply and to some of them she even gives such special abilities that they are able to foresee what may come or to be in control of weather.

In defining women’s gender roles as well as their sexual roles Silko again comes back to the traditions of the old Pueblo in which sexuality meant something markedly different from what Europeans later taught. Women and men were free to do whatever they liked and to marry whoever they liked. Marriages between young men and old women were not unusual (Silko, Yellow Woman 66). Neither were extramarital sexual relationships (and sex before marriage), as Silko explains: “new life was so precious that pregnancy was always appropriate, and pregnancy before marriage was celebrated as a good sign” (Yellow Woman 67-68). She also points out one female character, Yellow Woman, who used to be the central character of many of the old Pueblo’s stories because “her power lies in her courage and in her uninhibited sexuality, which the old-time Pueblo stories celebrate again and again because fertility was so highly valued” (Yellow Woman 70). By fertility Silko means not only the ability of women to bear children, but also fertility in a broader sense, i.e. the fertility of the land that would secure enough food (plants, animals) for the people. Hence sexuality was not considered as sin and dirt, as it was in case of Christianity.

In his essay “Knotted Bellies and Fragile Webs: Untangling and Re-spinning in Tayo’s Healing Journey” Jude Todd among many other things concentrates also on the importance of sexuality in Silko’s novels and comments:

For Pueblo Indians, who revere the Earth as a goddess, sex is not opposed to spirituality. The earthiness of sex makes it sacred, a way to be close to the mind of the Goddess. Moreover, Puebloan metaphysics does not oppose mind to body as does Western metaphysics. Because of these different conceptions of sexuality and of the mind/body relationship, Silko can use sexual intercourse to signal not only physical exchange, but also an exchange of something that members of Euroamerican culture might more likely consider mental.

Although Todd talks only about Ceremony, his observations can be more or less applied to all of Silko’s novels, regardless of whether Silko wants to stress the spirituality of sexuality or sexual obsession and wild lust.

What may seem perplexing for the mass culture is Silko’s omission of a description of the physical beauty of her heroines. She does not say whether the woman/girl who she concentrates on at the moment is beautiful or not. This kind of information is not important, because it is the “qualities of the spirit” that make women beautiful (Silko, Yellow Woman 72). As far as physical appearance is concerned, Silko confines herself to a description of what the woman is wearing and what impression one can get while looking at her. While describing women’s clothes and accessories as well as their surroundings Silko frequently uses blue colour.

Generally, people usually like blue colour, they wear blue clothes, plant blue flowers, watch the blue sky or admire the blue seas and oceans. However, in Silko’s novels blue colour has a specific function. Almost every woman who is described as having anything blue on her, or at least around her, is somehow exceptional, i.e. possesses special abilities. It seems that Silko uses blue to define the ideal perception of life, earth and understanding other people. Those who are strongly connected with blue colour are able to live in harmony with the earth and with others and help them, either deliberately or inadvertently. On the other hand, there are a few female characters whose connection to blue colour in the sense of ‘ideal perception of life’ and ‘help’ seems ironic. These women are in fact the opposites of such notions. Maybe even this is one of Silko’s intentions, to emphasize their destructive effects by accompanying them with blue colour. Or, by means of blue colour Silko wants to express that all the female characters have something in common, i.e. that they all represent the power which created the world and which can easily destroy it as well.

In the European tradition blue colour has always been associated with water (Wikipedia), which is essential in such locations where most parts of Silko’s novels take place, i.e. Arizona and New Mexico, USA, and Mexico, which are known for their desert landscape and dry climate. In his essay “The Pueblos of the South-Western United States” Edward P. Dozier talks about the importance of the rain for the Pueblo Indians because “rainfall in this area is frequently less than ten inches annually” (150). Dozier also mentions the Katcina cult, “which is an organization almost solely concerned with activities to induce rainfall” (148-49) and the Katcina are “vaguely conceived ancestral spirits and portrayed by elaborately costumed and masked men. In pueblo conception, the Katcina are bearers of moisture but they ale also believed to bring good health and general well-being” (Dozier 154). When taking into consideration the significance of the rain, it is highly probable that in the Pueblo tradition blue colour is also strongly associated with water. Actually, not only with water in the form of rain, but also with the sky and clouds which bring the precious rain. Hence it is quite obvious why Silko chooses blue colour to stress the positive female characters – they, like the Katcina spirits, very often secures the good health and the harmony of all living things and the earth.

    1. The Importance of the Settings in Defining Female Characters

The female characters in Silko’s novels are further determined in terms of the settings, i.e. the place and time, and of the context of a particular novel, hence it is necessary to introduce the contexts of the novels to reveal not only what time the novels take place, but also what effects on the female characters the different settings have.

A very interesting and traditional feature which Silko introduces in her novels is the importance of a particular place: “Pueblo people have always connected certain stories with certain locations; it is these places that give the narratives such resonance over the centuries. The Pueblo people and the land and the stories are inseparable” (Silko, Yellow Woman 14). Therefore, it is not surprising that she sets great parts of her novels in places she knows well.

Although all of Silko’s novels are set in a specific place, the time or the date when the story takes place is often omitted or disguised because, according to Pueblo tradition, “the precise date of the incident [the story] often is less important than the place or location of the happening” (Silko, Yellow Woman 33). But all the same, there are a few allusions to time, or to the exact date, in Silko’s novels, that is why it is possible to find out when approximately the stories take place.

In Ceremony, Silko’s first novel, there are hints to World War Two, the story both precedes and follows this historical event. It is about a man of mixed origin called Tayo, who is a kind of outsider figure. He endures many hardships and nearly looses his identity and life. Fortunately, he meets several characters with healing powers, who help him complete the circle of the recovery process, i.e. the circle of the healing ceremony. Thanks to their help he is able to recover because they take him back to his Native American roots. In Ceremony Silko combines Pueblo stories with her own. The old Pueblo stories embedded in her novel foreshadow what is going to happen. Hence, when the reader follows the story of Tayo, he or she may feel that they already know how the individual events will end. This notion is supported by what Tayo’s grandmother says at the end of the Ceremony: “It seems like I already heard these stories before... only thing is, the names sound different” (260). Silko uses the traditional motifs and symbols, i.e. the narratives about Spider Woman and other heroes of Pueblo mythology, and applies them to her own narrative style. She also slightly changes them and adjusts them to her actual purposes, i.e. she shortens them because some of the Pueblo stories that are included in Ceremony appear also in Storyteller but in their longer versions. Why Silko decided to shorten them may be explained by what she says in Storyteller: “People who aren’t used to it get tired” (110). Taking into account that Ceremony was her first novel, her decision in regard to the shortening of the Pueblo stories is understandable because she could not know how Ceremony would be received.

In Almanac of the Dead, Silko’s second novel, one of the characters introduces her plan to build the “city of the twenty-first century” (Silko, Almanac 374). Taking into consideration that Silko published this novel in 1991, it is possible that she set it into the future to warn against what may come. In addition, Almanac is significantly different from Ceremony. The story is more complex, Silko introduces many characters, in fact around fifty, and shifts her focus from one to another, whereas in Ceremony she focuses primarily on Tayo. She opens Almanac with a map, but not the kind of map people are used to seeing in atlases. This map shows not only the place names, but also the names of the characters, prophecy, information on Native American history and on Tucson, and a basic description of what is going on in the novel. In her essay “Productions of Geographic Scale and Capitalist-Colonialist Enterprise in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead” Ann Brigham tries to discover what Silko wants to express by this map. According to Brigham, the whole book is “unfolding [. . .] intertwined stories across several spaces” and therefore the map “is about how space and time are constructed and interrelated” (Bringham). In addition, the map’s ultimate meaning, i.e. to show the exact position on the earth, stands in sharp contrast with the fact that the book deals with such issues as displacement and uprootedness. To summarise Almanac briefly, the main theme is the struggle of all the peoples in the Americas, Native Americans in particular, for the recognition of equality between them and the white people, and for the restitution of their land.

And in Gardens in the Dunes, the latest of Silko’s novels so far, there is one precise reference to time – the king of Italy is assassinated and his son Victor Emmanuel III becomes his successor. Victor Emmanuel III became the King of Italy in 1900. In Gardens Silko narrates the parallel stories of two Sand Lizard sisters, who have been separated from each other and try to unite again. After they experience many diverse adventures, they finally meet and return to the old gardens where they were brought up. In this novel Silko introduces many characters, but she focuses on fewer of them than in Almanac. Most characters in this novel are surrounded by flowers or somehow interested in them; one of the sisters is taken on an excursion to Europe to see the gardens in England and in Italy. In my opinion, the most interesting feature of this novel is that Silko develops a major white female character representing some feminist features, i.e. although she lives at the turn of the nineteenth century, she has received university education and does not blindly believe what she is told by doctors or by the church.

Thanks to these references to time it is also possible to see the female characters in respect to the particular period of time: after World War Two, in the twenty-first century and at the turn of the nineteenth century. In each of them the society and manners differ a lot: after World War Two the male hero is a broken man and it is the female characters who act in order to save him, at the end of the nineteenth century it was inadmissible for a white woman to be more educated than a man, and in the twenty-first century a woman can become a billionaire by working hard and without scruples.

As I already mentioned, according to Pueblo tradition, the universe and life were made by a female Creator: “Tse’itsi’nako, Thought Woman, the Spider, thought about it and everything she thought came into being” (Silko, Yellow Woman 204). This explains why the structure of Silko’s novels is so web-like. In her work, past, present and future are so closely interconnected that they can even mingle, she also shifts her focus from one character to another and from one event to another freely because they all are parts of the whole story. No matter in what order she presents the individual parts, for in the end they all represent one common meaning. Silko herself admits that she is influenced by the Pueblo narrative style which “resembles something like a spider’s web—with many little threads radiating from the center, crisscrossing one another. As with the web, the structure emerges as it is made, and you must simply listen and trust [. . .] that meaning will be made” (Silko, Yellow Woman 48-49). Although all the three novels I have selected to discuss follow this pattern, in Ceremony the web structure is strengthened by the presence of Spider-Woman herself.

All the features that I have mentioned in this chapter help to identify the female characters. Although each of them is unique, they all have something in common. No matter whether the female characters represent Destroyers or Healers, they all demonstrate Silko’s perception of womanness in both the Native American and the Euro-American worlds. To show how Silko applies all the features listed in this chapter to the creation of her female characters, it is necessary to introduce them one by one in respect to what power they represent.

  1. The Destroyers

In Silko’s novels there are several characters whose effect on other people as well as on the earth is rather harmful. In fact, they represent destructive power; they are very selfish and self-centered. Good illustrations for this kind of power are Auntie from Ceremony and Leah Blue from Almanac of the Dead. They are both married; Auntie has one son, whereas Leah Blue has two sons. Auntie is of Native American ancestry, Leah Blue, by contrast, is a European American. Although Auntie and Leah Blue appear in different novels, the effects of their actions are very similar, i.e. destructive, and hence they both can be classified as destroyers.

    1. Auntie

In Ceremony Auntie, a full blood Laguna Pueblo woman, remains nameless for quite a long time. Through the whole novel she is called a general name, an aunt. She is named just once, her first name is Thelma. It seems that not only her name is hidden, but also her real self, which I am going to point out later. She took care of her nephew Tayo and raised him after his mother died when he was a child. More or less, Auntie did that against her will because she knew that Tayo’s father was a white man and she did not like the idea of being laughed at by the village people for Tayo’s ‘inferiority’. In addition, Auntie has not told Tayo what his mother was like, and when he asked once, she ignored him. By this she prevented him from inquiring again, he has felt embarrassed because “since he could remember, he had known Auntie’s shame for what his mother had done, and Auntie’s shame for him” (Silko, Ceremony 57). Tayo felt that his Auntie blamed him for his mother’s acting. Tayo’s mother tried to cope with the hardships of life and with the inferiority of the Native Americans in the white world by drinking and sleeping with white men. She did not care what others would think about her. In contrast, Auntie has always cared, “the story was all that counted. If she had a better one about them, then it didn’t matter what they said” (Silko, Ceremony 89). She does not like Tayo very much, she had preferred her own son, Rocky, so “she could maintain a distance between Rocky, who was her pride, and this other, unwanted child. If nobody else ever knew about this distance, she and Tayo did” (Silko, Ceremony 65). For her Tayo is a disgrace for the family because of his being a half-breed. She is careful to ensure that Rocky does not call Tayo his brother and when someone accidentally refers to Tayo and Rocky as to brothers, she immediately corrects him or her. Todd points out that Tayo “was fed lies by his Auntie about what a horrible person his mother had been [. . .] And he was fed lies by nearly everyone about his inferiority because of his mixed-raced heritage”. Moreover, Tayo knows what his Auntie’s opinion of him is: “Tayo and Auntie understood each other very well. [. . .] He learned to listen to the undertones of her voice” (Silko, Ceremony 67). Therefore it is no wonder that Auntie is doomed to lose both the boys who try to escape from her by joining the army to fight in the World War Two.

Paula Gunn Allen claims that Auntie is one of those “of human mechanism; they live to destroy [earth] spirit, to enclose and enwrap in it their machinations, condemning all to a living death” (118). Because of her behaviour Tayo feels inferior and excluded. Their relationship deteriorates when he survives the war while Rocky does not. Tayo comes back suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He feels like a living death: “it was him, Tayo, who had died, but somehow there had been a mistake with the corpses, and somehow his was still unburied” (Silko, Ceremony 28). Above all he blames himself for his cousin’s death and he knows that his Auntie “always hoped, that she always expected it to happen to him, not to Rocky” (Silko, Ceremony 73). For her Tayo is a burden, someone to look after, someone to waste her time on, “another opportunity to show those who might gossip that she had still another unfortunate burden which proved that, above all else, she was a Christian woman” (Silko, Ceremony 30). She exposes herself as a martyr who had to suffer due to her sister’s action, her brother’s affair and her son’s death. To emphasize her tragic fate she “had gone to church alone [. . .] she could show the people that she was a devout Christian and not immoral or pagan like the rest of the family” (Silko, Ceremony 77). She pretends to be someone else by suppressing her true self. What she does not realize is that to a certain extent she becomes similar to her sister who she felt so ashamed for – she is ashamed of her Native American origin as well and tries to assimilate to the white people’s culture and religion. However, Auntie has always felt she is not good enough for them.

According to Auntie, she is the head of the family and all its members should obey. To avoid arguments they usually do, but they do not think much of her. The only one in the world she has ever loved is her son Rocky. However, her love for him is selfish, she wants him “to be a success. She could see what white people wanted in an Indian, and she believed this way was his only chance. She saw it as her only chance too, after all the village gossip about their family. When Rocky was a success, no one would dare to say anything against them any more” (Silko, Ceremony 51). When Rocky dies, all Auntie’s hopes vanish, his death hardens her heart and she displays the hardships she has had to undergo ostentatiously to be pitied by the village people. Her ruthlessness and egoism link her to another character, Leah Blue, who appears in Almanac of the Dead and also represents the destructive power.

    1. Leah Blue

Leah Blue used to live in New Jersey with her husband Max and their sons Sonny and Bingo, but after Max survived a plane crash and an assassination attempt, he insisted on moving to Tuscon, Arizona. Although Leah at first did not want to leave New Jersey, she changed her mind after Max “promised her the real estate business” (Silko, Almanac 358). She was attracted to his offer because it enabled her to make her own money and invest them in whatever she liked. Later on, she found her personal self fulfillment in planning a city of her dreams, the “city of the twenty-first century, Venice, Arizona” (Silko, Almanac 374) to which she subordinated everything else, i.e. money, time, and her family.

Leah grew up in a family that has operated the real estate business in California and Florida, as the only daughter she was “a daddy’s girl” (Silko, Almanac 358). Her father and her brothers taught her everything about the business deals, moreover, by her father she was allowed to do whatever she wanted, that is why she frequently accompanied her brothers to parties and this kind of upbringing made her “bossy and [. . .] let the killer shine in Leah’s eyes” (Silko, Almanac 359). Due to the fact that Leah’s brothers and father now and then found “the ‘liquidation of certain assets or deficits’ was necessary” (Silko, Almanac 358), Leah probably met Max who is often referred to as ‘Mr. Murder’, an assassin, and from many allusions in the text it is likely to assume that his family is mafia-like. Leah knew that, for she was not “naive. She had known since she was a young girl that theirs [Max’s] was a family special and apart from all other families” (Silko, Almanac 349). However, the violence and the blood were too much for Leah. She was forced to reconcile with the possibility that her husband could get killed at any time. Eventually, Max survived both the plane crash and the assassination attempt and ended up crippled as well as changed to a great extent. Leah did not excite him any more; actually, almost nothing excited him any longer.

After moving to Tucson, Leah devotes herself to her real estate business. Although at first she suffers from the fact that her husband does not sleep with her and feels alone, later on she gets used to it and finds another way to secure her happiness, i.e. to build the city of her dreams. In her essay “Death of Love/Love of Death: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead” Janet St. Clair defines Leah as one of those “empty of the sentiments that define humanity.” It is true that from the moment Leah got used to living in Tucson, she appears as a monster without almost any feelings. She lives next to her husband and her sons, but fulfils neither the role of a wife nor the role of a mother. Leah’s older son Sonny does not “call her ‘Mother.’ Sometimes he could more easily imagine Max was his father than he could imagine Leah as his mother” (Silko, Almanac 434-435). As a child he already figured out that his mother is able to achieve anything she wants by all possible means, mostly by having sex with the men, who are the persons in charge. In addition, Sonny taught his younger brother Bingo to call their mother ‘Leah’ instead of ‘mama’ as well, which Bingo learned immediately because “without Sonny, Bingo had no one but the housekeepers or gardeners, who did not last more than a year or two” (Silko, Almanac 435). By this it is clear that Leah has not spent much time with her sons and hence she is indifferent to them. They all realize that they do not function as a family because “they themselves seem to know it wasn’t a real family, that the boys were separate parts of the lives of Max and Leah; small parts, pushed aside by bigger plans and greater schemes” (Silko, Almanac 436). As far as her own children are concerned, Leah differs from Auntie significantly. Although Auntie’s love for her son Rocky is rather selfish, still she loves him and supports him, whereas Leah has no real affection for her sons at all.

According to St. Clair, Leah tries to give herself “a sense of substance by amassing more sex, money, and control than anyone else.” As far as Leah’s sexuality is concerned, she has had many lovers and tried to imagine their sexual fantasies:

Leah sensed their sexual excitement was aroused by danger. [. . .] Leah tries to imagine their fantasies—the race to pump a load into her before the gunmen break through the door, and everything explodes right then, every pore wrenched by prolonged throbs. Later Max tells Leah she is a hundred percent wrong about men’s fantasies; those are her fantasies—the excitement of the orgasm before the bullets. [. . .] Only a woman fantasizes bullets striking a man’s back at orgasm; a man’s fantasy at orgasm was firing bullets into the wife’s husband. (361-62)

Leah is not ashamed to talk about her lovers with Max. She knows he does not care about whom she sleeps with but Leah also realizes that Max could suppose them to be spies, therefore she makes it her practice to inform him about her new lovers as a kind of precaution. She wants to avoid the possibility that the security men would shoot her new lover or a business client.

Leah becomes very successful in the real estate market. There is no need for her to worry about money and she can display her wealth by fanning herself with the bank notes. With so much money at her disposal she concentrates primarily on her city of dreams, Venice in Arizona. In his essay “Envisioning a ‘Network of Tribal Coalitions’: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead” Romero Channette classifies Leah as one of “those most removed from the natural earth. Wealthy white characters like Leah Blue fantasize about creating immense waterways in the desert, despite the fact that it will irreparably harm the desert and the animals and people who live in it”. She does not care about the consequences because she is “in the real estate business to make profits, not to save wildlife or save the desert” (Silko, Almanac 375). Leah intends to build the city of Venice in the desert area of Tucson for she believes that she could obtain enough water from deep wells she wants to drill. On account of the protests of the environmentalists and the Native tribes against her plans for Venice, Leah without scruples “manipulates a corrupt legal system into awarding her the underground water rights to a vast area of drought-choked Arizona in order to fill the network of streams, fountains, and canals in her luxury development” (St. Clair) and, unsurprisingly, wins. Hence, there are no more obstacles for Leah so she can spend millions of dollars to build the city of her dreams. She is sure she will be successful, she believes that the Arizona environment combined with Venice abundant in water will attract the wealthy people to settle there: “the Arizona sky would make her a billionaire” (Silko Almanac 752). What she does not realize is the fact that “buyers attracted to Leah’s Venice can buy the identity that will, ironically, release and safeguard them from, rather then connect them to, a surrounding locality” (Brigham). In this respect Leah is similar to the city, she is also detached from other people. Although she has a husband and a long term lover, she does not have many real friendships. In respect to the absence of friendships Leah again resembles Auntie, who knows the people in the village but is not intimate with them. Another similarity between these two women is the harming effect: Auntie slowly ruins her nephew Tayo’s psychical health and Leah destroys the earth and life in the desert area of Tucson by draining it.

Although Leah represents the destructive power, she has been attached to blue colour since her wedding – she became Leah Blue. In addition, at one instant in the text she is described as having a “bright blue straw handbag” (Silko Almanac 359). The reason why Silko applies blue colour to Leah may be Leah’s obsession with Venice and the water suplies, which Silko ridicules by stressing blue. Or, even Leah creates something new, i.e. the canals and lakes, but without giving any “thought to the consequences that others must inevitably suffer” (St. Clair). Either of the two possible explanations could be applied, however, they both can be true at the same time.

Leah’s indifference to any other person, even to a member of her family, is fully revealed at the end of the novel when both her husband and her long term lover, Trigg, die. Trigg dies first, someone kills him and Leah learns about his death from Max who calls her. Although Trigg has been her lover, she does not “feel anything―she wasn’t even surprised he was dead” (Silko, Almanac 751). Leah does not feel sorry for Trigg but she is concerned about herself: “Leah wondered if something was wrong with her because she wasn’t sad and she didn’t cry” (Silko, Almanac 751). And when she learns that Max is dead too, killed by lightning, she pretends to cry but she does not feel loss, only relief. She thinks that “the loss might suddenly hit her later, in a week or two, but it never did. She didn’t cry for Eddie and she didn’t cry for Max either. How odd it had been. Suddenly they were both gone, one right after the other” (Silko, Almanac 751). Instead of feeling anything, she thinks about the young police chief whom she finds really sexy and imagines their possible affair. Leah’s emotionlessness is undoubtedly one of the most striking features of all of her qualities. Why is it so? The answer may be that in Almanac of the Dead the society “values only self-gratification” (St. Clair) and in such a society the values of humanity are rejected as weakness.

Women Destroyers and Women Healers stand in sharp contrast. While the destroyers are not able to realize that their actions are harmful because of their egoism, the healers know what should be done to secure the harmony among the earth, the animals, the plants and the people. Interestingly, their powers are to a certain extent matching, what the Destroyers destroy the Healers are able to restore, the best illustration for this is Tayo, whom Auntie’s behaviour almost ruins him, whereas Night Swan and Ts’eh bring him back to the earth and life.

  1. The Healers

This group of female characters represents the positive power, i.e. the creative power, by which they are able to help other people to feel the sense of belonging as well as to heal them in both the physical and the psychical ways. The best demonstrations for the healing power are Night Swan and Ts’eh, both from Ceremony. In fact, they are probably two different representations of one traditional female character, Spider Woman, that is why many of their characteristic features are similar. In addition to the two female characters from Ceremony I want to point out an interesting minor character from Gardens in the Dunes, Laura, who represents the values of the old Europeans which to a great extent correspond with the traditional beliefs of the old Pueblo.

    1. Night Swan

Night Swan is described as a Mexican woman and a dancer, who used to travel a lot. While she was travelling, she saw a mountain near Cubero. She liked “the view from here” (Silko, Ceremony 87), which she emphasizes by nodding “in the direction of the mountain, Tse-pi’na, the woman veiled in clouds” (Silko, Ceremony 87). That is why she decided to stay in Cubero but the people there do not like her very much, the women in particular. They fear Night Swan could enchant and seduce their husbands and sons. Although these women describe her as “old and wrinkled [. . .] all worn out” (Silko, Ceremony 88), they watch her closely and are slightly relieved when she chooses a Pueblo man, Jossiah, for her boyfriend.

Strikingly, Night Swan is attached to blue colour to a great degree. In Cubero she lives in a room with “bright blue door on the second-story porch” above the bar (Silko, Ceremony 88). The porch and the first floor are connected with spiral staircase. In her room the walls are painted with blue flowers, she also has a “blue armchair with dark wooden feet carved like eagle claws” (Silko, Ceremony 98) and blue bed sheets there. At the back of the room the doorway is decorated with a long white curtain. When she comes through this doorway to meet Tayo, Jossiah’s nephew, who is delivering a message from his uncle, she is wearing a blue satin kimono and “open-toe blue satin slippers” (Silko, Ceremony 98). At this moment her description gives the impression that she is like the sky surrounded by clouds. This is what Todd claims: “blue symbolizes the sky [. . .] white curtains [. . .] symbolize clouds [. . .] Night Swan lives surrounded by sky, like a mountain peak; she is a mountain spirit, an Earth goddess, in human form.” In addition, when Tayo meets Night Swan, he notices that “she did not look old or young to him then; she was like the rain and the wind; age had no relation to her” (Silko, Ceremony 98). What he says not only refers to the fact that she seems ageless, although at some point in the novel she mentions she has a daughter and two granddaughters, but it also supports the meaning of blue colour symbolism, i.e. the resemblance of water, this time in its rain form.

Before Tayo comes to Nigh Swan’s room, he and his uncle Jossiah had been working in the field. In fact, it is Jossiah who is about to have a date with Night Swan. But he and Tayo “could hear a low rumble of thunder in the distance, from the direction of Tse-pi’na, Mount Taylor” and later on they “could see the rain. It was spinning out of the thunderclouds like grey spider webs and tangling against the foothills of the mountain” (Silko, Ceremony 96). Due to the rain Jossiah cannot go to see Night Swan because he is terribly busy. Hence he sends Tayo to her with an explanatory note. As Todd points out, “Laguna tradition locates Mount Taylor, Tse-pi’na, as the home of Spider-Woman.” He also stresses the parallels between Night Swan and Spider Woman, for “Spider Woman [. . .] creates the world by spinning spiral webs” while to reach Night Swan and deliver the message Tayo “must climb a spiral staircase, an architectural feature signifying that she, too, is a creatrix.” From this comparison as well as from I have already observed it is clear that there are too many allusions to Spider Woman to be regarded just as a coincidence. Rather, Spider Woman wants to meet Tayo and talk to him, hence she sends the clouds and rain from her home at Mount Taylor to prevent Jossiah from visiting Night Swan, the personification of Spider Woman.

Tayo’s reaction to Jossiah’s request regarding the message delivery is that he feels nervous because he knows that Night Swan has “watched him all summer” (Silko, Ceremony 96). While he is waiting at her door, he can hear music playing in her room. He cannot understand the words except “Y volveré” because it is sung in Spanish(Silko, Ceremony 97). This phrase translated into English means ‘I will return’ and it indicates that Tayo will meet Night Swan/Spider Woman again, but in a different personification. But he does not know that yet. The nervousness Tayo feels leaves him when he sees Night Swan dressed in blue and surrounded by blue, he can sense the same thing as Jossiah, that there is “something in her hazel brown eyes that made him believe her” (Silko, Ceremony 82). After they make love, they talk about Tayo’s being excluded from both the Native American world and the white people’s world because of his being a half-breed. Night Swan is the only person Tayo confides in because he knows he can trust her. She shares her wisdom with him and explains why he feels so alone due to his mixed-race origin: because people can see that he looks different, moreover, they fear change. And looking different is one of the most fundamental issues that have classified a person’s perception in white society (and therefore in all assimilated societies) for hundreds of years. By blaming those looking different, they can avoid thinking about what has happened to them and changed them, i.e. assimilated them. When Tayo is about to leave, Night Swan tells him: “you don’t have to understand what is happening. But remember this day. You will recognize it later. You are part of it now” (Silko, Ceremony 100). By this she refers to at least two possible things. First, she chose Tayo immediately at the beginning and it was her who caused the rain to bring him to her to start a new period in his life and to show him that he is a part of something great which will take long to be completed. Second, she confirms what has already been revealed by the song, i.e. that they will meet again, in other words, that she/Spider Woman will return to him. Actually, both meanings can be applied at the same time.

When talking about Night Swan’s dancing and about the power of the dance Night Swan realizes the dance has, Silko says: “the power she was feeling had always been inside her, growing, pushing to the surface” (Ceremony 84). This statement is ambiguous, for the question is whether Silko refers only to the dancing itself or to Night Swan’s special abilities. However, when Night Swan’s dancing is described, she resembles a thunderstorm: “she danced, spinning her body, pulling her thighs and hips into tight sudden motions, bending, sweeping, veering, and lunging―whirling” (Silko, Ceremony 85-86). And when she is with Tayo in her room, it is raining; while they are making love, outside the rainstorm is watering the earth, which may imply that even the earth and the rain are making love. By this Night Swan’s and Tayo’s intercourse is given a symbolical meaning, i.e. another season, another period in Tayo’s life begins. Like the arid earth has needed the rain to revive, Tayo has needed Night Swan, and when he needs her again, she would come. No matter what form she would impersonate, the result would be the same – either the rain or the snow would enable Tayo to continue in his process of recovery.

Night Swan’s real name is never revealed in the novel, she is always referred to as Night Swan. Those she danced for called her so, she liked it and that is why she adopted that nickname. Nevertheless, even if she did not choose her nickname herself, it bears meaning and helps to characterize her. Swan is a bird that can both fly in the sky and float on water; its colour is white which at night may appear blue. To support this idea let me cite from Gardens in the Dunes: “a strange effect of the moonlight: the faces and hands of white people appeared blue” (Silko, Gardens 198). When white people appear blue at night, then the same can be applied to a white swan. Thus, Night Swan’s nickname represents another allusion to blue colour and to the sky and water.

Although Night Swan appears in the novel only on about fourteen pages, her position is crucial. She influences Tayo’s life enormously, not only by what he himself experiences in her presence, but in other respects too. It is her who gives advice to Jossiah to buy some Mexican cattle which later play an important role in Tayo’s recovery process. It is also her who informs Tayo about the course his life is about to take. And all her allusions to Spider Woman link her to another very important character, Ts’eh.

    1. Ts’eh

Every time Silko focuses on Ts’eh, Tayo is near. In fact, she appears in the novel only at the same time as Tayo, never on her own. And for quite a long time she is nameless. She first appears to Tayo near the Mount Taylor when he is trying to find his uncle’s scattered cattle. Several years passed since he met Night Swan, he survived World War Two and after he returned home, he has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Moreover, he blames himself for his uncle’s and cousin’s deaths and feels excluded from other people even more then ever before. Although his effort to find the cattle brings him some relief, the most important person who helps him to recover is Ts’eh.

When they meet, Ts’eh’s second question to Tayo is “who sent you?” (Silko, Ceremony 176), which she emphasizes by adding, “somebody sent you” (Silko, Ceremony 176). By saying this she refers to two people, a medicine man called Betonie who prophesied that “spotted cattle”, “a mountain” and “a woman” (Silko, Ceremony 152) would finish Tayo’s healing ceremony; and to Night Swan, the personification of Spider Woman, who indicated that they would meet again in a way. Ts’eh knows immediately that he needs her assistance. After they spend a night together, Tayo realizes that “being alive was all right then: he had not breathed like that for a long time” (Silko, Ceremony 181). In her essay “Surviving What Haunts You: The Art of Invisibility in Ceremony, The Ghost Writer, and Beloved” Naomi Rand claims that Ts’eh alone “is capable of providing a way for him to disengage himself from guilt. Through his intimacy with her, through the sexual energy exchanged, Tayo is able to propel himself out of the past while linking with it.” So, the final stage of his process of recovery begins.

While Tayo continues in his search for the cattle, he is captured by two white men. Fortunately, not only him, but also the cattle manage to escape because they are hardly visible in such a snowstorm that breaks out. Although Ts’eh is “introduced as fully human” (Rand), it is her who causes the snowstorm and saves Tayo and the cattle. When Tayo and Ts’eh meet for the first time, he observes that she has a “handwoven blanket [. . .] in four colors: patterns of storm clouds in white and gray; black lightning scattered through brown wind” but he does not attach importance to what he can see (Silko, Ceremony 177). Later on, while Tayo, accompanied by a hunter, returns to her during the snowstorm, he is surprised by what the hunter recommends to Ts’eh: “you better fold up the blanket before the snow breaks the branches” (Silko, Ceremony 208). At this instant Tayo realizes that “the black storm-pattern blanket was spread open across the grey flagstone” (Silko, Ceremony 208). As soon as Ts’eh folds it up, the snowstorm withdraws. This event demonstrates that neither Ts’eh is an ordinary human being. In fact, she is another mighty personification of Spider Woman representing wisdom and endowed with supernatural powers (Allen 118).

Tayo spends some time with Ts’eh and soon learns that Ts’eh’s abilities are exceptional: “she could see reflections in sandrock pools of rainwater, images shifting in the flames of juniper fire; she heard voices, low and distant in the night” (Silko, Ceremony 232). He can understand that she uses her power to do good. According to Allen, Ts’eh “belong[s] to the earth spirit and live in harmony with her” (118). While Tayo is in Ts’eh’s presence, he witnesses another demonstration of her power. She takes a plant that “contains the color of the sky after a summer rainstorm” to “plant it in another place, a canyon where it hasn’t rained for a while” (Silko, Ceremony 224). Her virtue to be in control of weather likens her to Night Swan, who caused the storm to bring Tayo to her. And like Night Swan’s, Ts’eh’s name also bears a significant meaning.

As I have already mentioned, Ts’eh’s name is revealed after quite a long time: Ts’eh Montaño. Actually, it is rather a nickname than a name as Ts’eh herself says: “you can call me Ts’eh. That’s my nickname because my Indian name is so long” (Silko, Ceremony 223). Todd studies the possible ways to find Ts’eh’s full name: “‘Ts’eh’ is short for ‘Tse-pi’na,’ the ‘Woman Veiled in Clouds’ (known as Mount Taylor). [. . .] ‘Ts’eh’ is also short for ‘Ts’its’tsi’nako,’ Spider-Woman. Laguna tradition locates Mount Taylor, Tse-pi’na, as the home of Spider-Woman.” In addition, Todd says that Ts’eh is “the human embodiment of this mountain.” Even her surname supports this idea, for Montaño translated into English means ‘mountain’. Both her name and surname refer to Mount Taylor traditionally representing Spider Woman. Thus, the fact that she lives near the mountain cannot be just a coincidence. Actually, it is another piece of evidence of many that strengthens the connection between her and Spider Woman. And between herself and Night Swan as well.

Once, while Ts’eh and Tayo are gone for a walk, he inquires about her relatives. She tells him that they are “all very close, a very close family” (Silko, Ceremony 223). In her essay “Looking for Roots: Curandera and Shamanic Practices in Southwestern Fiction” Jane Robinett declares:

When Ts’eh tells Tayo where her brothers and sisters live, we find that they are at the compass points of the reservation area: Ts’eh herself at the north point; a sister at Red Lake, to the south; a brother at Jemez, to the east; and another sister in Flagstaff, to the west. Thus, this family of shamanic figures serves as guardian to the land and the people.

I suppose that having guardians in all four cardinal directions in other words means that the people actually have their guardians all over the place. The number four is also applied to the description of Ts’eh’s house – four wide windows. Unfortunately, it is not revealed whether they also are at the compass points. If it were the case, which is not improbable, it would be another example illustrating that she represents the mountain. From her own home she could see the whole world, like when standing on the top of the mountain and looking into all directions without any obstructions.

Like both the mountain and Night Swan, Ts’eh is also surrounded by blue colour. Below each of her windows there are “blue morning-glories” growing (Silko, Ceremony 183). If her house stands for the mountain, then the flowers may symbolize the sky as well as the rain. Ts’eh herself is wearing “blue silk shawl around her shoulders” (Silko, Ceremony 221), hence what may apply to her house holds true for her indeed. Moreover, when Tayo looks into her eyes, he can see that “her eyes had distance in them [. . .] he saw miles spreading into canyons and hills” (Silko, Ceremony 226). If she were an ordinary woman, she would not be so emblematic. For, as Allen claims, “there is not a symbol in the tale that is not in some way connected with womanness, that does not in some way relate back to Ts’eh and through her to the universal feminine principle of creation” (119). So, Ts’eh is the continuation of Night Swan, while they both are two distinct representations of Spider Woman.

Allen also formulates that “Ts’eh is the matrix, the creative and life-restoring power, and those who cooperate with her designs serve her and, through her, serve life” (118). This description does not apply only to Ts’eh, but also to Night Swan, because they both embody the same creative power. Hence, as the creator and healer, Ts’eh is able to help Tayo because she represents what he needs: his “illness is a result of separation from the ancient unity of person, ceremony, and the land” (Allen 119). After they spend some time together among the mesas and arroyos, he learns how to love the earth. Old memories are almost forgotten and he starts to understand that he belongs to the land and to his Native American people. And that there is no need for him to feel embarrassed or ashamed. He can live his own life again because “the terror of the dreaming [. . .] was gone, uprooted from his belly; and the woman had filled the hollow spaces with new dreams [. . .] nothing was lost; all was retained between the sky and the earth, and within himself” (Silko, Ceremony 219). Finally, he is also able to realize that he is part of something great as Night Swan told him years ago and finish the ceremony of healing. In addition, he is able to understand where Ts’eh “had come from, and [. . .] where she would always be” (Silko, Ceremony 230). Like the mountain and the sky, she has existed from time immemorial and served as a healer and guardian. And as long as the mountain and the sky and the stories in people’s memories will remain in existence, so will she/Night Swan/Spider Woman.

    1. Laura

Laura is depicted as a middle-aged woman who lives on her own in Lucca, near Livorno, Italy, at the turn of the nineteenth century. She is an educated woman, a “professoressa” (Silko, Gardens 285), highly interested in the old European culture. She collects ancient artefacts, sculptures in particular, and places them in her gardens. Although she has several different gardens, in one of them the colour of the flowers is black. The visitors, i.e. the major characters of the novel: the Palmers and a young female Native American Indigo, at first find the garden odd, but a moment later they are able to understand why it is so because Laura explains that “to the Old Europeans, black was the color of fertility and birth, the color of the Great Mother” (Silko, Gardens 298). Therefore, it is no wonder that in her gardens the sculptures visually exemplify fertility, e.g. there are sculptures of “a human vulva” (Silko, Gardens 292) as well as of “a large phallus” (Silko, Gardens 304). By all this she expresses her interest in the pre-Christian mythology which was rather matriarchal and valued fertility in a similar way as the old Pueblo. This remarkable similarity between the old Pueblo and the old European cultures is obviously known to Silko who herself says: “I am very interested in the pre-Christian traditions in Germany and the British Isles, very interested in what people were like before the Christians came up there. Because, in a sense, there are many similarities [. . .] the people were so close to the earth and the trees” (Silko, interview with Thomas Irmer). This closeness to the earth and to the feminine principle is the most prominent feature that makes Laura one of the Healers.

Just as Nigh Swan’s and Ts’eh’s names bear significance, so does Laura’s. Laura is a feminine form of the Latin name ‘Laurus’, which translated into English means ‘laurel’ (Behind the Name). And laurel is a kind of tree: “A Mediterranean evergreen tree (Laurus nobilis) having aromatic, simple leaves and small blackish berries” (The Free Dictionary). This description can be easily applied to Laura for she lives in the Mediterranean, and like the shadow of a tree may rescue life, Laura also rescues her visitors from prison, and the blackish berries speak for the fertility and the Great Mother she admires. From all the allusions to the Great Mother we may assume that even Laura is a personification of a goddess. Actually, there some other pieces of evidence proving that Laura, although a European, is another representation of the creator of the world, Spider Woman. The evidence concerns blue colour.

In her gardens Laura has not only the sculptures, but also a fountain and a pool decorated with “blue tiles” (Silko, Almanac 285). Both the fountain and the pool are full of water and the blue tiles make the colour of the water more “intense” (Silko, Almanac 285). Moreover, Laura wears rings with stones of “purple, green, and blue” Silko, Almanac 328) while the blue of the stone evokes the sea: “the color of sea before sundown was so lovely―as clear and blue as the topaz of Laura’s ring” (Silko, Almanac 332). At these two instances blue colour represents water in general, however, there are still other ones that speak about rainwater. When Laura meets Indigo, a Native American child, she gives Indigo “pencils of all colors” (Silko, Almanac 287). The variety of colours of the pencils resembles of a rainbow, which usually appears when it is raining and the sun is shining at the same time. In addition, when Laura comes to rescue her visitors from prison, a colourful parrot called Rainbow is sitting on her shoulder, which is another example of her relation to rain. Moreover, when Laura is talking about the rain, she compares the raindrops to the “drops of breast milk” (Silko, Almanac 303). Hence the rain has a nurturing effect on the earth in the same way as the breast milk on a baby, actually, the water secures the continuation of all living things. And when we take into the account the hydrological cycle, as long as there is water, there is also life. The connection with blue colour and water is thus another feature that links Laura to Night Swan and Ts’eh who represent the “life-restoring power” (Allen 118), and through them to Spider Woman.

Due to all the allusions to Spider Woman and the similarities between Laura, Night Swan and Ts’eh, Laura can be without any doubt classified as a Healer because she supports other characters and lives in harmony with nature. Moreover, like both the female characters from Ceremony, Laura is somehow able to foretell the future, because she gives a card with her address to the Palmers in case they need help. And within a couple of days they indeed do. This is another example of many that even if she is a European, Laura resembles the old Pueblo traditions.

  1. Conclusion

In her novels Leslie Marmon Silko creates very strong female characters who represent the traditions of Silko’s ancestry, both the Native American and the European American, although Silko stresses the old Pueblo tradition in particular. As stated previously, Silko populates her novels with various female characters who all are determined to struggle through all the hardships they are exposed to, regardless of their origin. In addition, they are able to influence other people enormously, especially men. The most frequent feature Silko applies to the creation of her female characters is the traditional old Pueblo belief in female creator. This belief enables Silko to employ many characteristic features of the old Pueblo traditions in her novels, i.e. the equality of men and women and symbolism of blue colour, by which she highlights the significance of female characters in her novels.

Although all female characters in Ceremony, Almanac of the Dead, and Gardens in the Dunes are unique, they also have something in common, and therefore, they can be divided into two groups: the destroyers and the healers, depending on what kind of power they represent. In general, Destroyers are egoistic and ruthless, whereas Healers are helpful and altruistic. However, the creative power of Healers can easily turn into the destructive power of Destroyers, which is illustrated by what Tayo in Ceremony observes that the hunter tells Ts’eh: “you better fold up the blanket before the snow breaks the branches” (Silko, Ceremony 208). Ts’eh uses her power to be in control of weather to protect Tayo and the cattle from two white men, but if she does not stop in time, she will destroy the trees not only in her garden, but in the whole adjacent area. The same could happen in case Healers would not use their power reasonably because even the rain that is precious in such arid areas as Arizona and New Mexico, USA, and Mexico, would be destructive if it came as a terrible thunderstorm.

One traditional feature which connects all female characters, both Destroyers and Healers, is blue colour. As mentioned above, blue colour probably stands for water and rain. Why Silko endows Healers with blue colour is obvious, i.e. as the embodiments of the creative power they are able to take care of the earth and all living things, and to nurture them thanks to water. However, Destroyers are also surrounded by blue colour. This may indicate that they and Healers in fact represent the same power, i.e. one feminine principle, even if they in the course of the novels act as opposites. Actually, none of Silko’s female characters is one-sided. Healers can become Destroyers, and Destroyers can represent some values typical for Healers. Although Auntie belongs to Destroyers, she in fact holds the family together. Moreover, even she helps Tayo to begin the process of recovery because it is her who allows a medicine man to come and examine Tayo.

Destroyers differ from Healers in respect of how environment influenced them while they were brought up. Neither Auntie nor Leah became Destroyers the moment they were born. It was the way they were brought up that made them Destroyers because they had to adjust to the society they lived in. Auntie suffers, for she knows she is laughed at by the village people, moreover, the white society makes her feel inferior. Leah was spoilt as a child, she saw how her family ran their business and hence she learned to negotiate all obstacles using such methods as bribery. In addition, she has become indifferent to anything, the only thing that thrills her is the city of her dreams, that is why she dedicates herself to it and builds it without taking into account the irreparable harm she will cause to the earth. Although the environment has made Auntie and Leah Destroyers, it has also created Night Swan, Ts’eh and Laura who represent Healers. Even if it is not stated in the novels, it is possible that even Healers had to decide whether they want to adjust to the environment or not. Fortunately, they did not, because they were able to realize that their special abilities should be used for good purposes. Like the personifications of Spider Woman, the creator, they try to show other people the importance of the “unity of person, ceremony, and the land” (Allen 119) in the Native American/old European traditions. And that is probably the main idea which Silko wants to express through her novels.

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Silko, Leslie Marmon. Almanac of the Dead. 1991. New York: Penguin, 1992.

---. Ceremony. 1977. New York: Penguin, 1986.

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---. Gardens in the Dunes. New York: Simon, 1999.

---. Storyteller. New York: Arcade, 1981.

---. Yellow Woman and the Beauty of the Spirit. New York: Simon, 1996.

St. Clair, Janet. “Death of Love/Love of Death: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead.” MELUS 21.2 (1996): 141-156. Literature Online. Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. 15. Nov. 2005


Todd, Jude. “Knotted Bellies and Fragile Webs: Untangling and Re-Spinning in Tayo’s Healing Journey.” American Indian Quarterly 19.2 (1995). Literature Online. Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. 15. Nov. 2005


Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 2001. 3 Jun. 2006


1 The Keresan Indians are divided in respect to the dialect they speak into two groups. One of which, Western (Sitsime or Kawaiko) Group, is represented by Acoma and Laguna pueblos (“Keresan Pueblo Indians”).

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