Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Postwar Reentry Narratives in Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony and Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Postwar Reentry Narratives in Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony and Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Article excerpt

This article examines Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony alongside Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk to reveal the centrality of women's textual presence in postwar narratives. While Silko's novel incorporates female perspectives to construct productive and generative narratives, Fountain's provides a warning about the sterile, ultimately destructive narratives produced when female voices are suppressed. Focusing on the formal elements of narrative focalization in both novels, I argue that women's voices have the power to rethink the region 's intractable conceptual and geographical boundaries by configuring the American West as a regenerative space of reentry.

The destroyers had only to set it into motion, and to sit back to count
the casualties. But it was more than a body count; the lies devoured
white hearts, and for more than two hundred years white people had
worked to fill their emptiness; they tried to glut the hollowness with
patriotic wars and with great technology and the wealth it brought. And
always they had been fooling themselves, and they knew it.
-- Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1977)

Maybe the halftime show is as real as anything; what if some power or
potent agency lives in it? Not a show but a means to something,
something conferred or invoked. A ceremony.
-- Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2012)

Tayo, the protagonist of Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, has an epiphany as he cuts away at the fence on a white rancher's property, attempting to reclaim his stolen cattle: destroyers are not white people, but rather witches who have "fooled everyone," even white people who "would never be able to understand how they had been used by the witchery" (177). Tayo realizes that this destruction is worse than physical annihilation; it has "devoured white hearts" (178), plundering their lived experience and setting into motion acts of war, empty declarations of patriotism, and attempts at innovation, all to make meaningful their hollowed-out existence. As if proving Tayo's point decades later, the title character of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk reflects on the 2004 Dallas Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day halftime show, meant to honor him and fellow "Bravo" Squad members. Billy Lynn, a white soldier on a two-week Victory Tour around the US before redeploying to Iraq, wonders if he may be missing "some power" in the show and tries to convince himself there is more than meets the eye in this spectacle; perhaps it is a meaningful "ceremony" (235). These two characters demonstrate the ways that Silko's Ceremony can inform twenty-first-century narratives, particularly those of soldiers' homecomings. Reading Ceremony alongside Billy Lynn's Long Hal/time Walk, I argue, provides both a model for and a warning about ways to craft postwar narratives of reentry. (1) Silko incorporates female perspectives to construct productive and generative narratives, whereas Fountain provides a warning about the sterile, ultimately destructive narratives produced when female voices are suppressed.

Silko strategically inserts counter-perspectives into the narrative through the third-person narrator's brief focalizing through characters other than Tayo. Her narrative technique of focalizing through female perspectives, in particular, provides a useful way of rethinking the West as a point of origin by resituating the region as a point of reentry. Although most of the story is told from Tayo's perspective, these brief and somewhat anomalous voices give us a different view of the events, thereby infusing the story with an awareness of the destructive potential of deterministic, one-sided narratives. Through this narrative technique, Silko illustrates the ways that our lived experience takes shape through the stories we tell; by extension, these stories have the power to infuse the West with political and cultural significance. For instance, Tayo's story of homecoming and the ceremony that restores him to health, allowing for his reentry into the Laguna community, makes clear that the West is a region that is always being reinvented through retellings. …

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