Te’sh: A Psychoanalytic/Feminist Reading of the Character – English Essay
Due to space constraints in my final paper, I could not mention much in respect to the feminist view point and the character of Te’sh. While most of Ceremony I found confusing and a bit of a tedious read, the character of Te’sh really interested me on many levels. First, she is
one of the only female characters in the book who redeems Tayo, while his grandma (and earlier his mother) typically didn’t treat him very well. His heritage had turned them off to him as well as his mother’s shameful reputation. She had neglected Tayo in favor of male company, and his grandma forever saw her daughter’s shame in his face and rarely treated him in a civil way. The character Te’sh seems to redeem the role of females in this story as sort of scornful or shameful figures and, in fact, serves as the final chapter in Tayo’s insanity, banishing the last of his demons and reconstructing him once more.
I find that Te’sh represents something much greater than just a benevolent female character in this book. Night Swan seems to play that role (though, having a reputation as a prostitute doesn’t help her much in the face of shame), affirming that Tayo is not a disgrace due to his half-blooded ancestry. I believe that Te’sh is a mere projection of Tayo’s feminine side and is given birth to help complete the man that he once was.
Tayo was once a man who cared so much about the delicate balance of nature and spiritual energy that he questioned an order to open fire on his enemy because he felt connected to them (via seeing his uncles face). He was a man who revered nature and the rain, and in this defilement that World War II inflicted upon him, he turned his back on it all. He cursed the jungle, he cursed the rain – he even lost his cousin Rocky, which was the so-called straw that broke the camels back. After he visits the second shaman Betonie and learns what he must find in order to heal himself, Ts’eh guides him the rest of the way.
Ts’eh is a mountain woman and is considered to be the personification of his entire ceremony, maybe even the earth itself. All that Tayo knew was that he had to go into the mountains in search of cattle, and he more or less runs into her as mysteriously as appearing out of thin air. She lives alone and no one sees her by Tayo. Instead of showing him how to corral cattle, she awakens that dormant side of him. Through her guidance, he finds all of the things that Betonie had set him onto finding. Unlike Night Swan or any other character, male or female, Ts’eh was the one who set him straight… but she was really him.
One clue we have to this end is that Betonie says that only Tayo is capable of healing himself after he is finished with him. If Ts’eh was another character, independent of Tayo, this would have been a falsehood. I believe that Betonie spoke true and Tayo’s encounter of Ts’eh was an encounter with his female alter ego, projected as a solution to his vision quest. It’s fitting for him because after his delve into alcoholism, he lost that emotional and romantic side to him. His friends that encouraged bar hopping as a method to alleviate his grief had driven that female personality of Tayo’s far away, leaving only a man and his brews.
Ts’eh is the most interesting character in the book. Emo is fairly cliché and a stereotypical villain while his other friends are little more than easily manipulated goons. No other character raises the question in my mind as to whether or not she serves to complete the main character (which she does, quite literally) as his alter ego or just as his guidance. Without her, however, it is obvious that Tayo would have never finished his vision quest, and perhaps died by Emo’s hands when him and his minions came calling.