Humanity's inhumanity to humanity.
Ceremony was written in the 1970s, as the war in Vietnam slowly wound down. A war fought by draftees who couldn't get a deferment, and that meant a higher percentage of African American soldiers than in the general population. That was one thought that stuck in my mind as I began reading Ceremony.
The protagonist is Tayo, a World War II veteran and survivor of the Bataan Death March, who is suffering from "battle fatigue," or what would be called after Vietnam PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. He has been discharged from the army hospital in Los Angeles and returned to the Laguna Pueblo where he was raised.
One of his recurring nightmares is of being ordered to execute Japanese soldiers and not being able to comply with the order. When he is waiting for the train to take him from LA to New Mexico, he collapses on the platform, and it is a Japanese-American woman, with her children, who comes to his aid.
The Japanese women were holding small children by the hands, and they were surrounded by bundles and suitcases. One of them was standing over him.
"Are you sick?" she asked.
He tried to answer her, but his throat made a coughing, gagging sound. He looked at her, and tried to focus in on the others.
"We called for help," she said, bending over slightly, the hem of her flower-print dress swaying below her knees. A white man in a train uniform came. He looked at Tayo, and then he looked at the women and children.
"What happened to him?":
They shook their heads, and the woman said, "We saw him fall down as we were coming from our train." She moved away then, back to the group. She reached down and picked up a shopping bag in each hand; she looked at Tayo one more time. He raised himself up on one arm and watched them go; he felt of a current of air from the movement their skirts and feet and shopping bags. A child stared back at him, holding a hand but walking twisted around so that he could see Tayo. The little boy was wearing an army hat that was too big for him, and when he saw Tayo looking he smiled; then the child disappeared through the wide depot doors.
The depot man helped him get up; he checked the tag on the suitcase.
"Should I call the Veterans' Hospital?"
Tayo shook his head; he was beginning to shiver all over.
"Those people," he said, pointing in the direction the women and children had gone, "I thought they locked them up."
"Oh, that was some years back. Right after Pearl Harbor. But now they've turned them all loose again. Sent them home. I don't guess you could keep up with the news very well in the hospital."