House Made of Dawn Themes

Themes

Prejudice and Tolerance

Strangely, for a novel about Native American suffering in the white world, there is not a lot of overt prejudice on the parts of the characters in House Made of Dawn. The most brutal character in the novel, Martinez, says nothing to indicate that his action is racially motivated; he has a Spanish name himself, making him no more a representative of the white culture than Abel. The two white women, Angela and Milly, treat Abel well and respect his heritage.

The only character to really point out racial differences is Tosamah. He sarcastically declares his respect for the whites for the way they have oppressed the Indians This prejudice is mirrored in Tosamah's prejudice against Native Americans that follow traditional beliefs. In talking about "longhairs," or the people who follow the traditional way and do not adapt to urban life, Tosamah is so negative that he alienates Abel.

Culture Clash

Some critics interpret Momaday's novel as a statement about the difficulty faced by Native Americans as they are forced to assimilate into the outside world. This struggle is reflected in the experiences of the protagonist, Abel, as he returns home after a stint in the army during World War II.

Late in the book, Abel recalls a culture clash between his Native American world and the white world during his time in the military. While under fire and faced with an advancing tank, Abel stood up, whooped, danced, sang, and gave an obscene gesture to the tank. Momaday is not clear about whether this monologue is meant to be testimony in a court marshal (it ends with Abel running off into the trees), but it is clearly not normal behavior under fire.

When he arrives back at Walatowa drunk, it is clear that he has not assimilated the standards of...

(The entire section is 752 words.)

House Made of Dawn Themes

Momaday's special concern with language stems from his background as a member of a culture with a strong oral tradition, in which language has the power to create and destroy. Abel's destruction comes about through language: from Tosamah's daunting preaching, to the "legalese" at his trial , which silences him. Abel is unable to communicate his need to be healed, and his silence pervades the novel. Abel's recreation also comes through language and ritual. His friend, Benally, teaches him to recreate himself as a native American; "House made of dawn" is the beginning of a Navajo ritual of healing, which encompasses and orders the world. These reminders of his cultural heritage restore Abel, and give him courage to go back to the reservation and become a "longhair" — a participating member of his tribe.

This ordering power of language also embraces Abel's search for the sacred, which Momaday locates in ancient ritual and a bonding to the land. Abel has many guides who lead him through the landscape of the spirit: the paganism and witchery of the albino, the Catholicism of Father Olguin, Tosamah's peyote road, Benally's Navajo chants, and Francisco's death. Although these guides can show Abel the spiritual paths that he can follow, he must create his own language and his "center" — he alone is ultimately responsible for his healing.

(The entire section is 220 words.)