House Made of Dawn

by N. Scott Momaday

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In "House Made of Dawn", how is language used as a theme to represent the sense of being at home?

In "House Made of Dawn", language is used as a theme. It is an element that creates the sense of being at home and also destroys Abel's sense of belonging. Language helps him to be spiritually connected to his culture and place, but it also keeps him from achieving a true identity.

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Ben Benally, Abel's coworker and friend in Los Angeles,is the night chanter who has created a balance between living and working in the city and remembering the language of his youth on the reservation. He shares with Abel the Navajo healing chants, teaching Abel what is necessary to be a human and a Native American. Language has great power over Abel, showing him that it also has the power to create and destroy. Abel's destruction is a result of language. Tosamah's preaching and the legal talk at his trial has silenced Abel because he's unable to communicate his need to be healed. This inability to express himself keeps him from achieving a true identity.It is also language that recreates Abel as a Native American. These reminders of his cultural heritage restore Abel, giving him the courage to go back to the reservation and become a participating member of his tribe. In the oral tradition, words regenerate not just Abel, but all Native Americans, preserving their native heritage through the stories and songs.

Francisco, Abel's grandfather, taught Abel as a youth the Native American traditions and values, but the war and other events separated Abel from those traditions. Before dying, Francisco tells stories about his life as a spiritual man and as a Dawn Runner, allowing Abel to understand the strength of being spiritually connected to a place, a language, and a way of life.

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