Themes

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Last Updated on October 11, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 423

In The Man Made of Words, Momaday provides readers with a collection of prose pieces on a broad range of topics. As he discusses politics, prejudice, art, and travel, several distinct themes emerge.

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The Theft of the Sacred

Momaday emphasizes the way in which European settlement has constituted a "theft of the sacred" from Native Americans. While Momaday is more militant in some pieces and more somber in others, a common theme between the pieces gathered here is a recognition of the way in which European colonizers and practices functioned to disrupt Native American ways of being. This was accomplished in several ways, including directly exterminating Native Americans, forcibly uprooting them, and intentionally working to eliminate Native American culture. A notable example of these injustices was the European use of coercive boarding schools, where Native American children were raised away from their own people and indoctrinated with European mores—thus disrupting the passing down of culture and oral traditions across generations.

Words as Sacred

Throughout the collection, Momaday discusses the connection between "the sacred" and "the real," framing modernity as having lost touch with the sacred because it has abandoned "the real." Momaday connects this loss of "the real" to "print culture," the ideas linked to European knowledge systems based in books. Momaday contrasts this with Native American oral traditions, in which "Every word spoken, every word heard, is the utterance of prayer." This idea of the sacredness, reality, and importance of words spoken and heard gives the collection its title and makes clear one of Momaday's priorities as a writer.

Place as Sacred

Momaday emphasizes the...

(The entire section contains 423 words.)

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