Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 559
It is summer in Lukachukai, a town in northeastern Arizona’s Navajo Reservation. Set and Grey have recently begun living together in a hogan near Lela’s house, where the family eats and visits together daily. Almost as soon as Set and Grey entered Grey’s family life, Set saw that Grey had “assumed an attitude of deep propriety, dignity,” and that she had effortlessly returned to the Navajo habits, dress, styles, and language of her mother’s people.
In awe of this woman whom he loves, Set marvels at how swiftly Grey has been transformed before his eyes from a beautiful girl into a beautiful woman, with experience, purpose, and grace. Moreover, she has retained her sense of humor and her ability to love and communicate fully with Set. She is truly, as her mother, Lela, says, “beautiful in her whole being.”
By the end of the first paragraph it is clear that Grey belongs to Set, and he to her. The only problem is that Grey is “whole” in her being, while Set is not. A young man of Kiowa ancestry, Set has lived outside the Navajo world all of his life. Furthermore, he was apparently raised without a family of his own, in orphanages on the fringes of society. Because of his fragmented family background, he remains incomplete. In the Navajo language he is daats’i, a person alone—an orphan in every way.
At first feeling almost boyish in Grey’s presence, Set gradually enters her world, the world, and begins to see, as for the first time, the stars, the night, the dawn, and the land spreading out around him. During the summer, he runs each morning and throughout the day in order to breathe in new life from the entire world. As he gains in strength, his creative spirit emerges. Drawing on earlier artistic training, he creates simple but strong paintings. He listens to the natural music of the wind and thunder, and the birds and coyotes, and to the Navajo words of Grey, Lela, and the others. Through those sounds and rhythms he begins to understand both the Navajo language and the Navajo world. A young Navajo girl, Nanibah (Grey’s younger sister, cousin, or niece; the exact relationship is uncertain), warms quickly to Set and adopts him.
Nearly a year of preparation passes before Set can declare to Lela that he wishes to marry her daughter. It is the same moment that he realizes this fact himself. The burden of his apartness, the burden of the daats’i, endures, however. It is a burden that Set must shed, if he can.
As the seasons approach full circle, spring quickens the mountain world of the Navajo. Puppies play by the house, butterflies flutter in the air, and rock formations shimmer in the heat. The entire world lives. With each day, Set learns and grows ever stronger, ever more a part of the living and whole world. Exercising, painting, watching, and talking all make him more complete. Grey’s love nourishes him. Lela’s cooking feeds him. The sweat lodge purifies him. Finally, when he is fully ready, he enters into the current of the wind, of water running, of shadows extending, of sounds rising up and falling away, and joins the world of the Navajo. He has become whole in his being.
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