Monday, July 2, 2018

Re-Finding His Place

A lost man stands at the center of N. Scott Momaday's novel, House Made of Dawn, while Native American and white culture swirl around him.

Abel returns to his pueblo after a stint in the military, where he discovers his immersion in the mainstream has separated him from the spiritual awareness his grandfather instilled in him. He struggles to stay sober, find work, and recover his ancestral ways, a struggle complicated by his relationship with a visiting white woman. After committing a murder that seems inevitable -- "A man kills such an enemy if he can" -- Abel goes to jail. In Los Angeles, six years later, he continues to search, unsuccessfully, for his place in the world. Eventually he returns to the pueblo to take care of his dying grandfather, and it is through the ritual associated with death that Abel begins to heal.

Momaday's language is simple but intensified, appropriate for a novel that began as a series of poems, and his depiction of Native American life and beliefs opens a pathway for understanding. His description of a bear hunt, for example -- something that would normally repel me -- shows how the hunt itself comes to bind the hunter and the hunted, each growing increasingly aware of the other until the outcome expresses an agreement between them.

As the novel moves from pueblo to city to pueblo again, we follow Abel's journey to recover his heritage and his identity. In the final running scene, though moving, he recovers at last his Native American life, heading into the future, with joy.   


You felt good out there, like everything was all right and still and cool inside of you, and that black horse loping along like the wind. Your grandfather was another year older and he cried; he cried because your mother and father were dead and he had raised you and you had gone away and you were coming home. You were coming home like a man, on a black and beautiful horse. He sang about it. It was all right, everything, and there was nothing to say. 

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. It's also part of my quest to read all the Pulitzer winners.

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