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Presented at the 2002 annual meeting of the Western Literature Association by Mick McAllister.
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Mick McAllister. "The Complaisance of Privilege: William Eastlake's House Made of Dawn". At Wanderer's Well http://www.dancingbadger.com/housemd.htm (October, 2002).
Summary: An examination of Scott Momaday's Pulitzer-Prize novel, House Made of Dawn, arguing that the novel has been misread as a result of assumptions readers make about the content of "American Indian Literature."
Due to circumstances beyond my control (the disappearance of some notes in a recent crosstown move), the reference annotations are incomplete as of October 15, 2002. They will be completed as soon as I find the missing notebook.
1. I am borrowing here W. S. Penn's apt revision of Wayne C. Booth's concept of the "implied author." See Feathering Custer (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001).
2. So described by Larry Evers, in his essay, "Words and Place in House Made of Dawn," Western American Literature, Winter 1997, p. 317.
3. Quoting almost verbatim from Washington Mathews' Navajo Legends.
4. In an interview, Momaday suggests another odd use of traditional practice for his own ends. The interviewer asks if the beating (it is unclear if this means the beating by the albino or the one by Martinez) is meant to evoke the whipping by the kachinas which is part of a man's initiation, and Momaday confirms. But the kachina whipping is without malice and not meant to harm. One is left to ponder what it means, that the malicious violence of the albino and the brutality of Martinez are somehow related to the traditional rites of passage.
5. Gladys A. Reichard, Navajo Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), p.384, quoting Haile. The bear, unlike snake and eagle, is not a significant part of Jemez religious or spiritual lore.
6. He discusses his "bear power" in great detail with Charles Woodard, for example. See Ancestral Voice, pp.14-18.
7. "Incarnate Grace and the Paths of Salvation in House Made of Dawn," South Dakota Review, Winter 1974.
8. In Woodard (124) Momaday distances himself from Tosamah rather ingenuously by pointing out, "I'm not a relocated Indian in Los Angeles." He calls Tosamah his "mouthpiece," but only for "certain ideas about language." In another interview (Schubnell 1997) he refers to Tosamah as the most interesting character in the novel. After reading Ancestral Voice, it should be clear that Tosamah's role as "mouthpiece" is much broader than that. The significant difference from Tosamah that stays with us is that Momaday is more polite.
9. Momaday in Woodard, p. 199: "the Indian has no choice in the matter. He must accommodate himself to what we call the dominant society. That is the future."
10. Woodard. M on "remembered earth."
11. W p. . Momaday moved to Jemez in 1946, at the age of 12. He went to junior high in Santa Fe, high school in Bernalillo, finished at a military boarding school in Virginia, then entered UNM in 1952. After graduating from UNM, he taught for one year on the Jicarilla Reservation, in Dulce, New Mexico, before entering the graduate program at Stanford. His relationship with Jemez Pueblo, for the entire "twenty-year period" he refers to, however significant it may have been for him, is more that of visitor than citizen.
12. Robert M. Nelson re-phrased my point succinctly in our personal correspondence about this essay. We were discussing the difference between the novel and film versions of House Made of Dawn and I mentioned Leslie Silko's unfinished film of "Arrowboy and the Witches", Stolen Rain, prompting this observation:
And maybe part of the magic is that Silko filmed Stolen Rain on Laguna land... and was always half-aware ("something forever at he margin of her vision"?) of all her aunties and uncles and their cohorts and all those folks over to Acoma who knew this story, and this place, and would be holding her accountable for her version, meaning she was holding herself accountable to a community the likes of which Momaday could only give notional consent to but never directly experience the binding power of.
(Email of June 9, 2002. Quoted with permission)
13. Momaday speaks quite positively of "rootlessness" in Ancestral Voice: "I wasn't born on a land base with which I could identify," he says (p.38). Earlier he had this to say: "One hears talk about how terrible it is for a child to move about and lose his friends and continually enter new situations—how demanding that is—but I certainly did not think of it that way then, and I don't think of it that way now" (p 7). He observes somewhere that his sense of a "land base" may be highly determined by the nomadic nature of the Kiowa tradition. There remains to be written an essay on how Momaday's aesthetic has been shaped and his work determined by the norms of Kiowa culture. This would be a much more useful scholarly pursuit than further investigations of his use of Navajo and Pueblo lore and customs.
14. While Al Momaday's Kiowa heritage is by no means dubious, even though he was, as Momaday points out occasionally, only half Kiowa by blood, Natachee Scott, Momaday's mother, is a much less ambiguous case. Momaday has brilliantly described, in The Names, how she "imagined herself Indian," having grown up white with a rebellious streak that identified with a vaguely identified Cherokee grandmother. Momaday does not look very carefully at how this "creative act" is different from the New Age "discovery" of one's "Indian spirit."
15. Joseph Sando's description of the races in Nee Hemish make it clear that personal competition is inappropriate.
16. Ironically, even Francisco's appreciation of the mystery of the drums is not Indian "blood knowledge." Angela's transformation, complete by August 1, is shaped by her nonverbal understanding of the Cochiti dancers and of the drumming rain that comes after her sexual awakening.
17. I believe it also appears in The Names, though I have been unable to find it. This is a performance piece that Momaday used for some years as an autobiographical narrative. It appears in The Man Made of Words with no provenance. It was originally published as an item in his Viva columns for The Santa Fe New Mexican ("A Special Sense of Place," May 7, 1972). Thanks to Matthias Schubnell for tracking down the original publication for me. If the interpretation of the last words seems tenuous, consider Momaday's last words about his Pecos horse, at the conclusion of The Names. Having described the horse, he wonders if the horse remembers him (p 160).
18. Woodard identifies and defends this element of Momaday's persona, in the first few pages of Ancestral Voice: He describes Momaday as "a man with an unusual degree of self-interest. But his self-interest should not be confused with egoism. He is not self-absorbed" (W 1). I'm afraid I must disagree. Whether one approves of self-absorption or not, it is difficult to find any other word for Momaday's almost religious solipsism.
19. "I do not believe that her home exists in her absence, though I am willing to believe that it exists in mine" (MMW, 210). This is an area of Momaday's aesthetic that is, like his stance on poetry and language, a bit contradictory. Consider the Berkeleyan absolute here in the context of his oft-cited counter-assertion, "Events... take place" (Names 142).
20. In other interviews he has asserted that the storyteller "creates" the audience of the story as well as the story itself. Contrast the traditional Indian notion of storytelling, that the audience and the storyteller relive the story together. Even among the Plains tribes, the recounting of coups required the presence of confirming witnesses—that is to say, a consensus of others not "created" by the speaker.
21. In his Scott Momaday: The Cultural and Literary Background. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985).
22. The horses and Pony, the Navajo "slim girl" he has a crush on.
23. Jemez historian Joseph S. Sando uses the name Walatowa in his history of Jemez (Nee Hemish), but neglects of provide a translation, even when listing translations of other, abandoned Jemez towns. Clearly for him the meaning of the name is "private." The reason Momaday chooses to use the traditional name, I suspect, is that one of three possible translations of the name is "Bear Town."
24. Jemez historian Joseph S. Sando states in an email that Momaday's "informant" (Sando's word) for House Made of Dawn was Joe Tosa, son of Francisco Tosa, both of whom are mentioned in The Names. Joe Tosa is the brother of Abel Tosa (private correspondence with Joe Sando). Momaday, in a 1972 interview (Schubnell 1997, p. ), stated that Abel was based on a real Jemez man who "blew his brains out." In his correspondence regarding the privacy issue Joseph Sando refers with generous discretion to the Jemez attitude: "Today's educated Jemez Pueblo students found errors in the book as communication was not the best at the time."
25. Abel Sando served as governor of Jemez Pueblo. See Joseph S. Sando's Nee Hemish.
26. Schubnell, p. 11.
27. See the essays in Part One of his collection The Man Made of Words, particularly "The Arrowmaker," "The Native Voice in American Literature," "To Save a Great Vision," and "The American West and the Burden of Belief." Each treats the relationship of storyteller, story, and audience, and all gloss over, often without even a mention, the relationship of "real text" to the translation upon which he bases his theses and with which he supports his assertions about language. Clearly what is important about the oral texts is somehow external to the original, aboriginal words, languages, and realities that the texts point at.
28. I can only think of one other way. "Hobson's Choice" is British for "no choice at all." Momaday had a Jicarilla student with the first name "Hobson" when he was teaching at Dulce, New Mexico. So one element of the name choice is the very invasive "real name" appropriation employed in House Made of Dawn. Information about the "real" Hobson from email correspondence with Jose Aguirre on the Jicarilla Reservation, who remarked on June 26, 2002, "I know two people on the Jicarilla Apache reservation who have the name Hobson."
29. One of the many infelicities of that novel is the extraordinary collapse of Grey's character once she "devotes herself" to Set/Scott.
30. Not only does Grey "write" some of Momaday's poetry and fiction, she writes it in the exact words Momaday used, cribbing directly from his other work. And at one point, she reads and approves, with a minor historical reservation, two pages of The Names, though the narrative archly fails to mention the title of the book she is reading.
31. Robert M. Nelson, in Place and Vision, makes a case for the albino's attack on Abel with the chicken as an attempt to integrate him into the community, offering him an opportunity to be "one of the guys," so to speak. Larry Evers suggests something similar in his essay, "Words and Place" (WAL, pp.305). What the albino does, beating Abel, is an impersonal, necessary part of the ritual. And we inevitably wonder if Abel's knifing of the man later is an inappropriate act of revenge. What is more telling, the circumstances and actions are mirrored, twenty years later, in the attack on Set with the sacred bear paw, and the latter attack is a necessary element of curing and conveyance that has in it neither malice nor animosity, even though Set responds to it as an assault. Momaday himself has drawn a rather dubious parallel between the beating in House Made of Dawn and the ritual whipping for initiation in Pueblo ceremonialism.
32. The "ashes" race that Abel joins in, is one that Francisco identifies as "for good hunting,"and it occurs in January (Parsons, p. 76; Sando p. ); the February race is for irrigation and ditch clearing, and features kicking a kind of relay stick, not coating the body with ashes. One reason for "moving" the Sumihova race to February is to allow the "ashes" race to occur on the day after Ash Wednesday (February 28, 1952).
33. Momaday's birthday in 1952 fell on Ash Wednesday, and the dates of both races are not fixed but moveable according to the dictates of the Jemez ceremonial calendar, so his decision to select these dates seems meaningful. But how?
34. Momaday has observed that he doesn't know—or care—what the answers are to some of these questions (Schubnell 1997 p ). And while I agree in principle that a fiction may be open-ended, leaving us to wonder what "happens next," the line between ambiguity and confusion is crossed far too often in those opening and closing scenes.