Cultural Conflict in The Plumed Serpent and House Made of Dawn
When two cultures are thrown together, tensions can be created within the people of each culture. This disruption can cause unconscious forces to surface that create anxiety, pull people together, or push them in unexpected directions. The genesis and consequences of those psychological forces are examined in D. H. Lawrence's The Plumed Serpent and N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn. In addition to the unfamiliarities and adjustments that might be expected to arise between a primitive native culture and an industrialized urban culture, these novels suggest that individuals in cultural conflict may also be struggling with fundamental spiritual questions that are lurking beneath the consciousness of all people.
Reading these two novels together reveals several similar points of view shared by two authors of widely differing backgrounds. These points of agreement surface as a result of the strains between cultures, and they gain strength and value in that they are products of two perspectives: the dominant European culture and the oppressed native culture. In this way the two books refer to each other often and sympathetically.
In The Plumed Serpent, a sophisticated middle-aged Irish woman struggles to reconcile her loathing for all things Mexican with her unexpected attraction to the leaders of a resurrected pagan Aztec religion. In House Made of Dawn, a Native American veteran of World War II dangles between his inability to fit in successfully with white America and his ambivalent attachment to his Kiowa religious traditions. It is rough sailing for both characters, and at the center of the storm is the uncertainty of how an individual finds a satisfying sense of place and meaning in a brief and turbulent life.
From the start, both novels express strong dissatisfaction with European-American industrialized society. Native American Abel can't get his life established and on track in a white world of machines and processes that are separated from nature. Kate, who has been comfortable in the modern world all her life, has now become thoroughly disgusted with pretentious and predictable European-American customs and manners. There is a strong sense of oppression felt by the natives in both novels, which creates an atmosphere of resentment and antagonism against the dominant culture. Fear and retribution is pervasive, finding expression in Abel's friend who has fantasies of slaughtering a wagon train of whites, and also in the dark, seething eyes of the Mexican natives. Both authors also suggest that the mental-spiritual life of the white race is sterile and withering. Abel and Kate, two people living in the borderland between two cultures, are feeling the tension and are in serious need of something new, something different.
That "something" definitely isn't Christianity. A second point of...