Understanding The House Made of Dawn by Scott Momaday
In 1969, N. Scott Momaday became the first Native American to win the Pulitzer Prize in the area of Letters, Drama, and Music for best Fiction. As Schubnell relates in N. Scott Momaday: The Cultural and Literary Background, Momaday initially could not believe that he had won a prize for a work that began as a poem (93). Schubnell cites one juror who explains his reasoning for selecting House Made of Dawn as being the work's 'eloquence and intensity of feeling, its freshness of vision and subject, [and] its immediacy of theme' (93). For these reasons and many more, House Made of Dawn hailed the arrival on the American literary scene of a "matured, sophisticated literary artist from the original Americans" (Schubnell, 93).
There are many elements influencing and incorporated into House Made of Dawn that the reader will better appreciate by gaining an understanding of their history or significance in Native tradition. Louis Owens's suggests in his work Mixedblood Messages that "before discussing any aspect of Native American literature, it is important to know what literature we are talking about" (15). Thus, before one evaluates or analyzes House Made of Dawn any further, one should attain knowledge of the author and culture. Also, it will be prudent for the reader to have background knowledge of such elements as stories and running.
Momaday's life greatly affects aspects of House Made of Dawn. Navarro Scotte Mammedaty, a mixedblood of Kiowa and Cherokee descent, (as well as European ancestry on his mother's side) was born on February 27, 1934. Numerous scholars and critics note that from the beginning, Momaday was placed between two cultures, and this position would be a powerful influence throughout his life. In 1946, his family moved to Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, the place that would later become the setting for House Made of Dawn. Here, Momaday saw swift changes roll through the tribal village, such as: an exploding population, the infiltration of technology and the culture of Anglo-America, as well as alcoholism and crime. Momaday also witnessed the return of World War IIs soldiers, and the confusion and despair that accompanied them (Schubnell, 19). This period of Jemez's history would return years later in Momaday's novel, for Abel, the protagonist, is a veteran of WWII, and he, like the soldiers of Momaday's memories, is confused and desperate. Abel also turns to alcohol for relief.
Momaday's experiences would also imprint upon his mind "that only a sense of self which embraced both Indian and non-Anglican realities could lead to a worthwhile future" (Schubnell, 20). Owens suggest that it is this search for self, and a sense of identity, that lead him to write. Momaday, himself describes identity in terms of imagination:
We are what we...