by Rosemary King*In House Made of Dawn, the protagonist, Abel, sojourns through liminal stages which culminate in a rite of passage contingent on his understanding of the power of language. A broad application of liminality that spans the breadth of N. Scott Momaday's Pulitzer Prize winning novel illustrates the importance of personal voice within in the context of oral tradition, thereby clarifying the relationship Momaday sets forth between language and liminality. Specifically, I argue that Abel is liminal from the moment he steps off the bus at Jemez Pueblo, alienated and inarticulate, to the moment he takes Francisco's place as a dawn singer and runner.
Anthropologist Victor Turner characterizes liminality as a state "`betwixt and between' all the recognized fixed points in space-time of structural classification" (97).1 As an adult lost in a world of liminality, Abel must re-claim the voice of his childhood, where his place in the traditional weave of Native culture was well defined. Abel's spiritual connection to nature is a firm peg in the cultural armature of the community: the boy-hunter is not liminal as a child. For example, during a flashback to his childhood, Abel recalls hunting geese with his brother Vidal. The memory evokes an appreciation for the sacredness of the hunt, one of grandfather Francisco's lessons. When recalling this event, Abel is acutely sensitive to nature and articulates that heightened awareness such that readers touch the "hot and sticky" blood of the bird and hear "great thrashing of wings" with the boys (Momaday 118-9). Abel is described as enraptured by the vibrant beauty of the land. He gleans such appreciation, in part, from his grandfather, Francisco, who teaches Abel and his brother the importance of the organic calendar, dawn and dusk, and the complete cycle of the sun. Momaday portrays the youth as not only articulate--Abel expresses his reverence of nature--but as capable of assuming his place within the social order of village life.
Momaday demonstrates this through Abel's flashbacks from war in which he remembers village life as "whole" (Momaday 23). This simple but profound description of boyhood contrasts to the fragmented experience of battle in WWII. As a displaced veteran trying to re-enter society, Abel again remembers his childhood as an epoch in which he was squarely rooted in the space-time coordinates of village life. In Momaday's words, Abel "had been long ago at the center, had known where he was" (104). His experiences in WWII dislocate the protagonist from a youth in which he comfortably assumed his place in the cultural fabric of society, a space in which he knew "where he was." Only after considerable difficulty following his return to pueblo life will Abel re-establish the moorings of language and place within Jemez culture.
We first see Abel as liminal when he stumbles drunkenly from the bus that brought him home after the war, an experience that displaces the space-time "social coordinates" of his childhood (Shields 83). Abel is so incoherent when he returns to the pueblo that he does not recognize his grandfather. Francisco, portrayed consistently by Momaday as one who has learned and taught oral traditions, is a symbol of the "old ways" of Native culture (Momaday 9). In not recognizing his grandfather, Abel is, in effect, not recognizing his ethnic identity. To further demonstrate this point, the author disassociates Abel from his tribal ancestors, the Bahkyush, "seers and soothsayers" galvanized "by having come so close to extinction" (16). Only twenty-strong, the Bahkyush still manage to carry forward various symbols of their heritage, such as a sacred flute and Pecos masks, demonstrating the importance of how "they thought of themselves as people" (Momaday 16).
Stumbling in a haze of alcohol, Abel is neither a seer nor a soothsayer (Waniek 24). Instead, he is a liminary who is "no longer classified and not yet classified" (Turner, Forest 96).2 In the novel, Momaday suggests the protagonist is quite far from realizing himself as a participant in traditional culture because he lacks the language essential to such roles. Inarticulate and isolated, Abel is incapable of fulfilling a role as practitioner and transmitter of oral tradition. His attempts to talk to Francisco and assimilate back into village life are abysmal failures: "He had tried in the days that followed to speak to his grandfather but he could not say the things he wanted; he tried to pray, to sing, to enter into the old rhythm of the tongue, but he was no longer attuned to it" (Momaday 58). Furthermore, Abel realizes he cannot sing a creation song one morning when he surveys a canyon at dawn (59). When he returns to Jemez after the war, Abel's lack of voice causes a sense of cultural isolation. "Abel's lack of articulation stood at the center of his personal and cultural isolation," writes critic Matthias Schubnell, "it was a syndrome of his estrangement from the oral tradition without which he remained cut off from his tribal heritage" (134). Ultimately, he must learn to sing to a canyon at dawn not only to begin a process of personal healing, but also to join his voice in the chorus of past and future pueblo communities.
Momaday has articulated the importance of oral tradition to Native culture on many occasions. For instance, he notes in a 1986-interview that "A word is intrinsically powerful. If you believe in the power of words, you can bring about physical change in the universe. That is a notion of language that is ancient and it is valid to me. . . . Every day we produce magical results with words" (Woodward 86). For Momaday, language is magical in its ability to ensure the survival of Native American culture through the perpetuation of oral tradition (297).3 The power of language is validated with each re-telling, as generation upon generation creates a chain of words. Momaday acknowledges, however, the inherent danger of a single weak link, noting oral tradition is "but one generation from extinction" (97).4 When he is liminal, Abel's silence and alienation contribute to the threat of extinction because, as a weak link in the chain of oral tradition, he is "unable" to fulfill his role in the continuation of tribal culture.
The Feast of Santiago exemplifies Abel's inability to participate well in an annual ceremony of village life after he returns from war. The feast commemorates a story in which a horse and rooster save the life of Santiago, then exchange their lives for the survival and prosperity of the village (Momaday 38-39). Each year on the 25th of July, the village reenacts the miracle of the horse and rooster, "sacred victims," through the rooster race (Scarberry-Garcia 41). The blood of the dying rooster becomes a "sacred substance that engenders more life" within the pueblo (Scarberry-Garcia 41). The ritual ensures the survival of "cultivated plants and domestic animals," a lesson Francisco would have taught Abel as a child. As an adult participant, however, Abel's performance is poor. Abel's attempt to dislodge the rooster are cautious and he does not have the courage to "lean sharply down against the shoulders" of his mount (Momaday 42). Even though some participants fall to the ground after a full-hearted attempt, the spectators respond to such efforts cheering. The crowd jeers Abel's awkward showing. Abel is further humiliated when the victor of the race, the Albino, bludgeons him with the dying animal. Somewhat pitifully, the Albino's horse traps Abel and simply hangs on while bird entrails rain down upon him.
The significance of the grisly outcome of the rooster pull is threefold. Foremost, it demonstrates Abel's inability to perform adequately in the race. It is important to perform the ritual well because a proper re-enactment honors the "sacred victims" who died to save Santiago. Second, performing well in the rooster race contributes to the bounty of the village. Abel learned this lesson as a child, yet he is incapable of fulfilling his role in the ceremony as an adult Finally, the Albino selects Abel from among all the participants of the rooster race, which confirms his status as an outsider within the community. Abel can neither deflect the blows nor escape; as a result, he feels a deep sense of humiliation. He grows increasingly alienated and silent with each failure to understand his relationship to his culture. Neither fully an "insider" nor fully an "outsider," Abel is caught "betwixt and between" communities during the ritual of the rooster pull.
Abel's estrangement from the community is further underscored when he murders the Albino during the Feast of Porcingula. During the feast, the totem of a Pecos bull runs madly about the streets in a ceremony designed to parody the relationship between members of the village and Anglos. Children taunt the bull, mock antelopes prance about it, and clowns swipe at the bull, which is ridiculed and hated because it represents evil (Momaday 80). In this carnivalesque atmosphere, Abel associates the Albino (an overt symbol of whiteness and, thus, white men) with evil. After murdering the Albino, Abel reflects: "He had killed the white man. It was not a complicated thing, after all . . . a man kills such an enemy if he can" (Momaday 102-3). Abel acts individually to wipe out evil, rather than acting collectively with the support of his community. Moreover, the timing of the murder is ironic: "The very day then that Abel kills the albino (sic) the community from which he is estranged could have provided him with a way of ritually confronting the white man" (Evers 309). Relative to his poor showing in the rooster pull during the Feast of Santiago, Abel bypasses the Pecos bull ritual altogether, an act that further underscores his liminal status.
Whereas Abel's actions during the rooster pull and bull race illustrate his ambiguous social standing, his inarticulateness during the murder trial demonstrates another form of estrangement from his culture and community. In the courtroom, Abel describes what happened on the night that he murdered the Albino. After reciting his story once, he refuses to speak further because he knows, "Word by word by word these men were disposing of him in language, their language" (Italics in original. Momaday 102). Abel recognizes he is unable to effect change through language; disempowered by the legalese of lawyers, he remains mute. In Ancestral Voice: Conversations with N. Scott Momaday, the author explains:
In the court scene, where everybody is not only talking in something other than his language but talking in a language that is even more highly artificial than languages in general--legalese--at that point he's just done in. Language becomes his enemy. It has turned on him, and he understands that there's nothing he can do about that. So he turns is back and remains silent. And that's the loss of his language--the loss of his voice. What could be more devastating? (Woodard 121)
After serving a jail sentence for murder, Abel moves to Los Angeles, where he is no more capable of integrating into Anglo culture than he was of re-claiming Jemez culture. His liminality is again expressed in an inability to communicate effectively with others in Anglo society. Ben Benally, a Native living in LA, befriends Abel, helping him to find work and offering him a place to stay. Ben explains to Abel the difficulty of negotiating between both Anglo and Native culture--the focus on language is paramount in Ben's explanation: "They have a lot of words, and you know they mean something, but you don't know what, and your own words are no good because they're not the same; they're different, and they're the only words you've got" (Italics in original. Momaday 158). Unable to decipher the pell-mell of Anglo words or re-appropriate Native words, Abel loses his job, gets drunk, and refuses to talk to Ben. Noting his friend's physical and mental deterioration, Ben calls Abel "broken," a metaphorical epithet that Momaday makes literal when Abel is badly beaten by the neighborhood bully cop and left crumpled and bloodied on the beach.
Schubnell argues that Abel emerges from liminality during the beach passage in the only critical study to address liminality in the novel. His analysis has merit on several levels. For example, Schubnell describes the beach scene as a "rite of passage in which Abel progresses from lack of understanding to knowledge, from chaos through ritual death to rebirth" (125). He highlights the image of the fence and characterizes it as a symbol of Abel's isolation (Schubnell 125). This is a particularly apt image because a fence is commonly associated with a threshold or boundary between spaces. After painful struggle, Abel reaches the fence, rests his back on it, then braces himself against it to get to his feet (Momaday 125). He has trouble using his hands, which have been mangled by Martinez. Disoriented and confused, Abel imagines Milly and Ben running on the beach. When he comes to his senses, he realizes "there was nothing but the moonlight and the long white margin of the sea on the beach" (Italics added. Momaday 126). Schubnell further argues Abel is lying in a shallow ditch similar to the symbolic graves initiates (liminals) are often placed in during rites of passage. Martinez's beating, which leaves Abel bloody and twisted, is similar to the beatings and mutilations which initiates often experience (126). Abel's bloody body may also be associated with death which is consistent with Turner's observation that liminals are often "dead to the world" ("Variations" 49).
Schubnell's argument is convincing in its assertion that the beach passage is a pivotal one, but a closer reading suggests that Abel emerges from liminality not during the beach scene, but in the final scene of the novel. Momaday makes it clear that Abel's beating represents a turning point in the protagonist's life--he realizes he will die unless he acts. In other words, his existence is as near extinction as the Bahkyush, only he isn't carrying a flute or mask as a symbol of his role in the community or "social coordinates." Although Abel leans on the fence for support, the fence still symbolizes his outsider status. Importantly, Abel does not complete his rite of passage until he recognizes the importance of his role in replacing Francisco--an act that averts the cultural extinction Momaday adamantly warns against.
Abel realizes his role as a practitioner and transmitter in the chain of oral tradition only after he receives the assistance of various guides. According to Turner, liminals often have "instructors" who assist them in a reintegration into the community that often accompanies a rite of passage (Forest 99). Three of Momaday's characters, Milly, Tosamah, and Ben, show Abel increasing "degrees of the power of language" in the novel (Waniek 24).5 Milly provides Abel a safe place to share the vision of what he may re-claim within pueblo culture. By carefully teasing out Abel's timid voice, she helps him remember a time when he was not liminal. Albeit cryptic and fragmentary, Abel for the first time in the novel shares with Milly childhood memories (such as the aforementioned hunt for wild geese) after he has been beaten by Martinez (Waniek 26).6 Stylistically, Momaday intersperses flashback and dialogue: "Milly? The moon and the water bird. Milly? What, honey? What is it? Oh Milly oh God the pain in my hands my hands are broken" (120). Repeating Milly's name during this flashback is congruous with Abel's character; nearly mute, his cautious voice waivers between his own story and his need for validation.
Where Milly provides a supportive atmosphere for Abel to test his voice, Tosamah, a Native American spiritualist in Los Angeles, piques Abel's interest in the power of words. Tosamah's reverence for language is depicted through his description of his grandmother: "She had learned that in words and in language, and there only, she could have whole and consummate being" (Momaday 94). Based on the author's real grandmother, Aho, Momaday writes, "She taught me how to live among her words, how to listen and delight," adding, "And the simple act of listening is crucial to the concept of language" (Momaday 94). In the novel, Tosamah, like Momaday, is profoundly moved when he listens to his grandmother tell stories (Momaday 95). Thus the author shapes Tosamah's message concerning the importance of language in a manner that is positive and clear: Abel will understand the power of language if he only listens.
Tosamah's sermon on the Gospel according to St. John underscores for Abel the power of language. The Native preacher charges Anglos with abusing the word by taking it for granted, thereby diluting it. In contrast to such insensitivity toward language, Tosamah advocates reverence for language because he believes that words are responsible for the creation of the world. Tosamah explains in his sermon:
Far, far away in the nothingness something happened. There was a voice, a sound, a word--and everything began. . . . In the beginning that is how it was, but there were no stars. There was only the dark infinity in which nothing was. And something happened. At the distance of a star something happened, and everything began. The word did not come into being, but it was. It did not break upon the silence, but it was older than the silence and the silence was made of it. (Momaday 96-7)
Momaday's double dash suggests both emphasis and urgency as if words were the original spark creating life. The words create life not through a "big bang" (contrasting Native and Anglo beliefs), but through an ancient silence of infinity and nothingness. Momaday further clarifies Tosamah's sermon in The Way to Rainy Mountain writing, "A word has power in and of itself. It comes from nothing into sound and meaning; it gives origin to all things" (33). Words, in sum, are intrinsically powerful because they create life. Extrapolating Tosamah's lesson from his grandmother on the importance of listening, words are also powerful because they have been passed down generationally--the stories Tosamah and Abel hear today may be the creative words that shattered the silence of the universe.
As a liminal guide, Tosamah teaches Abel several lessons. First, Tosamah drives home the importance of listening to stories handed down through his grandmother. Momaday makes a clear connection here with another grandparent: Francisco. In the final pages of the novel, Abel listens to Francisco's silence which sparks Abel's rite of passage, a theme I will address later in this article. Second, Tosamah's sermons help Abel realize why he should listen, why words are important. Language is important because they originally created life; therefore, words--perhaps the original ones--must be preserved from generation to generation. As Abel starts to grasp Tosamah's message, he realizes "He had lost his place. He had wandered to the end of the earth, was even now reeling on the edge of the void" (Momaday104). Abel cannot identify his place in Tosamah's galaxy of stars and silence because he is not tethered to words, a chain of oral tradition that transcends time. For the first time in the novel, Abel acknowledges he has a problem. Ben offers a solution.
Both brother and healer, Ben helps Abel even more than Milly or Tosamah because Ben understands how words heal wounds. Ben believes in the "power of prayer, song, and legend to heal and create" (Waniek 26). Through the course of his chapter, "The Night Chanter," Ben watches Abel become increasingly despondent as he broods over his badly bruised hands (Momaday 175). Ben's insight into Abel's body and soul is magnified by their possible kinship; Ben is Navajo and his tribe has a clan called Jemez, which is the name of Abel's pueblo (Evers 315). Furthermore, Abel's father is Navajo (Momaday 11). While the kindred ties inspire Ben to help Abel like a brother, Ben is far more than that--he is a medicine man. He "sings over" Abel as the Night Chanter, trying to restore "order in the world through his reverence for the words of the song and the influence of his voice" (Waniek 24). Ben guides Abel forward in his liminal journey by building on the foundation Milly and Tosamah have laid: Ben teaches Abel that words have the power to heal.
Navajo chantways, such as the Night Chant (or Nightway), Mountainway, or Beautyway, are some of the oldest healing songs passed down orally (Spencer 11-15). 7 Traditionally, a medicine man passes on a chantway by "singing-it-over" a patient (Evers 317). Singing the complete prayer takes nine days, always concludes at dawn, and requires the patient to repeat the prayer back to the medicine man (Scarberry-Garcia 33, 92-93). While Abel lies in a hospital bed recovering from the beating, Ben comments on their conversations: "'House Made of Dawn.' I used to tell Abel about those old ways, the stories and the sings, Beautyway and Night Chant. I sang some of those things, and I told him what they meant, what I thought they were about" (146). In this passage, "the allusion to the `The House Made of Dawn' of the Night Chant," explains critic Lewis Owens, "suggests that a journey toward reintegration and healing will be part of the experience of the novel" (95). The Night Chants Ben sings over Abel are restorative in nature (Evers 317). Nine nights later, Abel begins his own healing process by concluding the prayer: "Abel sings this prayer at `the end' of the story as he runs in the dawn, a delayed response to Ben for sure but still a gesture of completion and fulfilled obligation" (Scarberry-Garcia 10). Abel taps into an ancient tradition of sacred language when he concludes the Night Chants Ben has started.
In selecting the healing prayers of the Night Chants, Momaday alludes to the Stricken Twins, mythical siblings who experience a liminal journey similar to that of Abel and, to a limited extent, Vidal. According to the myth, thousands of years ago Navajo deities called "digini" taught the healing songs of the Night Chant to the Stricken Twins, who then taught it to the "People on the Earth"; native medicine men, in turn, have sung the Night Chant over patients (Matthews 265). According to the story, the Stricken Twins, named Elder and Younger Brother, are illegitimate children of poor Navajo woman and a god. The nine-year-old brothers wander into a rock cave which attracts then mysteriously envelops them. When the cave opens days later, the boys are severely injured: Elder is blinded; Younger is paralyzed. The two improvise a way to travel whereby Younger, who can see, rides the back of Elder, who can walk (Matthews 212-18). The twins demonstrate a high level of trust and mutual dependence, a relationship characteristic of siblings in Navajo chantways (Spencer 69-72). In a sense, the Stricken Twins are "both this and that" (Turner, "Variations" 49): they are separate individuals with distinct capabilities, who travel (and often act) as one.
After the Stricken Twins are maimed, they seek a cure but neither human nor god will heal them because they have no offerings (Matthews 219-243).8 The wander on a liminal journey, outsiders in each community they encounter, until they are finally received. The "digini" hold a sweathouse curing ceremony for the injured boys. During the ceremony, the twins violate the protocol of the ceremony by crying out joyfully when they realize they are nearly cured. However, the gods are offended by the violation and halt the ceremony before the boys are healed. In despair, the boys sing the Night Chant sadly; the "digini" are so moved by the beauty of their song, however, they heal the boys in another ceremony. This time, the boys do not violate the ceremony (Matthews 244-265). Once they are healed, the twins teach others the healing songs of the Night Chant in an effort to help those who have lost their way. In sum, the Stricken Twins emerge from a liminal journey and establish their own role as an important link in the transmission of the Night Chant; their rite of passage ensures the song will be handed down to a future generation.
Abel and Vidal symbolize the "betwixt and between" status of the Stricken Twins. One example of this is the maiming of Abel and Vidal which mirrors that of the Stricken Twins, such that Vidal (the elder brother) is blinded and Abel (the younger brother) is paralyzed (Allen 12).9 Momaday illustrates this via the flashback of Abel and Vidal hunting geese. Referring to the geese, Abel states, "Did you see? Oh, they were beautiful! Oh Vidal, oh my brother, did you see?" (Momaday 119). In this scene, Abel tells Milly twice that he wanted his brother to see the birds (Momaday 120). This passage suggests that Vidal does not see as well as Abel, a clear parallel with the myth of the Stricken Twins. Furthermore, Abel is paralyzed in the beach scene. He crawls to the fence and braces himself against it to sit upright and he drags himself through the streets on a "tortuous journey" home, stumbling and dizzy along the way (Momaday 125-6). Vidal's poor sight on the hunt, Abel's paralysis on the beach, coupled with the boys' illegitimacy, confirms their status outside the normal rubric of community life.
Whereas the Stricken Twins are two separate beings who become one, Abel's brother dies; nevertheless, Abel's liminal story continues to parallel the myth because he assumes the blindness of his metaphoric twin, Vidal. Abel can see neither his problem of inarticulateness nor his role in Jemez culture. When he is liminal, Abel admits he has no "insight" into his problem. In the beach scene, which occurs between night and day, Abel has a difficult time opening his bloodied and blackened eyes after Martinez's beating. The dawn beach setting is particularly appropriate given Turner's premise that the hour between night and day is a "liminal time" (Revelation 189), when it is difficult to see clearly in the hazy luminescence. Furthermore, Abel is near death, perhaps the ultimate dark world, in this scene. In total, Abel embodies the blindness and paralysis which reflect the Stricken Twin's own limitations on a liminal journey in which they are "both this and that."
The Stricken Twins and Abel learn about the power of language and re-claim their voices only after violating the protocol of a ceremony. The Stricken Twin's act of shouting out during a ritual is as gross a misconduct as Abel's poor showing in the rooster race--particularly when read in relation to Francisco's role in various ceremonies. The Feast of Porcingula and the bear hunt offer appropriate examples of Francisco's ability to perform well in rituals. For example, Francisco recollects his participation in the ceremony, "remember(ing) that it was done honorably and well" (Momaday 80). When Francisco learns to play the drums at the feast, initially he is fearful of a poor showing. However, he drums well and recognizes "it was perfect" (Momaday 208). Similar to the cheering in the rooster race, the townspeople recognize Francisco's proper execution of the ceremony and come out with baskets of food to celebrate his "perfect act" (Momaday 208). When Francisco hunts and kills the bear, an initiation trial of manhood, he notes, "it was over and well done" (Momaday 203). Momaday's repeated description of Francisco's stellar performances provides a basis to assess Abel's ineptness. Relative to Francisco's efforts in various ceremonies, Abel showing at the rooster race, for example, is lame. Abel's poor showing is as much a violation as the Stricken Twin's shout during the first healing ceremony.
Like the Stricken Twins, Abel ultimately finds his voice and continues the tradition of the Night Chant with the help of Francisco. Once the Night Chant ceremony is begun, Abel must complete it properly at Jemez. In the final section of the book, "The Dawn Runner," Abel has returned to the pueblo where Francisco tells him several stories. Initially Abel does not recognize the importance of Francisco's words: "His mind was borne upon the dying words, but they carried him nowhere" (Momaday 195). The words "carry him no where" because, in a practical, physical sense, Abel dozes, half-asleep and half-awake. Francisco continues to talk until the dawn of his death. At that exact moment, Abel understands:
It was growing late, and he dozed. Still he could hear the faintest edge of his grandfather's voice on the deep and distant breathing out of sight, going on and on toward the dawn . . . another--one more dawn. The voice had failed each day, only to rise up again in the dawn. The old man had spoken six times in the dawn, and the voice of his memory was whole and clear and growing like the dawn. . . . Abel was suddenly awake, wide awake and listening. Nothing had awakened him. . . . He could see no movement, and he knew that the old man was dead. (Momaday 197, 209)
There is a double meaning to the statement that "Nothing had awakened him." At first glance, one might conclude that no outside force (i.e., sound of a bird) physically woke him up. A closer reading suggests that Abel wakes up because there is "nothing" at dawn--silence when there should be words. In other words, while Abel dozes he faintly hears Francisco's voice which starts each morning at dawn and trails off during the day. The instant dawn arrives and Abel does not hear Francisco's voice, Abel wakes up because of the silence. This interpretation resonates with Tosamah's sermon where, paradoxically, silence is "made" of words. More importantly, Abel has heeded Tosamah's message by listening to the ancient words. At the exact instant of Francisco's death, Abel is no longer "betwixt and between": he is physically awake to the power of language. Abel's journey through liminality is complete.
When Francisco dies, Abel properly prepares his grandfather's body in accordance with Native ritual. Momaday describes Abel laying water on Francisco's head, dressing the body in ceremonial colors, and sprinkling corn meal in four directions. Abel knows what has to be done to perform a ceremony properly (Evers 319). In stark contrast to the rooster pull, Abel's execution of this ceremony is "done well." For the first time in the novel, Abel acts as properly and perfectly as Francisco had done in previous ceremonies.
Abel's participation as a dawn runner, which is also "done well," illustrates that he has found his place in the ritual fabric of traditional village life. In contrast to his earlier metaphorical blindness, for example, he is capable of seeing. Momaday writes, "He could see the canyon and the mountains and the sky. He could see the dark rain and the river and the fields beyond. He could see the dark hills at dawn" (212). The repetition of "he could see" underscores Abel's healing; he is no longer blind to his role in pueblo culture. Abel also grasps the significance of the role of the dawn runners, who chase evil on behalf of the entire community; they were "whole and indispensable in what they did; everything in creation referred to them. . . . Evil was. Evil was abroad in the night; they must venture out to the confrontation; they must reckon dues and divide the world" (Italics added. Momaday 103-4). The runners are "whole," a description Abel used earlier in the novel to define his childhood. He joins them recognizing their importance to the survival of village life and the importance of his own participation in the ritual. "The race, then, is a race for identity, both personal and communal," writes Schubnell, "It finds its final resolution in the ceremonial race which shows Abel reconciled with his native culture and the Indian universe" (137). Abel learns to chase evil away through the collective ritual rather than fighting evil single-handedly, as with the murder of the Albino. As Abel starts to run, he sings "House Made of Dawn." By articulating the words of the song, Abel becomes whole like the fellow dawn runners. The healing Night Chant is fully completed, nine days after Ben begins it, the moment Abel sings. Whole and healed, Abel fully grasps and accepts his role in the traditions of village life.
Long characterized as a novel disjointed and fragmented in form, interpreting House Made of Dawn using liminal stages provides a series of frames to view the relationship of language and liminality. As friends and family guide Abel to an increasingly more sophisticated understanding of language, his journey teaches him the importance of his role as a practitioner of oral tradition. In the final pages of the novel, Abel recognizes his identity within Jemez culture, effectively re-claiming the place and voice of a childhood in which he was securely grounded in the ritual fabric of the community. Dypaloh and qtsedaba are the alpha and omega of Abel's journey--his rite of passage is complete because he now has words powerful enough to articulate more than his own story.
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Evers, Lawrence J. "Words and Place: A Reading of House Made of Dawn." Western American Literature 2 (1976-77) 297-320.
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Scarberry-Garcia, Susan. "The Twins: `Abelito, Vidalito.'" Landmarks of Healing: A Study of House Made of Dawn. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990. 17-38.
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Schubnell, Matthias. "The Man Made of Words: Momaday's Theory of Language and the Imagination." N Scott Momaday: The Cultural and Literary Background. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985. 40-62.
Spencer, Katherine. "Siblings." Mythology and Values: An Analysis of Navaho (sic) Chantway Myths. Philadelphia: American Folklore Society, 1957. 69-73.
Turner, Victor. "Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage." The Forest of Symbols. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986. 93-111.
---. Revelation and Divination in Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975. 33, 189.
---. "Variations on a Theme of Liminality." Blazing the Trail: Way Marks in the Exploration of Symbols. Ed. Edith Turner. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992. 48-65.
Waniek, Marilyn. "The Power of Language in N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn." Minority Voices: An Interdiciplinary Journal of Literature and the Arts 4 (1980): 23-28.
Woodard, Charles L. Ancestral Voice: Conversations with N. Scott Momaday. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.
Department of English
Colorado Springs, CO
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