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L A W R E N C E J. E V E R S University of Arizona Words and Place: a Reading of House Made of Dawn In order to consider seriously the meaning of language and of literature, we must consider first the meanings of the oral tra­ dition.1 I Native American oral traditions are not monolithic, nor are the traditions with which Momaday works in House Made of Dawn — Kiowa, Navajo, and Towan Pueblo.2 Yet there are, he suggests, “com­ mon denominators.”3 Two of the most important of these are the native American’s relation to the land and his regard for language. By imagining who and what they are in relation to particular land­ scapes, cultures and individual members of cultures form a close relation with those landscapes. Following D. H. Lawrence and others, Momaday 1“The Man Made of Words,” in Indian Voices: the First Convocation of American Indian Scholars (San Francisco: Indian Historian Press, 1970), p. 55. 2For surveys see Ermine Wheeler-Voegelin, “North American native literature,” Encyclopedia of Literature, Vol. II, ed. Joseph T. Shipley, pp. 706-21; Mary Austin, “Aboriginal,” in The Cambridge History of American Literature, ed. William Peterfield Trent et al. (New York: Macmillan, 1945), pp. 610-34; and more recently Alan Dundes, “North American Indian Folklore Studies,” Journal de la société des Américanistes, 56 (1967), pp. 53-79. 3“A Conversation with N. Scott Momaday,” Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literary Magazine, 2, No. 2 (1976), p. 19. 298 Western American Literature terms this a “sense of place.”4 A sense of place derives from the percep­ tion of a culturally imposed symbolic order on a particular physical topography. A superb delineation of one such symbolic order is offered by Tewa anthropologist Alfonso Ortiz in his study The Tewa World from which the following prayer is taken: Within and around the earth, within and around the hills, within and around the mountains, your authority returns to you.5 The Tewa singer finds in the landscape which surrounds him validation for his own song, and that particular topography becomes a cultural landscape, at once physical and symbolic. Like Ko-sahn, Momaday’s grandmother, the native American draws from it “strength enough to hold still against all the forces of chance and disorder.”6 The manner in which cultural landscapes are created interests Momaday, and the whole of his book The Way to Rainy Mountain may be seen as an account of that process.7 During their migration journey the Kiowa people “dared to imagine and determine who they were. . . . The journey recalled is among other things the revelation of one way in which these traditions are conceived, developed, and interfused in the human mind.”8 The Kiowa journey, like that recounted in emergence narratives of other tribes, may be seen as a movement from chaos to order, from discord to harmony. In this emergence the land­ scape plays a crucial role, for cultural landscapes are created by the imaginative interaction of societies of men and particular geographies. In the Navajo emergence narrative, for example, First Man and First Woman accompanied by Coyote and other actors from the animal 4See Momaday’s column “A Special Sense of Place,” Viva, Sante Fe New Mexican (May 7, 1972), p. 2; D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (1923; rpt. New York: Viking, 1964), pp. 1-8; Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River (1949; rpt. New York: Ballantine, 1970), pp. 238-40; Eudora Welty, “Place in Fiction,” Three Papers on Fiction (Northampton, Mass.: Metcalf, 1955), pp. 1-15; etc. The Autumn 1975 issue of the South Dakota Review is given entirely to a symposium and commentaries on “The Writer’s Sense of Place.” r‘The Tewa World: Space, Time, Being, and Becoming in a Pueblo Society (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1969), p. 13. 6Momaday, “An American Land Ethic,” Sierra Club Bulletin, 55 (February 1970), p. 11. 7The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969; New York: Ballantine, 1970). See also Momaday’s “A First American Views His Land,” National Geographic, 150, No. 1 (1976), pp. 13-18. sRainy Mountain, p. 2. Lawrence J...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 297-320
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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