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University of Kansas B E R N A R D A. H IR S C H Self-Hatred andSpiritual Corruptionin House Made of Dawn N. Scott Momaday, referring to his protagonist Abel, has said, “None but an Indian, I think, knows so much what it is like to have existence in two worlds and security in neither.”1 True as this is of Abel in House Made of Dawn, it is truer still of Martinez, Tosamah, and Benally because they, unlike Abel, try earnestly to conform to Euro-American social values. Indeed, the strong responses Abel generates in each of these charactcrs indicate their perception of something unyielding and incor­ ruptible in him, something which throws into stark relief the humiliating spiritual compromises they have felt compelled to make. In his suffering Abel is both a sorry example and a stinging rebuke to them, a warning and a goad, someone both to fear and reverence, for he reminds them of who and what they are—of what they find most contemptible in them­ selves and most holy. Martinez, Tosamah, and Benally have been spiritu­ ally corrupted to varying degrees by the white world, and to the extent that they have, they make Abel their scapegoat and regard him as an evil to be exorcised. 'Martha Scott Trimble, N. Scott Momaday (Boise: Boise State College West­ ern Writers Series, no. 9, 1973), p. 8. 308 Western American Literature This scapegoating is most apparent in the case of Martinez2 who, Ben tells us, is “a cop and a bad one” (p. 129).3 He derives his sense of self from the power and authority vested in him by white society. That power, in his eyes, makes him superior to his “brothers” in the street by enabling him to identify with the oppressor and victimize them at will. He acts out his own version of the American Dream with every Indian he extorts, yet his violent response to Abel’s slight resistance suggests that he has paid a price for the power he enjoys. Martinez emerges, appropriately enough, from a dark alley as Ben and Abel are returning home from Henry’s bar. Ben meekly complies with Martinez’ order to hold out his hands, and he recalls that his hands “were shaking bad and I couldn’t hold them still” (p. 158). He had just been paid and he gives Martinez “all I had left.” Martinez then notices Abel: Martinez told him to hold out his hands, and he did, slowly, like maybe he wasn’t going to at first, with the palms up. I could see his hands in the light and they were open and almost steady. “Turn them over,” Martinez said, and he was looking at them and they were almost steady, (p. 159) Enraged, Martinez smashes Abel’s hands with his nightstick, but Abel “didn’t cry out or make a sound.” From Benally’s description, we can see that it is Abel’s attitude rather than his actions that engenders Martinez’ wrath. Martinez could not help but notice the contrast between Ben’s involuntary shaking and Abel’s relative steadiness, and this implied slight to his authority threatens him. His response to it indicates just how precarious his sense of self is, and the extreme viciousness of his later beating of Abel further reveals the self-hatred that is the price of the Anglo authority he covets. By his mere presence Abel threatens the protective illusions so neces­ sary to Martinez’ emotional and psychological survival, and he poses the same threat to Tosamah and Benally. Martha Scott Trimble maintains 2Most readers assume that Martinez is white, but given his name and the fact that a number of the novel’s Indian characters have Spanish names and/or surnames, it seems more likely that he is at least part Indian or Chicano — if the latter, his situation would nonetheless parallel to a significant extent that of the urban Indians. Moreover, to regard Martinez as white is to reduce him to an overworked stereotype —■ the sadistic white cop — of the sort that Momaday, in his portrayal of every other white character in the novel, has scrupulously avoided. 3N. Scott Momaday...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 307-320
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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