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P E T E R G. B E I D L E R Lehigh University Animals and HumanDevelopmentinthe Contemporary American Indian Novel After having been away from his reservation home, the young Indian hero returns, dislocated, alienated, inarticulate, suicidal. He feels rotten about himself, his joblessness, and his family — particularly his dead brother. In attempting to find a place for himself he drifts from home to bar to women to old Indians who have never been separated from their native cul­ ture. Finally, by recognizing meaningful analogies between him­ self and the animals around him, and by putting his life in touch with their lives, the young Indian grows, triumphs, and finds his proper place in the modem world. One of the more curious phenomena of recent American Indian literature is that the three most significant novels by Indian writers all tell this same story. To be sure, there are many differences among the three novels, in plot, setting, characterization, theme, style, and narra­ tive technique. House Made of Dawn (1966), by N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa), would never be confused with Winter in the Blood (1974), by James Welch (Blackfeet and Gros Ventre), and neither of these would be confused with Ceremony (1977), by Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo). Still, it is remarkable that all three portray the young Indian, disoriented by prolonged contact with the world of the white man, who finds his way back from confusion to right thinking by attun­ ing himself with the world of animals. Although it has become almost a cliché to say that American Indian literature embodies a reverence 134 Western American Literature for nature, critics have not analyzed the ways in which contemporary Indian novelists have tried to suggest that it is in the animal world that modem man must begin the search for meaningful place and peace in the twentieth century. i One set of clues to the nature and extent of Abel’s growth in House Made of Dawn is to be found in the series of parallels which Momaday suggests between Abel and the animals in the novel. There can be no doubt that Momaday wants us to note these human-animal parallels. After telling us at the beginning of the July 28 chapter that “there is a kind of life that is peculiar to the land in summer,”1Momaday describes a series of birds and animals that belong to the land: road runners, quail, hawks, rattlesnakes, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, bear, deer, eagles. Just below these are the “innumerable meaner creatures, the lizard and the frog, the insect and the worm” ; these, also, he assures us, have “tenure in the land” (p 57). But there are those other animals which do not belong, and which do not have this tenure: “The other, latecoming things — the beasts of burden and of trade, the horse and the sheep, the dog and the cat — these have an alien and inferior aspect, a poverty of vision and instinct, by which they are estranged from the wild land, and made tentative. They are born and die upon the land, but then they are gone away from it as if they had never been” (p. 57). Just as there are two categories of animals, so there are two parallel categories of men. There are, on the one hand, the Indians who have “dwelt upon the land twenty-five thousand years” (p. 58); and on the other hand there are the newcomers, the ones he calls “invaders,” “con­ querors,” and “enemies” (p. 58). The parallel is explicit when Moma­ day tells us that “man, too, has tenure in the land” (p. 58). He speaks here only of the Indians, not the invading newcomer white men who have come to the Indians in “a bad dream of invasion and change” (pp. 57-58). In Los Angeles Abel has gone over to live like the untenured invaders. The city preacher “Right Reverend John Big Bluff Tosamah,” 1House Made of Dawn (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 55. All further quotations are from this edition. Peter G. Beidler 135 himself “lithe as a cat” and with the “voice of a great dog” (p. 91), refers to Abel in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 133-148
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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