American Modernism and House "Made of Dawn"

Hausarbeit, 2012

13 Seiten


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Defining American Modernism

3. American Modernism in House Made of Dawn
3.1 Complex and Modern Urban Life
3.2 Alienation: The Portrait of a Lost Generation
3.3 The Stream of Consciousness
3.4 Other Features

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

When Navarre Scott Momaday first published his award-winning novel House Made of Dawn, literary critics celebrated the book as the Renaissance of Native American Literature. The novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1969, has influenced both readers and well-known Native American writers such as Leslie Marmon Silko or Sherman Alexie since its first publication. Moreover, it has certainly made the success of Native American Literature possible. This is one of the reasons why Momaday can be considered as the “dean of Native American writers“ (Hager 2).

House Made of Dawn is about Abel, a young Native American who returns home to Walatowa from World War II. There, he struggles to reintegrate into the tribal community as he is torn between two different worlds. On the one hand, it is the traditional environment of his pueblo where life depends very much on the rhythm of the seasons. On the other hand it is the world of a modern and industrialized America.

As one of the first Native American writers, Momaday combines both native and non-native features of storytelling in House Made of Dawn. Throughout the years, many fields of this complex and ambiguous novel have been interpreted by a remarkable number of critics. Some have been concerned with the role of oral tradition in House Made of Dawn, others have stressed the importance of Momaday´s biographical background for the novel.

This seminar paper wants to lay the focus on the coherence between the literary genre of American Modernism and House Made of Dawn. This implies that the purpose of the following paper is to examine some modernist features in the novel. Structured will the paper be as follows. At first, it gives a short definition of the term American Modernism as well as a list of features which are attributed to this cultural period. We will then continue to examine the features of American Modernism in House Made of Dawn. This will be the biggest and most essential part of the paper as we deal with both thematic and formal features by observing significant text passages in the novel. Therefore main part of this seminar paper is subdivided into four different subchapters. The first subchapter deals with the representation of Los Angeles and how some characters in House Made of Dawn find their way around the modern and complex urban life. Then, we want to focus on the so-called stream of consciousness technique as we examine the characters of Abel, Francisco and Ben Benally. As we will later in the seminar paper see, alienation is one of the essential features of American Modernism.

Thus, the third subchapter deals with alienation in the novel. While those three subchapters will be approached in a more detailed way, the fourth subchapter will be elaborated much shorter. In this respect, the last subchapter briefly deals with other features of American Modernism in House Made of Dawn.

Although the purpose is to deal with various characters of the novel, it is necessary to limit them to the issue and to the length of the paper. This means that we have to draw up a shortlist which excludes some characters such as Tosamah. Especially in Tosamah´s case, it is not easy to ignore this character in the seminar paper, as even Momaday himself considers the Priest of the Sun as one of the most important figures in the novel. However, this character would have been more important if I had dealt with other themes, such as the role of oral tradition in House Made of Dawn.

At the end, the results of this seminar paper will be summarized in a conclusion.

2. Defining American Modernism

First of all it is hard to find one precise and exact definition of American Modernism as it has many different characteristics which are interpreted in various ways, depending on the perspective of the observer. In a broader sense, the term modernism means an entire tendency in literature and arts that started in the middle of the nineteenth century and lasted at least till the middle of the twentieth century (Lewis xvii).

In literature, the significance of modernism increased after the First World War. One of the aims of prominent writers such as T.S.Eliot, James Joyce, Ezra Pound or Virginia Woolf has been to break away from traditional verse forms or narrative techniques. In his standard reference, Peter Childs points out that modernism “can be taken as a response by artists and writers to several things, including industrialisation, urban society, war, technological change and new philosophical ideas” (21). In this context, one has to be aware of the fact that America has shifted more and more from a agrarian to a urban nation since the beginning of the 20th century. According to Heinz Ickstadt, American Modernism was the “artistic equivalent of the social, economic, and technological processes of modernization, the symbolic expression of the experience of cultural modernity”(15).

In terms of modernist characteristics, one has to distinguish between thematic

and formal features. Among the thematic features of American Modernism are the breakdown of social norms and cultural values, the individual in the face of an unmanageable future, disillusionment and alienation as the character often belongs to a lost generation, the rejection of history and substitution of a mythical past and the importance of the unconscious mind. Characteristical writing techniques or formal features of American Modernism are a discontinous narrative, the moving from one level of the narrative to another, the multiple narrative points of view and the use of the stream of consciousness technique. There could be mentioned much more thematic and formal features of American Modernism, but some of the above mentioned features are essential for the seminar paper as Momaday makes use of them in House Made of Dawn.

3. American Modernism in House Made of Dawn

3.1 Complex and Modern Urban Life

Navarre Scott Momaday describes the pueblo in Walatowa as a very traditional and spiritual place, where life is heavily influenced by the surrounding of nature with the change of seasons. The people “do not hanker after progress and have never changed their essential way of life”(Momaday 52), although being touched by white people ever since the first European settlers arrived in America. Los Angeles is portrayed in a striking contrast to the pueblo, as the city in California represents a modern and urbanized America. In this sense, the image of the city fits into the above mentioned progressive movement which increased the development of the city as an industrialized place significantly after the First World War.

To characterize the city as a dark and frightening place, Momaday uses several expressions in a very effective way. Right at the beginning of Chapter 2, he mentions a “two-story red-brick building”(79). In this “cold and dreary” place lives Tosamah ,the Priest of the Sun (Momaday 80). For Abel, the main character of the novel, Los Angeles is an alienating place where he has to walk through “dark alleys and streets” and where he has to hide from cars in the shadow (Momaday 110). However, the city is not only for Abel a dark and alienating place, but also for his friend Ben Benally and Milly. The “people all around” Milly and the “streets full of people”can be seen in two different ways (Momaday 107) . On the one hand it indicates that there is a lot of trouble and life going on, yet alongside with this excitement goes anonymity as Milly didn´t make any


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American Modernism and House "Made of Dawn"
Universität Bayreuth
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Daniel Quitz (Autor:in), 2012, American Modernism and House "Made of Dawn", München, GRIN Verlag,


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