House Made of Dawn | Critical Review by John Z. Bennett

This literature criticism consists of approximately 26 pages of analysis & critique of House Made of Dawn.
This section contains 392 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Joseph F. Trimmer

Critical Review by John Z. Bennett

SOURCE: A review of House Made of Dawn, in Western American Literature, Vol. V, No. 1, Spring, 1970, p. 69.

In the following review, Bennett praises the literary and sociological aspects of House Made of Dawn.

In academe, where there is a growing tendency to employ literary works as casebooks for social protest or ethnic studies, House Made of Dawn may encounter a curious fate. Because it deals with an interesting variation of the old alienation-theme, namely, the Southwest Indians' conflict with twentieth century America, Momaday's novel may be valued as a social statement rather than as a substantial artistic achievement.

The sociological bias, of course, is insidious insomuch as it tends to reduce the literary work to its thematic clichés: in this case, the Indian hero's ruinous journies into the white man's world, to war, to prison, to the monolithic city, Los Angeles, and his evident redemption in a return to the old ways; the inevitable "civilized" woman, Angela St. John, who discovers the primordial life-force in Indian ceremonials and in the wilderness; and the grandparents who are the last links to the old varieties.

These are the commonplaces of the alienation-theme; but the fact is that the novel clearly transcends them. Through a remarkable synthesis of poetic mode and profound emotional and intellectual insight into the Indians' perduring human status, Momaday's novel becomes at last the very act it is dramatizing, an artistic act, a "creation-hymn."

Yet even where social consciousness is significant in the novel, Momaday is far from being simplistic or unilateral, as a didactic reading might require. On the contrary, his polarities—animism and the machine—comprehend very complex and intricate human values. For example, the white man's world, as Benally the Navaho tells us, is not without its charm and joy, could one but learn how to join it; and alienation from his own Indian culture is a function of Abel's struggle for affiliation. In fact, Momaday's sophisticated understanding of the Indian world's potential for evil produces one of the most intriguing themes of the book.

House Made of Dawn is a mature and complex work, and therefore, if it must dwindle into a textbook of social protest, one might at least hope that its students will perceive not only its "sociology" and its "relevance" but also something of the art by which it rises above such narrow categories.

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This section contains 392 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Joseph F. Trimmer