Identity in House Made of Dawn

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Identity in House Made of Dawn

In 1969 N. Scott Momaday won the Pulitzer Prize for his phenomenal work, House Made of Dawn. The novel addresses the issue of identity, how it can be lost as well as recovered. Momaday offers insightful methods of recovering or attaining one's identity. Momaday once made the following now famous statement:

We are what we imagine. Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to imagine, at least, completely, who and what, and that we are. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined (Owens, 93).

For Momaday, imagination is the key to identity, and it is this key that Momaday offers as a solution to the problem of identity in House Made of Dawn. Momaday's protagonist, Abel, cannot imagine who he is. In chronicling Abel's effort to regain his ability to imagine, Momaday offers inextricably intertwined methods to regain one's 'imagination'.

The prologue of House Made of Dawn begins with the word 'Dypaloh'. This word signals a shift into the Native American oral tradition. Traditionally, storytelling have definite responsibilities. According to Louis Owens in Other Destinies, the responsibilities are: "to tell us who we are and where we come from, make us whole and heal us, to integrate us fully within the world in which we live and make that world inhabitable, to compel order and reality" (93). In defining the responsibilities of storytelling, Owens also gives a description of the 'identified individual', one who has a strong sense of identity and is fully self-imagined. The identified individual knows were he is from and where he is going. He is not fragmented, and k...

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...motion. Running is perseverance. Running is believing that identity can be recovered. If Abel did not believe it possible to find his proper place, he would already by lost, stagnant, still waiting. Running is action. Stories are also action. They are inherently active in passing on crucial knowledge. A story that is not told, that is not related, can have no meaning. Stories show the proper order of reality. Both running and stories are crucial elements in Abel's recovering his identity. The things they represent, motion, perseverance, order, and knowledge, are crucial in anyone's quest for identity, not just Native peoples, but the people of the human race.

Works Cited:

Momaday, N. Scott. House Made of Dawn. New York: Harper and Row, 1968.

Owens, Louis. Other Destinies. Univ. of Oklahoma Press: Norman and London, 1992

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