Jake Scaduto ENG 359 10/1/12 Different Eyes Yield Different Results As is true in any facet of life, your experiences and the events that you have encountered throughout your time on this planet shape everything you know about things in the world. This remains true for the characters in N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn. The characters of Abel, Francisco, Benally, and Tosamah have all been through various different adventures during their lifetimes.
Thanks to pre-existing biases, racism, and life changing events, Abel, Francisco, Ben, and Tosamah all have different conceptions of the world, especially in their attitudes toward Native Americans as well as the white society and these attitudes shape the identity of each individual character. The character that shows the most outward signs of his differentiating views toward Native Americans and white society is Abel. One of the hardest things to go through in life and one of the most frequently used devices by authors to show devastation to characters in fiction is the loss of a loved one.
Abel is one of those characters that has experienced the loss of his mother and brother and the way he viewed the world after their loss is very different in comparison to someone who has not experienced it. He was without that nurturing figure in his life that could be there at all time telling him that everything would be okay after a rough day and be there for him during the strict upbringing of Native American life. In the death of his older brother, Vidal, Abel lost someone he could look up to and someone who could begin to teach him the ways of Native American life and instill in him the traditions of their culture.
The loss that Abel experiences leads to him being reckless in life and without any direction. Without this, he feels out of place and that lack of direction leads him to joining the Army. Although we don’t hear much about his time in the Army, the one part we do learn about it is very important. We are told of a time in the war during a great massacre of troops where Abel is one of three men that are left after the fighting. This is another instance of loss in the life of Abel and another moment when he is left alone after being part of a large “family. The continual loss can only lead to a sense of confusion and lack of knowingness in Abel’s life and this leads to his loss of traditional values in his society, a reckless and carefree behavior, and the root of Abel’s demise, his drinking problem. Even with rough times in his life, tradition remains in a very small part of Abel in several ways. The story of Abel having his first sexual encounter with a women is something that is completely different than what we see in the world today.
He does not even mention the woman’s name, he solely remembers the time he spends alone with her and the dance that the two of them share. The way he looks back on former life events and the way that he respects the girl due to them both having a mutual wanting for the first time they have sex shows the tradition that Abel once was able to carry. Another way that his tradition is shown is throughout the vision of the eagle and his hunt for it. We get a very spiritual image here and see Abel as back in his Native American ways during the time that he talks of this.
Tradition is there with Abel but he also seems to be prejudice against the Native Americans and almost has a sense that they have not given him anything worthwhile during his lifetime. His heavy drinking leaves him as though he is not even there around his people and leaving his grandfather after he cared for and worried about Abel is a strong sign of disrespect. He takes part in Native American ways while he is back, but it is limited to the use of peyote and their traditional gatherings where he ends up killing the albino.
Due to his surroundings by dominantly white European Americans during the war, Abel most likely felt a sense that he did not belong with them or even that they had a prejudice against him. Even with this, Abel loved the freedom of being away from his tribe and the many different types of fun that were available in the white society. This caused him to stray form the Native American ways but it still gave him a sense on not belonging and even a possible hatred for the white people. Along with being on drugs, his atred toward the white society might have been the main reason in his killing of the albino. Although he was not white, the use of the peyote may have caused Abel to see him differently and ultimately riding the world of this evil. After all of this, the one thing that brings Abel back to his sense of tradition and the Native American way is the death of his grandfather. In returning to Walatowa to fulfill his obligation to his grandfather, Abel’s character is completely transformed.
It comes at a time where Abel was nearing beaten to death in Los Angeles yet he knows he needs to come back home in order to lay to rest into the afterlife the one family member he still has left. After the passing, Abel is not the father figure of his family and ultimately the only one that is really left. His ceremonial run at dawn, just as his grandfather had done when he was younger, is something that can be seen as the instilment of his Native American tradition and the transfer of roles from generation to generation.
This completes the full cycle is Abel’s life and proves that he can go through the toughest time and experiences but his Native American life and the things that are truly important to him will remain inside him forever. Abel is a character that Momaday presents as inscrutable to his Native American ways and traditions as well as the European Americans to which he comes into contact with. In doing this, Momaday presents to us a character that is much different from what the current stereotypes of Native Americans are and what the media leads us to believe.
The next character that symbolizes everything that is Native American tradition and way of life is Francisco. He is Momaday’s only representation of a character that is still strong in the old ways and even a bridge to future generations to carry on what is important to him. Even as a strong of a character as he is, Francisco is also one that is faced with a lot of loss in his life. In the death of Abel’s mother and brother, Francisco is thrust into the position of caregiver and the one with all the pressure to bring Abel up in the traditional Native American ways and have him lead the life that his mother would have wanted him to live.
Although is may not be outwardly shown, the bond that Francisco shares with Abel is the thing that is most important to him throughout all of his life and the constant leaving of Abel and drunken stupors that Abel goes into is something that severely effects the way that Francisco is able to act. Francisco is seen as all things wise and holy during the novel and the many little things continually prove that his is true. When we first are introduced to Francisco, he is traveling to pick up Abel at the bus stop.
We see his dedication to family here and especially to his connection with Abel. The smaller thing seen here is the stop that Francisco makes to check a special trap that he has made to catch a bird. The reader would assume that this trap is made in order for Francisco to use the bird as part of a meal but it is much deeper than that. The snare was set so that Francisco could collect the bird for its plumes, which he would then intend to use them for prayer and holy worship.
This is just one instance of Francisco not only putting family in front of him as he goes to pick up Abel but also the sense of wisdom and tradition that we see coming from his character. In Momaday’s description of Francisco being such a strong and highly thought of character, we can feel from him a sense of worries about the overall state of his people. He is worried about the sacred land that he has always been a part of and cherished so dearly and he is worried that the European Americans that are taking over lands all around them will one day seize what he has always known and loved.
Even though it may not be outwardly shown, he is fearful of these white people and their society that is so very different from his own. He is afraid that when the day comes and his Walatowa people become driven out of their home, their sense of tradition and the very way of life that they have carried with them forever will be driven out as well. This inward fear inside of Francisco leaves him saddened, and although he is not the type of man who shows hatred toward the white people, he wishes they would stay far away from his village and from the places and things that he loves.
Francisco is someone who, in his old age, can begin to reflect on the things that were true in the past and when he was young and be able to compare them to the current life with his people and how differently the times are. He recalls his youth and the time of great races between men and the cheering of the women all around them and also of how he would travel miles to hunt for the very deer that would feed them every night. These things were important to him in the past and now are not as apparent and important to the people that surround him.
He is absolutely devastated as he sees Abel at the bus stop so inebriated that he does not even recognize his own grandfather. He not only is saddened by the state of Abel and the rough life that has been brought upon his grandson, but Francisco feels bad that these temptations and rigorous experiences were something that he had to go through when he was a young man. In Abel’s return, we see a great connection between grandfather and grandson and are shown that this relationship is something that is truly special to the both of them. That is why we really feel for Francisco shortly after the time of Abel killing the albino.
Francisco knows that just shortly after Abel has returned to him and that he finally has someone he cares about back in his life, Abel will again be sent away and it could be a long period of time before he ever sees his grandson again. This loneliness that we see here from Francisco is something that is carried with him throughout the rest of the novel and is the thing that ultimately leads to the death of him. Francisco cares for his people and their way of life tremendously and his confidence in his love for Abel to believe that the traditions he has instilled in his grandson will be there for the rest of time.
He hopes that Abel can one day fill the shoes that he has left with their people and be able to grow and share the way of life with people of all kinds. Francisco should be viewed as a man with much passion and grace toward all types of people, rid of any types of prejudice. A character that Momaday pairs side by side the figure of Francisco is that of Ben Benally. Francisco is the one who was there for Abel while Abel was with his Native people and truly loved and cared for Abel and Benally is the one who cares for Abel when he is out in the world.
Both characters are lonely throughout yet Benally is the one who is able to show it more outwardly. Francisco, Abel, and Benally all come from Native American tradition and lifestyle yet Francisco represents living in the Native American way and lifestyle and Benally shows the successful process of Native American assimilation into the current society of the white people. Abel’s character is caught in between Francisco and Benally and both of them help him survive and become part of both societies.
Benally believes strongly in his Native American tradition and past but knows that the life of a Native American can become even better in the real world due to the idea of the American Dream. He does not believe that his heritage will prevent him from doing anything he wants to achieve and thinks living in the white society will give him direction. He has a seemingly perfect view of what the American Dream should be. He thinks that he will find and hold his own job and with that money he can go out and buy the necessary things to survive and in doing so will be treated warmly by all those who surround him.
Benally believes in white society and believes that leaving his Native American culture behind is worth the benefits of living in this new world. Although he has given up his Native American connection to home, seeing Abel come into the factory that he works at is as though he has just seen one of his very own family members come in. He protects Abel from those in the factory that show racism towards Native Americans by calling them “chief” and invites him to live at his apartment with him.
Benally knows that he left everything behind for a reason and that his life can be much better where he is now but in doing so he must try not to think of everything back home or even relate things or people to what his life was once like. This fact is key in his Native American assimilation into a dominantly European American city. The fact that Benally is caught in between the love of his old life and his Native American culture along side his new trust and belief of betterment in white society shows how truly dynamic of a character he actually is.
Benally serves as a bridge between both ways of life and the constant struggle that does come with assimilating into a new way of life and into a society that is so strangely different from the one that is comfortable and common. Even in this new world he takes part in many different Native American gatherings in the white society and, even though it is hard for his assimilation process, attempts to hold on to the things in his life that are innately important. The overall character of Benally is portrayed as a positive one and he is seen doing the right things in a world that may be unfamiliar and unfair to him.
Momaday creates Benally and the way Benally acts in order to show that it is possible for those who are Native American to still hold onto their honor and dignity for their culture but still remain functional as the live in the white world. The final character that shows the most importance in the novel is that of John Big Bluff Tosamah. He is another man that Momaday portrays as a medium between the Native American world and the ways of living in the new and unfamiliar white society.
Even though he may look as though he is Native American, he is more modern than the other three characters that have been discussed thus far. He was not born and raised on a Native American reservation but instead grew up going to European American schools and beginning to learn the ways of white society from early on. Although these Native American ways are not something that he was accustomed to while he was growing up, he began to learn these things as he went through his life in the European American society.
In a sense, the character of Tosamah can be viewed as the reverse of Benally as Benally went from reservation to white society and Tosamah went from the white society to become more informed about his Native American ways and traditions. He has become a leader in the Los Angeles Native American family as he holds the position of pastor in the Pan-Indian Rescue Mission. Even with the position that he hold and the sermons he gives and the people that look up to him, he still has become caught up in the white society and has internalized the things that they believe about Native Americans.
Of all the Native American voices heard throughout the novel, Tosamah’s seems to be the one that is the most underappreciated and the most lost. He has carried the racism that he has seen around him and has almost become one of the individuals in the white society that he grew up next to. This is seen when he outwardly shows his racism by using the derogatory term of “longhair” when he first sees Abel. Tosamah could be a man that has great influence for all those Native Americans who are trying to assimilate into the way of life in Los Angeles but instead his upbringing has prevented him from doing so.
In meeting and getting to know Abel, all he does is taunt him and make fun of him for his inability to assimilate. In growing up around the white people in their society, Tosamah cannot comprehend the fact that Abel, coming from a reservation, is unable to live the life that he and Benally live by following the simple steps of assimilation. Aside from this, Tosamah still is able to show a sense of wisdom and tradition for his Native American heritage. He seems to have a strong grip on Native American folklore but most of this is probably theoretical due to the fact that he grew up away from all of these things.
He still is able to hold peyote ceremonies and through these we are seen his honor, as well as his integrity. We ultimately see his true side though as he shows his admiration for the ways that the white society has controlled the Native Americans. Tosamah was born Native American but will always live as a European American. As can be seen for all the characters that Momaday portrays throughout his novel, each has their own experiences that shapes the way of their beliefs and how they live their daily lives.
Francisco and Benally show the positive light of Native American life and are characters that strive to help Abel in this tricky part of his life. Tosamah is lost in the ways of the white society and is ill informed about the truth in Native American life. The protagonist of the novel, Abel, is the one that fights constantly throughout with his own self to find out his true identity and where he belongs in life. It takes the entire novel along with countless life experiences to shape Abel and take him back to where he truly belongs and become the man that Francisco had instilled in him and taught him to be.