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Finding a Place in Society: Evaluation of the Native American Bildungsroman Novel

He slides into the matte green uniform, his fingers working nimly u! the line of uttons that
run from the ase of his neck to his leather elt" #neeling down, he works at tying the laces on the
charcoal lack oots" Proceeding outside, he $oins the others, all dressed in the same matte green
uniform with the same charcoal lack oots" %hey line u! and they march" &eft, left, left, right, left"
%hey march" &eft, left, left, right, left" %hey march together, they march as a team, they march as
rothers" 'n these moments, they are rothers fighting day after day for their mother" Honorale and
loyal, they will do anything to !rotect their dear mother America" He marches with them" He marches
with the same honor, the same loyalty, the same desire to !rotect his home" (n the outside Ael is an
American in the traditional sense, doing all the things an American would say and do" But Ael, like
everyone else, has a shadow that marches with him" %heir are many different kinds of shadows that
Americans carry with them" Some are racial, some are gender ased, and so on and so forth, ut all are
derived from the cultural identity clash associated with the assimilation of the American culture"
Everyone has shadows, some !eo!le are ashamed of their shadows and try to hide from them" But it is
im!ossile to hide from your shadow, it is a !art of you" Ael)s shadow resides in the russet rocks of the
New *e+ico desert and is a !art of the Native American !eo!le that live there" ,ith his uniform, Ael
is an American solider fighting for his countries !lace in world" ,ithout it, he is a Native American
young adult fighting for his !lace in the world" 'n his story, A House Made of Dawn y N" Scott
*omaday, Ael must overcome trials and triulations rooted in oth American and Native American
cultures" 'n finding his !lace in the world, he must first find himself in the war etween his two
identities" %his raises an interesting -uestion as to whether or not it is !ossile, in contem!orary
American literature, to have a coming.of.age novel with a Native American main character struggling
with two identities" ' will argue that the merging of Native American literature into the !arameters of
the /ontem!orary American literature does not constitute a Bildungsroman novel, rather it is the
recognition of Native American literature as its own uni-ue genre that allows for the Bildungsroman to
e !ossile"
%hrough the understanding and ackground of the coming of age novel, the grounds on which it
shall e evaluated on will ecome evident" %he coming.of.age novel originated in 0ermany during the
century" (n 3ecemer 14
, 1516 #arl *orgenstern named this ty!e of novel the Bildungsroman"
'n 0erman 7Bildung8 translates to 7formation8 and 7roman8 to 7novel8" %hus the Bildungsroman,
des!ite its com!le+ name, is sim!ly a novel of formation" %his genre was ado!ted into the literature of
many countries, des!ite its 0erman origins" However one must note that the Bildungsroman does vary
de!ending on the area in which it was written" As #enneth *illard states in his ook Coming of Age in
Contemporary American Fiction, 7"""the e+!ression )coming.of.age) is used to mean )to reach full legal
adult status), and it is commonly seen in studies of the Bildungsroman"""the term also carries an
im!recision and a cultural relativity that needs to e taken into account89*illard :;" (ne main as!ect of
the Bildungsroman is the cultural em!hasis and inclusion, and this will vary anywhere from mildly to
greatly de!ending u!on the location of its !ulication due to the 7"""considerale variation in the
de!ictions of <the= moment when coming.of.age is deemed to have occurred, and <the idea of= full
legal adult status varies etween cultures, es!ecially in relation to such cultural markers as alcohol,
se+ual consent, driving liscence, and marriage89*illard >;" %his em!hasis !laced u!on cultural
relativity is intended, throughout the genre, to assimilate the emerging youth into his or her s!ecific
culture" 'n short, it is a means through which individual, as well as cultural, identities are formed" ,ith
this eing stated, it is im!erative to understand that while the Bildungsroman is its own genre, each
individual novel !ertaining to this genre must e evaluated in regards to its own s!ecific cultural
guidelines" %his idea is e+!anded y #evin *illard:
Adolescents are im!ortant ecause of the ways in which they are at the forefront of social change, even
while they are simultaneously the !roducts of an adult social culture that sha!es their develo!ment"
%his is a dynamic relationshi! etween the individual and society, and it has some !arallels in the study
of literature" %he individual novel is conditioned y those traditions and conventions that it draws u!on
to constitute itself as a novel in the first !lace" But, at the same time, our understanding of those
conventions is changed, however sutly, y each individual novel that inter!rets them for its own
uni-ue !ur!oses" %his rings us immediately to the issue of genre, which is !articularly germane to the
study of adolescence" Some knowledge of genre theory is invaluale as a guide to how adolescence in
the novel might e a!!roached" ?ecogni@ing an individual work)s relation to its !ro!er genre is often
fundamentally im!ortant to the act of inter!retation, ecause it is a means to a!!roach a te+t that
enales us to identify im!ortant as!ects of its meaning9*illard 1;
Furthermore it can also e argued that geogra!hical location is not a fair indicator of culture" %he
greatest e+am!le of this is !erha!s the contrasting e+!osition of the contem!orary American
Bildungsroman and the Native American Bildungsroman" %he Bildungsroman genre, like Ael, is
conflicted y its doule identities" %he culture conflict that occurs etween contem!orary American
culture and Native American culture is illustrated in House Made of Dawn. %hrough the evaluation and
understanding of this conflict, it will ecome evident why geogra!hical location does not serve as a fair
indicator of culture"
Another idea that is stressed y the Bildungsroman is the !rogression of a main character
through s!ecific moments in the story where !ersonal growth is oserved" %his is an im!ortant as!ect
of the Bildungsroman as !ersonal growth is one of its main elements" /ultural relativity is also
im!ortant in understanding the develo!ment of the main character, Ael" As mentioned efore, the
culture generally associated with contem!orary American literature differs from the culture associated
with Native American literature" ,ith that eing said, one must !ay s!ecial attention to cultural
em!hasis of these milestones, not sim!ly $ust the moment itself" %he challenge that arises in House
Made of Dawn is the divergence of culture etween contem!orary American and Native American
cultures, and the confusion this creates for the reader in understanding and evaluating !oints of
develo!ment" For e+am!le, consider two !o!ular Bildungsroman novels, Catcher and the Rye and
Little Women and their main characters Holden, and for sake of argument, Ao" Both novels were written
within the Bnited States, yet are almost a hundred years a!art" However even with this ga! in time in
which they were written, oth novels are read and understood y America)s modern youth" %his is
attriuted to the familiarity of cultural norms that result in cultural recognition and general
understanding" %hrough cultural recognition, the reader is ale to make connections and relationshi!s
within the te+t that would otherwise e im!ossile" Both characters, Ao and Holden, e+hiit levels of
reellion which are commonly associated with the Bildungsroman" 'n the case of Holden, eing
e+!elled, hiring a !rostitute, and getting horrily drunk are all cultural indicators of this reellion"
%hese are easily recogni@ed y the modern reader ecause these are modern cultural messages that the
reader knows and understands" 'n the case of Ao, acting like a oy and talking aout not getting married
indicate her cultural reellion" Even these, which occurred in a different time !eriod altogether, are
understood y the modern reader ecause of their understanding of American history" History is a !art
of culture as well, and thus aids the reader in understanding:
%he contem!orary novel of adolescence is often characteri@ed y a concerted attem!t to situate the
!rotagonist in relation to historical conte+ts of !oints of origin y which individuals come to
understand themselves as having een conditioned" %he individual novel often reveals a tem!oral
structure in which the contem!orary moment of coming.of.age is conte+tuali@ed gradually y a
consciousness of historical events that are antecedent to it and dee!ly inform it" 'n this res!ect,
contem!orary coming.of.age novels are novels aout knowledge of American history, and that
knowledge itself ecomes a significant !art of the !rotagonist)s coming of age9*illard 1C;
*ost modern American readers do not understand the cultural significance ehind Native American
traditions, nor do they have a firm sense of their history" Furthermore the history they do know, has
een influenced y another culture entirely" %his unfamiliarity with Native American culture causes a
great deal of confusion when attem!ting to evaluate the cultural growth of a character" %he significance
of certain moments may e overlooked sim!ly due to the fact that the reader does not reali@e its
em!hasis" 'n House Made of Dawn, it is not only Ael)s $ourney to find his !lace that is im!ortant, ut
the reader finding their !lace in the literature as well"
%he e+!loration of the Bildungsroman genre sets the foundation in which to analy@e the novel,
House Made of Dawn" By first evaluating its contem!orary American ideals, it will ecome evident
that Ael is on a $ourney to adulthood, however it will lack the sustance commonly seen in the
ildungsroman" By com!aring and contrasting these ideals to the Native American culture from which
Ael was s!awned from, it will ecome evident that these cultural as!ects fill in the ga!s left y
viewing the novel through a contem!orary American lens"
%he first of these contem!orary American ideals seen within the novel is the idea of reellion
against one)s culture in order to assert individualistic !ower" %his is noticed in Ael)s decision to go off
to fight in the war" %his is an e+am!le of a !arado+ within the te+t" &ooking through the lens of
Americani@ed ideals, the act of going off to war is nole, and even seen in literature as the character)s
$ourney towards adulthood" However in Native American culture, to leave one)s family to fight a war
that is not one)s own, is seen as an act of reellion" %his reellion, while seen in many ildungsroman
novels, is only noticed through the evaluation of Ael)s leaving through the lens of Native American
culture" 't is a !arado+ ecause the idea of reellion is found in many contem!orary American
ildungsroman novels, however in this !articular case Ael is not reelling against contem!orary
American culture, rather he is reelling against his Native American culture" %he disa!!roval of Ael)s
grandfather in Ael)s decision is heard in the following lines, 7Dou ought to do this and that, his
grandfather said" But the old man had not understood, would not understand, only we!t, and Ael left
him alone" 't was time to go, and the old man was away in the fields" %here was no one to wish him
well or tell him how it would e, and Ael !ut his hands in his !ockets and waited89*omaday 41;"
%hese lines illustrate how Ael)s grandfather views Ael)s decision to go off to war as a ty!e of
etrayal" %hey e+!ress the hurt the grandfather feels when Ael is unale to understand why he does
not want him to leave" %he old man is in the fields ecause that is where he feels he elongs, and
elieves that Ael elongs there with him" %he significance of Ael)s grandfather remaining in the
fields when Ael leaves is to illustrate the se!aration that e+ists etween the two cultures" 'n this
instant, Ael is emracing the American side of his culture, which his grandfather does not understand
or a!!rove of" 'n order to emrace this side of himself, Ael must also re$ect his Native American
culture in the !rocess" %his re$ection, his grandfather does understand, and he is hurt dee!ly y it" 'f
sim!ly reading this from the stand!oint of contem!orary American ideals, the strained relationshi!
etween Ael and his grandfather would go unnoticed, however y emracing the Native American
culture and reading with that in mind, the reader is ale to understand the full meaning ehind this
section of the te+t" %his understanding is im!ortant to the understanding of the te+t as a whole"
Another contem!orary American ideal illustrated in the novel is the idea of innocence and its
loss as a means for which !ersonal growth is otained" ,ithin the novel, Ael)s grandfather is the
greatest indicator of innocence" 'n a scene towards the end of the novel, while Ael)s grandfather is
dying, his grandfather rememers taking young Ael, and his deceased rother, to the Black *esa and
e+!laining to them the ways of the world as told y their !eo!le" %he grandfather narrates, 7 %hese
things he told his grandsons carefully, slowly and at length, ecause they were old and true, and they
could e lost forever as easily as one generation to the ne+t, as easily as one old man might lose his
voice, having s!oken enough or not at all89*omaday 12E;" %hrough this flashack, the reader
oserves Ael)s grandfather !assing a symolic torch from his generation to the new generation" Not
only does this signal the !assing of family traditions, ut it alludes to themes of im!ending mortality"
%his is a monumental scene within the te+t ecause it offers the reali@ation that something is coming to
an end" 'n the novel, this flashack is read $ust efore the death of Ael)s grandfather" %he !lacement of
this scene is im!ortant ecause it marks the end of Ael)s innocence and the start of his adulthood" %he
death of his grandfather also marks the irth of Ael)s Native American cultural assimilation"
,hile the idea of innocence is oserved through the lens of a contem!orary American reader,
through the understanding of the Native American cultural as!ects, a more integrated view of Ael)s
character is estalished" 'n losing his grandfather, Ael has essentially lost his childhood innocence as
well" ,hat the reader must reali@e is the loss of his grandfather also marks the gaining of the necessary
cultural assimilation associated with the ildungsroman" However in Ael)s case, this assimilation
occurs with his Native American culture" 'n the same flashack descried efore, Ael)s grandfather
descries how he took young Ael to the area where the race of dead occurs" 'n this flashack he also
descries how he told Ael the story of when he was young and oth ran and won the race" %his
flashack is im!ortant ecause it marks an o!!urtunity for cultural assimilation" ,hen Ael)s
grandfather finally !asses, Ael !erforms the necessary tasks for the odies urial" Although this
!re!aration for urial is im!ortant, it is the events that occur afterwords that suggests Ael)s ascent into
adulthood" 'n oth the first and final scene of the novel, Ael is running" 'n the first scene, it is
undetermined as to why" 'n the final scene the reader now knows he is running the race of the dead for
his grandfather" 'n running this race Ael has not only shown as!ects of cultural assimilation, ut he is
also carrying on his grandfather)s legacy" %he running of the race suggests that the strife in their
relationshi! derived from Ael)s reellion of culture has finally e rectified" 'n short, y understanding
the cultural im!lications in these events, the reader is ale to recogni@e that Ael has come of age y
the end of the novel"
%hroughout literature the ildungsroman has een a !o!ular form used in novels" %he content
found within the ildungsroman is often derived from historical conte+ts and a!!lied to ideas of
modern culture" 'n the case of Ael, however, there are two cultures com!eting with each other in the
novel House Made of Dawn" Even with this culture com!etition, A House Made of Dawn is still seen as
a ildungsroman novel on the grounds that it e evaluated in terms of not only contem!orary American
ideals, ut the Native American cultural ideals on which it is ased" %he methods used in the evaluation
of A House Made of Dawn, if a!!lied to other novels of this calier, will result in the estalishment of a
Native American Bildungsroman" %hus ' am concluding that it is !ossile for multicultural individuals,
in this case Native American, to have a coming.of.age novel des!ite conflicting identities as long as
s!ecial attention is given to their !ers!ective cultures" 'n the case of Native Americans and literature, it
is our res!onsiility as readers and scholars to !romote this idea of cultural relativity that will allow for
a greater diversity of the literature we love"