The Painting of Language

Throughout House Made of Dawn Momaday forces the reader to see a clear distinction between how white people and Native Americans use language. Momaday calls it the written word, the white peopleís word, and the spoken word, the Native American word. The white peopleís spoken word is so rigidly focused on the fundamental meaning of each word that is lacks the imagery of the Native American word. It is like listening to a contact being read aloud.

Momaday clearly shows how the Native American word speaks beyond its sound through Tosamah speaking of his Grandmother. Tosamah says,

"You see, for her words were medicine; they were
magic and invisible. They came from nothing into
sound and meaning. They were beyond price; they
could neither be bought nor sold. And she never
threw words away." --Pg. 85

Momaday forces upon the reader the idea of language as a remedy for sickness; not only of the mind, but of the heart, also. If a speaker can reach a listener and show the listener what she means, then that is the most honorable achievement. Momaday wants the reader to know the importance of word weaving, of weaving the words to form a beautiful picture that can heal souls if spoken correctly. Momaday believes that the Native Americans who never bothered to learn to read and write, those who depend on their words, are those whose words are most powerful. The love for words, spoken with passion, makes them take on a three-dimensional quality. The words become the images and show a listener instead of telling, making the moment an experience instead of just a moment. The listener can feel what the speaker is trying to say; there is no need for interpretation, everything is already understood. Momaday convinces the reader that the spoken language goes beyond what words are being said; the words become their meaning, transcend into complete understanding and clarity. The experience should be remembered as one of self-revelation and understanding, not a moment filled with monotonous words. Momaday does not think it should be about memorizing the words for intellect, but about seeing the image they create. He wants the reader to know how important the woven web of words is so that the reader is able to understand how Native American tradition has lasted so long without words being written; that it is not the remembrance of words, but the remembrance of images.

Momaday shows the reader twice how different the white menís words are from the Native Americanís word. The first is with Tosamah when he tells about the way John describes his insight. He says of John,

"...old John was a white man, and the white man has
his ways, oh gracious me, he has his ways. He talks
about the Word. He talks through it and around it.

He builds upon it with syllables, with prefixes and
suffixes and hyphens and accents. He adds and
divides and multiples the Word. And in all of this he
subtracts the truth." --Pg. 83

Momaday wants the reader to see how superficial and trivial their words can be. Everything is stressed to be grammatically correct instead of alive. The white manís words break everything down until there is nothing left, nothing more to imagine and connect with. This is what Momaday shows the reader by putting in Abelís questionnaire when he leaves prison and enters relocation. Every part of Abel will be filed into a category, denying Abel to be viewed as a whole and have his words heard by unbiased ears. Through this Momaday shows the reader that there comes a point when there can be too many words, when perfection has been attained and one more word ruins it. This is what John has done. He tries to explain what he does not totally understand, filling in the blanks with "prefixes and suffixes" until there is no more meaning for the listener. The second time Momaday contrasts the white menís language use with Native Americansí is at Abelís trial. The white men at the trial refuse to listen to Abelís story, to open up their mindís eye and see his words with all their animation and zeal. This is where Momaday wants the reader to see that listening is as much