Novel Silence: The Limits of Articulation in Native American Fiction Open Access

Gray, Dustin Alva (2015)

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The dissertation proposes that approaches to the relationship between silence and articulation in Native American literary studies can be enhanced by closer readings of the multiple registers of silence in novels featuring "alienated" protagonists. Critics of Native literature have long recognized silence as an integral feature of storytelling, even a feature consistent with an indigenous worldview. The problem addressed in the dissertation, however, has to do with the ways critics advocating for the "power of the word" in approaches to Native-authored novels have been inconsistent in their treatments of silence and articulation. Though there has been an espoused commitment to the interdependency between silence and language, critics tend to set limits on how much of it and what kinds of silence they will accept. For these critics, silence is especially problematic when attached to the experiences of protagonists who have been described as estranged from their respective cultures and who seem to be out of sync with traditional values, beliefs, and ways of being in the world. In this sense, silence is pathological when it distances protagonists from what is imagined as authentic Indian identity and culture. One of the goals of "Novel Silence" is to interrogate why silence tends to be valued only when it is imagined to cohere with authentic culture. It attempts to demonstrate how certain norms assigned to articulation end up reinforcing affirmative approaches to Native literature that fail to value presumably negative features of silence. The imperative to advocate for the saliency of silence in Native novels has been weakened by the tendency to delineate its powers and effects into negative and positive, the former to be denigrated, and the latter to be praised, often along the lines of perceived congruence with "tradition." The dissertation problematizes these distinctions in readings of silence and related forms of inarticulate expression in N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn, Frances Washburn's Elsie's Business, John Joseph Mathews' Sundown, and Mourning Dove's Cogewea.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Whither Silence?

Stop Trying to Make Abel Talk

Tolerating Elsie's Silence

Chal Chokes the Prairie Chicken

Why We Can't Listen to Cogewea's Grandmother

Epilogue: The Mockingbird Sings


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