3. Spring in the Navajo Country
Summary: In the spring, Latour and Jacinto travel to visit the bishop’s Navajo friend Eusabio. Eusabio, an influential Navajo who is wealthy in livestock, offers Latour the use of a small hogan on his land, where the bishop can recover from his journey and engage in the time of reflection Latour tells Eusabio he seeks. Latour spends three days in the hogan, wrestling with whether he should recall Father Vaillant from Tucson to Santa Fe.
Analysis: According to the The World in So Many Words by Allan A. Metcalf, the hogan—a circular, one-room dwelling, oriented to face the rising sun in the east—is “a sacred building for religious ceremonies… Unlike a church, however, a hogan can also serve as a home, and until this century it was the usual Navajo dwelling. This is indicated by the word itself: hogan means ‘home’ or ‘the home place’ in Navajo… Hogan is the one word of Navajo that is widely known in English, attested since 1871, but until recently the hogan’s religious significance was little understood by bilagáana (non-Indians)” (Copyright © 1999 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved; http:www.answers.com/topic/hogan.) It is fitting, then, that Bishop Latour’s sojourn in Eusabio’s hogan is rich with overtones both religious and domestic. “Bishop Latour found his Navajo house favourable for reflection… This house was so frail a shelter that one seemed to be sitting in the heart of a world made of dusty earth and moving air” (p. 229). Latour seems “at home” both in the casual sense of the phrase—Eusabio has made the hogan quite comfortable for Latour, “furnish[ing] it with his best skins and blankets” (p. 221)—and in a deeper, more existential sense: within the hogan’s walls, Latour finds clarity about his decision whether to recall Vaillant. Not for nothing, surely, does Cather specify that Latour’s time in the hogan lasts three days—evocative of the three days of Jesus’ burial (and thus yet a further identification of this priest with his Lord), a symbolic time span indicative of a kind of “death and resurrection.” Readers might anticipate that Latour will emerge from the hogan in some ways different than when he entered it.
Much of this chapter is given over to Latour’s memories of and reflections on Vaillant. Latour’s motives for recalling Vaillant are not only professional but also personal: “Since Father Vaillant went away the Bishop’s burdens had grown heavier and heavier… And he missed Father Vaillant’s companionship—why not admit it?” (pp. 222-223). Cather advances Vaillant’s characterization through Latour’s thoughts about him. What most impresses the reader about Vaillant is his ability to overcome divisions. He and Latour, for example, were from different social backgrounds in seminary, and yet became fast friends; when they began their missionary work, Vaillant adapted to new languages and circumstances faster than did Latour—“To communicate with peons, he was quite willing to speak like a peon” (p. 225); Vaillant even inspires Pope Gregory XVI (d. 1846) to treat him as an equal: “the Pope rose from his chair and lifted his hand, not in benediction but in salutation, and called out to the departing missionary, as one man to another, ‘Corragio, Americano!’” (p. 229). Historically, Gregory was a most conservative pontiff, extremely restrictive in policy and an opponent of many freedoms the modern West takes for granted; given that context, then, Vaillant’s ability to connect with Gregory in the novel emerges as all the more remarkable. But then, as Latour reflects, Vaillant is a remarkable man. He is a man of some contradictions—“His Vicar was one of the most truly spiritual men he had ever known, though he was so passionately attached to many of the things of this world” (pp. 225-226)—and yet they hold together in his integrity: “The man was much greater than the sum of his qualities” (p. 227).