Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
House Made of Dawn, Momaday’s first novel, is divided into four major sections with dated chapter subheadings. In keeping with the Native American sense of history, the narrative is episodic rather than chronological. Thus, Momaday evokes both a sense of timelessness and a concentration on the essence of each experiential piece, gradually forming a healing pattern for Abel, the protagonist, as he moves toward an internal congruence with the earth.
Part 1, “The Longhair,” opens and closes with Francisco, Abel’s grandfather. A drunken Abel arrives by bus and is taken home. The ensuing flashbacks from Abel’s childhood are both pleasant and fearful. His lack of attunement with nature is evidenced when, as a young child, he refuses to accept the moaning of the wind and responds instead with fear. The death of his brother Vidal is juxtaposed with Abel’s coming-of-age rites.
Memories of the Eagle Watchers Society, survivors whom disaster had molded into medicine men, are next to surface. Abel catches a great eagle during the hunt but cries when he thinks of the implications of its captivity. Recognizing that the bird is no longer able to retain its natural state of grace, he strangles it. Once again, death is paralleled to life.
As the novel continues, Father Olquin, a priest fascinated by the perverted journal of Fray Nicholas, whom he sees as a saint, and Mrs. Martin St. John are introduced. Despite her pregnancy,...
(The entire section is 1015 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
House Made of Dawn, N. Scott Momaday’s first novel, is the story of an outcast who learns that his being is bound up in his culture. The novel, which relates the experiences of a mixed-race World War II veteran, was a signal achievement, winning the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for Momaday in 1969 and paving a way for other Native American novelists.
It begins with Abel’s return to his ancestral village. Although he is so drunk that he does not recognize his grandfather, Abel’s troubles run much deeper. He feels cut off from the Tanoan tribe yet unwilling to live in white America. Even more disturbing to Abel is his inability to “say the things he wanted” to anyone. His inability to express himself hampers his achieving a true identity. Wrapped up in his own problems, Abel is jealous and violent toward those who do participate in Tanoan culture. While at Walatowa, Abel loses a competition to an albino Indian and murders him.
After his release from prison, Abel tries to build a new life in California, where he comes in contact with a small community of Indians, who are also alienated from their cultures. The leader of this exile community is John Tosamah, a self-proclaimed priest of the sun, who sermonizes on the failure of white society to recognize the sacredness of the American landscape and of language. Tosamah victimizes Abel, however. Eventually, Abel is cast out of this group and is savagely beaten by a sadistic police...
(The entire section is 405 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Abel, a young Jemez Pueblo Indian, returns to his New Mexico village in 1945 after fighting in the Pacific theater during World War II. The war leaves him emotionally devastated and unable to participate in the world he left behind, the world of his grandfather, Francisco. Now an old man with a lame leg, Francisco in his youth was a respected hunter and participant in the village’s religious ceremonies. He raised Abel from a young age, after the death of Abel’s mother and older brother, Vidal (Abel does not know who his father is). Francisco instilled in Abel a sense of native traditions and values, but the war and other events severed Abel’s connections to that world of spiritual and physical wholeness and to the land and its people, a world known as a “house made of dawn.”
At about the same time Abel returns to his village, Angela St. John, a rich, unhappy white woman, arrives to indulge in the area’s mineral baths. Through Father Olguin, the village’s well-meaning but isolated and ineffective Catholic priest, she hires Abel to chop the wood at the house she rents. Disenchanted with her own life and ambivalent about her new pregnancy, she is instantly attracted to Abel and soon seduces him. Angela senses an animal-like quality in Abel that she hopes will revive her flagging emotional health. She also senses Abel’s sadness and promises to help Abel find a good job and get off the New Mexico reservation.
One rainy night, Abel...
(The entire section is 689 words.)
The very first section of House Made of Dawn creates the mood for the story. Set in a canyon at sunrise, the protagonist of the novel, Abel, is introduced. Thematic issues that will appear throughout the book are also presented: Abel's isolation and his struggle to communicate, as well as the communion of man and nature. In addition, it introduces the image of Abel running, which will also be the final image in the novel.
In 1945, Abel's grandfather, Francisco, rides his horse-drawn wagon into town and picks up Abel from the bus station. The young man is returning from his service in the army during World War II. So drunk that he does not recognize his own grandfather, Abel stumbles off the bus and into his grandfather's wagon.
Waking the next day at Francisco's house, he recalls frightening images from his early life on the Native American reservation: the mournful sound of the wind blowing over a hole in the earth: the sight of a snake carried up into the sky by an eagle and then dropped, wriggling in its fall to the hard ground. He then reflects on his wartime experiences.
The story shifts to Father Olguin, the Catholic missionary assigned to the reservation at Walatowa. He is visited by Angela St. John, a pregnant white woman from Los Angeles. Mrs. St. John is pregnant and has come to bathe in the local mineral baths to soothe the soreness in her back. She asks Father...
(The entire section is 975 words.)