House Made of Dawn

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

The Work

House Made of Dawn is set in the pueblo of Walatowa, New Mexico, and in Los Angeles, California, between 1945 and 1952. The narration includes a brief prologue and four dated sections. After a prologue describing a man running in open country, the story opens on July 20, 1945, when a young Pueblo Indian named Abel returns to Walatowa after serving in World War II. Alienated and troubled, Abel works for Angela St. John, a stranger visiting the area, and has an affair with her. At a village festival, an ominous-looking albino man attacks Abel and humiliates him. Meanwhile, Father Olguin, the village priest, studies the diary of his predecessor, Fray Nicolás, and makes an awkward overture to Angela. On August 1, Abel stabs the albino to death in a cornfield. This section of the novel concludes the next day, as Francisco, Abel’s grandfather, hoes his cornfield alone. The second section, dated January 27 and 28, 1952, is set in Los Angeles and centers on John Big Bluff Tosamah, a Kiowa peyote priest. On January 27, Tosamah preaches a sermon asserting that white people have debased language; meanwhile, Abel lies on a beach, recovering consciousness after a severe beating. The narration moves back and forth in time, interspersing the sermon with fragments from Abel’s past: trial testimony, prison, his affair with a social worker named Milly, and a peyote ceremony. In the part dated January 28, Tosamah meditates, in his second sermon, on his grandmother’s life and the magnificent Kiowa culture. The third section of the novel, dated February 20, 1952, is narrated by Ben Benally, a relocated Navajo who has befriended Abel in Los Angeles. Benally’s reverie reflects Abel’s life in Los Angeles: his work in a cardboard carton factory, a problem with a sadistic police officer,...

(The entire section is 743 words.)