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Free Study Guide for House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday-Summary
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CONFLICT

PROTAGONIST

Abel, a young man who tries to make the transition from reservation life to city life. He suffers from the loss of a place for young people in his culture.

ANTAGONIST

The results of the European-American encroachment on Native American land and their attempts at the destruction of Native American culture.

CLIMAX

Abel kills the albino after the Feast of Santiago.

OUTCOME

Abel is put in jail and relocated to Los Angeles, California where he suffers from alienation and discrimination until he returns to the reservation in New Mexico.


SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

The novel opens in a prologue in which Abel is running in the dawn. In Book 1, Francisco, an old man, goes to town to pick up his grandson Abel at the bus station. His grandson has been away at war and gets off the bus drunk. Francisco tries to act nonchalant but is crying. Abel wakes up the next day and remembers his childhood with his mother and brother. His father left them when he was quite young and he always felt like a foreigner among his people because of it. He remembers his first hunt in which he killed a female deer. He remembers going to a dance when he was a teenager. He had gone with a girl to the dunes and had had sex with her. He saw an eagle with a snake in its mouth. He went to the elders to tell them of his vision. He went on the eagle hunt with them the next day. They went high into the mountains of the Grand Canyon where he caught a female eagle. That night he went to see the eagle and was ashamed to see it so defeated, so he killed it. In town, Father Olguin finishes mass and sees a white woman drive up. She is Angela St. John. She has come to benefit from the mineral waters of the town. Angela St. John needs someone to cut wood for her. Father Olguin sends Abel.

The feast of Santiago takes place in the town. It involves a spectacle of a white man, a Native American albino, who rides a black horse among other riders and sacrifices a rooster. He beats Abel, one of the riders, with the rooster. Angela watches the spectacle. Abel comes back to Angelaís house and finishes cutting her firewood. She has begun to feel a strong attraction to him and after he finishes, he comes into her house and they have sex. The feast is held in the town honoring the harvest. The Lady of Porcingula is honored in a procession which also includes a pageant with a horse dancer and a bull dancer. That night, Abel drinks with other men in a bar and talks low to the albino. They go outside and Abel stabs him to death. The next day, Francisco works alone in his fields of corn. It is the first time in his life that he has missed the feast and the dance. He canít go to town because of Abelís murder of the albino.

In Book 2, Abel lies in a ditch seven years later. He has been severely beaten. His hands are broken in many places. He thinks of his childhood as he lies in the ditch. He remembers being with his older brother, Vidal, as children before Vidal died. He remembers Fat Josie, a woman who tried to help him and his brother over the grief of their motherís death by dancing around her kitchen making funny faces and sounds. He thinks of his recent past with Milly, a social worker who fell in love with him and with whom he had an affair. The Reverend Tosamah preaches a sermon about the text of St. John which reads "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." He argues that only the first phrase was a valid vision and that the part about God was a desecration of the pure vision of the creation of the word. He conducts a sun ceremony which features peyote. The celebrants pray for the present poor state of Native Americans and for the old ways of their people. Tosamah preaches another sermon in which he tells of his grandmother, a Kiowa, who saw the last sun dance of her people. He tells of her death.

In Book 3, Benally describes Abelís time in Los Angeles. Abel came to work at Benallyís plant and Benally took him in to live with him. Benally watched as Abel struggled to fit into the white world of Los Angeles. He and Abel drank together. Milly, a social worker, began to spend time with them when she and Abel began to have an affair. One night Martinez, a police officer, beat Abelís hands for no reason. Abel became despondent, quit his job, and finally decided to go out and get revenge on Martinez. Three days later, Benally found Abel on his steps beaten so severely he almost died. Benally called Angela St. John who came and visited Abel in his hospital room. Abel took a train back to New Mexico to the reservation.

In Book 4, Abel is at home at his grandfather Franciscoís again. Francisco is dying. Francisco remembers a time when he was a young man when he went into the mountains and killed a bear. He thinks of this as the time he became a man. Francisco remembers his time with Porcingula, a woman who was ostracized by the women of the town for being promiscuous. He also remembers his first race with the runners. Abel wakes up on the dawn of the seventh day to find his grandfather dead. He prepares his grandfatherís body and goes to town to inform the priest. Then he goes out to the mesa and runs with the runners in celebration of the dawn.

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