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Free Study Guide for House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday-Summary
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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES

CHAPTER 2: July 21

Summary

Abel sleeps the entire day and the next night at his grandfather's house. At dawn the next day, he wakes up and goes outside to see the land. He remembers his boyhood here with his brother Vidal. They had gone out one day to the field of the cacique, the Indian chief. They had explored the box canyon together. He remembers seeing the shadow of a huge cloud and feeling like "great leaning walls" were closing in on him. He had cried and had always remembered that feeling of terror. He and his brother returned to the men who had almost finished their work. His mother came with Francisco in the wagon which she had loaded with good food. The group ate together, but in groups according to family and clan.

Abel never knew who his father was. People said he was a Navajo, a Sia, or an Isleta. Abel only knew that his father was an outsider and that sense had made he and his mother and brother seem like foreigners. Abel knew in those childhood days that his mother was going to die soon. That afternoon he rode home in the wagon beside his mother and listened to his grandfather sing. His mother died only a month or so later. He remembered her being beautiful and having a soft voice.

Abel was frightened by the old woman Nicolas tea-whau. She was a Bahkyush woman and a witch. She once screamed at Abel a terrible curse and he had run away as fast as he could. Then he had tried to get the snake-killer dog to come with him because he was afraid. The dog wouldn't come for fear of something. He felt a strong sense of fear in the land and always remembered this "particular sound of anguish."

In his later childhood he once waited outside the house while he heard the old men go inside for the last time and pray. He remembers the prayer even though he doesn't know the words. He remembers the low sound of it. He had seen his brother's face, which was thin and colorless with pain. Because he was alone, he spoke his brother's name.


When he was seventeen, Francisco had woken him one morning and taken him hunting. He killed a female deer. He had to track her to find her dying of her wound.

Francisco had hitched the wagon on January 1, 1937. It was night time. They arrived at Sia and waited at the house of Juliano Medina for day break. Navajos and Domingos arrived. When the sun came out the singers came out and the dance began. Everyone was very excited and the men shot their rifles into the air. The dance was "nearly perfect." Abel drank some wine and went with one of Medino's daughters to lie down on a dune beside the river and have sex. He hadn't been satisfied, but she had jumped up afterwards and laughed at him. He tried to chase her but was too drunk to catch her.

He saw an eagle overhead with a snake in its talons. It was an "awful, holy sight, full of magic and meaning." The Eagle Watchers Society was the sixth to go to the kiva that summer and autumn. They were a special society because they had come from the group of people who, before the middle of the last century, had immigrated from the Tanoan city of Bahkyula. They had been beset by "marauding bands of buffalo hunters and thieves" for so long that they had finally given in to despair. Disease had set in and they were almost wiped out when the patrones, their distant relatives had taken them in, despite the threat of contagion. Despite their deep hurt and humiliation, the Bahyush had thought of themselves as a people. They carried a sacred flute, their bull and horse masks of Pecos, and a statue of their patroness Maria de los Angeles. The chief of the Eagle Watchers Society, Patiestewa, carried the traits of these people in magnified form. They had acquired a sense of deep humility which had paradoxically made them a proud people. The Bahkyula were medicine men, rainmakers, and eagle hunters.

Abel is walking along the road down from the mountain where he had once trained one of the horses of John Raymond, a rancher. He gets to the Grande Valle, and is overwhelmed by the sight of its astonishing beauty. "Such vastness makes for illusion, a kind of illusion that comprehends reality." As he stands there, he suddenly sees two eagles cavorting with each other. He kneels down behind the rock "dumb with pleasure and excitement." They are golden eagles and the female is larger and older. She carries a rattlesnake in her talons. She lets go of the snake and the male rushes for it and catches it up. Then he lets go of the snake, but the female doesnít go after it again. Able watches the two eagles fly away into the distance.

He knows the eagle hunters are planning to set out for the mountains. He goes to Patiestewa and tells the chief that he saw the eagles and the snake. Abel says he thinks he should go along on the eagle hunt. Patiestewa agrees. The next day they begin. They stop along the way at holy places where they pray and make offerings. When they arrive at their destination, they form a circle so they can catch rabbits as bait for the eagles. The old men expertly throw short clubs at the rabbits. Abel takes a rabbit and places it in a sack. He washes his head to purify himself and then goes to the cliffs alone. He finds a shrine, a stone shelf with a slight depression, and he places a prayer offering on it. Then he goes into the house and covers the opening above him with a latticework of branches that he has cut. He places the rabbits on top of the boughs. He begins to sing, calling out.

The eagles come on, catching sight of the rabbits. A male eagle catches a rabbit. A female comes along and reaches for one and misses it. She rushes back for it and when she does, Abel grabs her legs. He pulls her down and hoods her and places her in a sack. Then he goes back to join the old men. Another man, Juanito, has also caught an eagle, older and male. The old men gather around the eagle and speak to it asking it to take their good will and sorrow. The attach a prayer plume to its leg and let it go. Abel goes to see his eagle. It is so terrible looking without flight that his eyes fill with tears and he cuts its throat.

Abel thinks of his grandfather always telling him to do something but not understanding him. When he had left for the war, he had stayed around the outside of the house feeling lonely. Francisco had been working in the fields and Abel wondered if he would come to say good-bye. When the bus arrived, Abel got on board, the first time he had ridden in a motor vehicle. He didnít look back at his grandfatherís fields until it was too late to see.

Abel can remember all of his past in vivid detail, but he cannot remember the recent past at all. It is a number of "years without meaning, of awful calm and collision, time always immediate and confused, that he could not put together in his mind." He can only recall one memory. He had woken up on a hill in the afternoon not knowing where he was and quite alone. He could see the bodies of men all around him. He could only hear one sound, the sound of an approaching machine. He had been awakened in the first place by the cessation of mortar fire. He had watched as the machine came on and had begun shaking violently, but the machine passed close to him and passed on.

Now the land is silent as he watches the rims of color in the canyon. He can see the gleam of the missionís spire and he can hear the sound of the Angelus. He feels cold. He sees a car going to the mission. He sees the light of dawn hit the walls of the houses of the village. He feels hung over and his mouth is sour from being sick on wine. He stands for a long time and then begins walking downward.

At the mission, the day is an ordinary one for Father Olguin who is preparing for mass. He is from Mexico. He is a good looking man except for an eye that is clouded over and droopy. He sees that Francisco has already knelt at the small glass panel at the altar and he sees Bonifacio, the altar boy standing in the corner. He tells the boy to hurry and begins to dress. He sees a woman get out of a car and wonders what her story is. After mass, she comes to talk to him. Her name is Mrs. Martin St. John. Her husband is a doctor and has suggested that she come to this place for the mineral waters since she has pain in her back. She is living at the Benevides house and asks Father Olguin if he knows of any of the Indians who would come and chop wood for her.

Abel returns to his grandfatherís house that afternoon, but his grandfather isnít home yet. He goes to the river and walks along its edge. He sits down and looks at the farmland. He sees his grandfather working in the fields. He feels momentarily like heís at home.

Notes

In this chapter, measured in dates, Momaday reveals in his slow and gradual way that Abel has been away fighting in the second world war. He has come home damaged by the images of war, especially emblematized in the image of the massive machine swallowing up the world and threatening to overwhelm Abel but then passing him by. He has come home to stay with his grandfather.

The chapter works in a series of flashbacks, which work their way from Abelís childhood to his recent experiences in the war. The reader gets a sense that Abel has always felt himself to be an outsider since his father is unknown to him and his fatherís origins are supposed to be foreign to his motherís and grandfatherís people. Abel lost his mother when he was a small child and then lost his brother later. His only family has been his grandfather. Momaday demonstrates the difficulty of this relation in the fact that Abel and his grandfather havenít yet talked in the narrative.

The scene of the eagle hunt is emblematic. Abel goes with the old men who are the Eagle Watching Society because he has seen a vision of eagles with snakes. He catches the most powerful of the eagles, and then overcome with shame at the birdís captivity, he slits its throat. Momaday leaves the reader in suspense as to the significance of this act which seems so sacrilegious. The reader has to wait to find out what Abelís story is.

This chapter also introduces two other characters, Father Olguin, a priest who is a native of Mexico, and Mrs. Martin St. John from California. Both are people who might connect Abel to the community of his grandfather.


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