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

BOOK 4: The Dawn Runner, Walatowa, 1952

CHAPTER 1: February 27

Summary

Back at home at his grandfatherís the landscape is white with cold. The sun is nowhere visible. Father Olguin is at home in the rectory. He enjoys his age now. The passion of his earlier years is quieted now. He feels a certain amount of exclusion from the goings on of the town, but reminds himself that he took vows to keep himself apart. It was the "fair price of his safe and sacred solitude." He thinks of that "exclusive silence" as the sense of all his vows. He feels he has done well by the town. He still occasionally takes out Father Nicolasí journal to read. It was a mild spiritual exercise which "always restores him to faith and humility."

Abel sits in the dark of his grandfatherís house. His grandfather is dying and has been delirious for the past several days. On his first days home, Abel had gotten drunk. Then he had run out of money, so he just endured the pain of his body. His grandfather is speaking, but his words make no sense. He had fallen into a coma at noon and he revived in the dawn to speak. He calls Abelís name, as well as Marianoís, Porcingulaís and Vidalís. He says he is cold. His words are strung together in meaningless clusters. Abel wants to speak to his grandfather but canít think of what to say. His own sickness has become something like despair. He is in constant pain. He washes his grandfatherís face and smoothes the covers over him. He sits down with head hung down. He thinks his grandfather will have one more dawn.

Francisco remembers taking his grandsons out at the first light to the old Campo Santo, south and west of the Middle. He told them to stand still and watch the low white rock where they could see the black mesa. He told them that was the house of the sun. He told them to learn the contour of the black mesa as well as they knew their own hands. They should learn the journey of the sun over the mesa because only then would they know where they were and where all things were in time. At each point of the sun on the mesa, there occurred an event in the calendar of the people, the time to plant corn, the day of the rooster race, the days of the black bull running and the little horse dancing, the day of the Pecos immigration, and the secret dances, and the days of feasting, the time for hoeing and for harvest, and finally the day of the race of the black men at dawn. He had told Abel and Vidal these things very slowly and very carefully because the telling of these stories could die out with only one grandfatherís lack of care in the telling. His grandsons already knew what he was telling them and he knew they knew. He then took them to the fields where they "cut open the earth and touched the corn and ate the sweet melons of the sun."


Francisco remembers when he was a young man and he rode out on a buckskin colt leading a hunting horse. He rode into the mountains to hunt for a bear. He got up to the caves and found old pottery and ovens inside, testaments of an older culture. He rode all afternoon toward the summit of the blue mountain. He saw the tracks of the bear all afternoon. He had also seen tracks of wolves and mountain lions. He made his camp in a small clearing and tethered his horses nearby. He woke up hearing the horsesí fright. He looked around and saw all around wolves watching him. He picked up his rifle and aimed it at them each in turn and they merely cocked their heads "bidding only welcome and wild good will." He built up the fire and went back to sleep. In the morning they were gone. He continued riding all that day following a ridge. He tied the horses when he got to a steep place and continued on foot. He knew he must not hurry. The bear knew he was coming and he was not hurrying away. He got to where he could see the bear. It looked up at him careless and unheeding. He shot it and it ran a little and then fell. He blessed it with pollen and then dressed it as he had been taught. He ate part of the liver and carried the rest of it with him back to the horse. The colt was afraid of the smell of the bear on him. He smeared the bear blood on the coltís muzzle. He loaded the bear meat onto the horse and headed down the mountain in a hurry. He got to town and shouted out for everyone. The people surrounded him jubilant. He gave the men strips of the bear meat and they tied the strips to their rifles. The women laid switches to the hide of the bear. He rode among them stone faced.

Francisco remembers Porcingula, the daughter of a witch. The women of the town talked about her because she had her way with their sons. One summer night, she waited for Francisco by the river. She teased him about having been with his rival Mariano. They had sex and she got pregnant. She became more pliant when she was pregnant, but Francisco was never sure of her because he saw the priestís disapproval as well as that of the townspeople. The baby was stillborn and they split up after that.

Francisco remembers a time when Abel and Vidal were young. He took them to the red rock. They stood there at dawn and waited. He told the boys to listen. As the sun "took hold of the valley," they heard the runners coming on. He told them it was "the race of the dead." There were one hundred old men running.

Francisco remembers it was November and a long line of wagons was lined along the road. Fires had been started and the squash clan came out of the kiva. He was dressed up in white pants and a borrowed silver belt. He had rouge under his eyes. He was supposed to beat the drum and he was nervous in anticipation, worrying he would fail to catch all the rhythms. The chant began low and away and the two dancers moved out with the others following, a perfect line of motion. The drum rolled like thunder in his hand and he didnít remember having begun. He was no longer afraid. He was mindless. He didnít need to see the dancers. The sound of the drum and the motion of the dance were the same. An old man came beside him with another drum, larger and warm from the fire. They made the switch without the slightest pause in the drumming. "It was perfect." When it was over, the women came out with baskets of food in celebration of his perfect act. He then had voice in the clan. The next year he healed a child who had always been sick.

Francisco remembers when he ran with the runners. He had been a very young man and had mistakenly taken up the pace of a much stronger and better runner. He had thought his lungs would collapse, but he had kept going. "And he held on to the shadow and ran beyond his pain."

Notes

This section beautifully overlays Abel and his grandfather Franciscoís memories together. The memories are of oneness with the land and with the people. They are of the central rituals of growing from a boy into a man.

CHAPTER 2: February 28

Summary

Abel wakes up suddenly and goes to the corner where his grandfather lays. His grandfather is dead. He goes to the window and looks out. There is no movement outside. It was still a while before dawn. It is the seventh dawn. Abel gets ready. He prepares his grandfatherís body, dresses it in his ceremonial colors, and places pouches of pollen and meal along with sacred feathers and the ledger book beside his grandfather. He sprinkles the meal in the four directions and wraps the body in a blanket. Then he goes to the priest and tells him his grandfather is dead. Father Olguin is astonished by the time of night of Abelís call. He repeats over and over his credulity at Abelís poor timing. Abel only says his grandfather is dead and then walks away. Father Olguin comes to himself and calls over and over after Abel that he understands.

Abel doesnít go back to the house. He goes to the last house and pauses at the outdoor oven. He reaches in and takes the ash out and rubs his body with it. Then he hurries down the wagon road south. It is just becoming light. He comes among the runners as they stand waiting and watching the black mesa. The saddle of the mesa is as yet nothing. Then lights begin to play around it and suddenly the sun breaks over it and the runners take off in one motion. Abel takes off after them, his body splitting open with pain. "He was running and there was no reason to run but the running itself and the land and the dawn appearing." He breaks out in a cold sweat and his legs buckle under him. It rains and he sees his broken hands. He gets up and runs on. He concentrates his whole being on running. He is completely exhausted in mind. He can see the canyon and the mountains and the sky. Under his breath he begins to sing without sound "House made of pollen, house made of dawn. Qtsedaba."

Notes

The final section sees the death of Francisco and Abelís reconciliation with him as he runs in the race that was so important to Franciscoís life. The final image of the novel repeats the first, that which is described in the prologue, indicating that Abel has found his place in the circle of life again.

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