House Made of Dawn

House Made of Dawn

by N. Scott Momaday


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The magnificent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of a stranger in his native land

“Both a masterpiece about the universal human condition and a masterpiece of Native American literature. . . . A book everyone should read for the joy and emotion of the language it contains.” – The Paris Review

A young Native American, Abel has come home from war to find himself caught between two worlds. The first is the world of his father’s, wedding him to the rhythm of the seasons, the harsh beauty of the land, and the ancient rites and traditions of his people. But the other world—modern, industrial America—pulls at Abel, demanding his loyalty, trying to claim his soul, and goading him into a destructive, compulsive cycle of depravity and disgust.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061859977
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/13/2010
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 185
Sales rank: 55,305
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile: 970L (what's this?)

About the Author

N. Scott Momaday was born in 1934 in Lawton, Oklahoma. A novelist, poet, playwright, teacher, painter, and storyteller, his accomplishments in literature, scholarship, and the arts have established him as an enduring American master. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Arts, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Longhair

Walatowa, Canon de San Diego, 1945

July 20

The river lies in a valley of hills and fields. The north end of the valley is narrow, and the river runs down from the mountains through a canyon. The sun strikes the canyon floor only a few hours each day, and in winter the snow remains for a long time in the crevices of the walls. There is a town in the valley, and there are ruins of other towns in the canyon. In three directions from the town there are cultivated fields. Most of them lie to the west, across the river, on the slope of the plain. Now and then in winter, great angles of geese fly through the valley, and then the sky and the geese are the same color and the air is hard and damp and smoke rises from the houses of the town. The seasons lie hard upon the land. In summer the valley is hot, and birds come to the tamarack on the river. The feathers of blue and yellow birds are prized by the townsmen.

The fields are small and irregular, and from the west mesa they seem an intricate patchwork of arbors and gardens, too numerous for the town. The townsmen work all summer in the fields. When the moon is full, they work at night with ancient, handmade plows and hoes, and if the weather is good and the water plentiful they take a good harvest from the fields. They grow the things that can be preserved easily: corn and chilies and alfalfa. On the town side of the river there are a few orchards and patches of melons and grapes and squash. Every six or seven years there is a great harvest of pinones far to the east of the town. Thatharvest, like the deer in themountains, is the gift of God.

It is hot in the end of July. The old man Francisco drove a team of roan mares near the place where the river bends around a cottonwood. The sun shone on the sand and the river and the leaves of the tree, and waves of heat shimmered from the stones. The colored stones on the bank of the river were small and smooth, and they rubbed together and cracked under the wagon wheels. Once in a while one of the roan mares tossed its head, and the commotion of its dark mane sent a swarm of flies into the air. Downstream the brush grew thick on a bar in the river, and there the old man saw the reed. He turned the mares into the water and stepped down on the sand. A sparrow hung from the reed. It was upside down and its wings were partly open and the feathers at the back of its head lay spread in a tiny ruff. The eyes were neither open nor closed. Francisco was disappointed, for he had wished for a male mountain bluebird, breast feathers the pale color of April skies or of turquoise, lake water. Or a summer tanager: a prayer plume ought to be beautiful. He drew the reed from the sand and cut loose the horsehair from the sparrow's feet. The bird fell into the water and was carried away in the current. He turned the reed in his hands; it was smooth and nearly translucent, like the spine of an eagle feather, and it was not yet burned and made brittle by the sun and wind. He had cut the hair too short, and he pulled another from the tail of the near roan and set the snare again. When the reed was curved and strung like a bow, he replaced it carefully in the sand. He laid his forefinger lightly on top of the reed and the reed sprang and the looped end of the hair snapped across his finger and made a white line above the nail. "Si, bien hecho," he said aloud, and without removing the reed from the sand he cocked it again.

The sun rose higher and the old man urged the mares awayfrom the river. Then he was on the old road to San Ysidro. Attimes he sang and talked to himself above the noise of thewagon: "Yo heyana oh . . . heyana oh . . . heyana oh . . .Abelito . . . tarda mucho en venir. . . ." The mares pulledeasily, with their heads low. He held a vague tension on thelines and settled into the ride by force of habit. A lizard ranacross the road in front of the mares and crouched on a largeflat rock, its tail curved over the edge. Far away a whirlwindmoved toward the river, but it soon spun itself out and theair was again perfectly still.

He was alone on the wagon road. The pavement lay on a higher parallel at the base of the hills to the east. The trucks of the town-and those of the lumber camps at Paliza and Vallecitos-made an endless parade on the highway, but the wagon road was used now only by the herdsmen and planters whose fields lay to the south and west. When he came to the place called Seytokwa, Francisco remembered the race for good hunting and harvests. Once he had played a part; he had rubbed himself with soot, and he ran on the wagon road at dawn. He ran so hard that he could feel the sweat fly from his head and arms' though it was winter and the air was filled with snow. He ran until his breath burned in his throat and his feet rose and fell in a strange repetition that seemed apart from all his effort. At last he had overtaken Mariano, who was everywhere supposed to be the best of the long-race runners...

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
In June 1945, a young Tano Indian named Abel returns from World War II army service to his home village, Walatowa, in New Mexico's Canon de San Diego, only to discover that he has entered a hell between two cultures. The world of his grandfather, Francisco--and of Francisco's fathers before him--is a world of seasonal rhythms, a harsh and beautiful place defined by unremitting poverty; a land with creatures, traditions and ceremonies reaching back thousands of years. It is the urban world of post-war white America, with its material abundance and promises of plenty that draws Abel away from his people. It is a choice fraught with pain, however, for Abel winds up in prison, then drifts to Los Angeles and a life of dissipation, disgust, and despair. Torn between pueblo and city, between ancient ritual and modern materialism, between starlight and streetlight, Abel descends further and further into his own private hell; a fate not unknown to thousands of Native Americans.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel, N. Scott Momaday explores the plight of young twentieth-century Native Americans against the panoramic background of a majestic--and majestically described--landscape. Abel must find a way to reaffirm the ancient ways and truths of his people while finding a place for himself in a world seemingly at dramatic odds with those truths. "May it be beautiful all around me," prays the Night Chanter. And Abel persists in seeking a path to that beauty.

Discussion Topics
1. What bearing does the Navajo Night Chant in Chapter 3 have on the novel, on Abel's life and future, and on the lives of Abel's people? How is it significant that itis Ben who sings the chant to Abel on the Los Angeles hill? What and where is the House Made of Dawn?

2. What is the importance of dawn and dusk? What events and activities in Abel's life and the lives of his people, mythic and actual, occur at these two times of day? What is the significance of the novel's beginning and ending with Abel's dawn run? Are there any differences between the two presentations of his run? 3. Why does Abel kill the albino? What does the albino--and therefore whiteness--symbolize for the people of Walatowa?

4. How does Momaday evince the Tano people's regard for the land and its creatures? What specifics or landscape and fauna are presented as deserving of particular reverence? Why? What is special about the Valle Grande, Black Mesa, and other specific natural sites and features?

5. Why does Momaday have Ben Benally, the assimilated Navajo, narrate Abel's post-prison activities in Los Angeles, and intersperse Ben's narrative with Abel's memories? Why might Ben's sympathetic understanding of Abel be important to our understanding?

6. What are Fray Nicholas's and Father Olguin's relationships to the people of Walatowa? How do their Christian beliefs and rituals compare or contrast with Indian beliefs and rituals? What biblical references are there, including those to Genesis and to the Gospel of St. John? What purpose is served in this regard by Tosamah, Priest of the Sun?

7. What is Momaday's purpose in telling his story through present-day narrative interspersed with flashbacks and memories? How do Abel's and Francisco's memories of past events help us to understand the circumstances of their present lives and the ways of their people?

8. What is the nature of the relationship between Abel and Angela St. John? To what extent does Angela represent white society's attitude toward Native Americans? 9. What Tano rituals and ceremonies are described? How do they help us understand the way of life from which Abel has become estranged? How do they help us understand that estrangement?

10. What instances of violence occur? To what extent is each an instance of the "sacramental violence" that Angela sees in Abel's cutting of the firewood? How is this "sacramental violence" related to the "attitude of non-being" that Angela observed in the corn dancers at Cochiti and to other ceremonies?

11. What is the importance of the Middle, the town's "ancient place," and of its kiva? What events take place there, and at what points in the story? What other references are there to middle or central places?

12. What is the importance of Tosamah's sermons on the Gospel of John, the truth of "the Word," and his storyteller grandmother, who "learned that in words and in language, and there only, she could have whole and consummate being"? What is the purpose of his comments on the white man's use of language?

13. How would you explain Abel's "desperate loneliness" and fear ("He had always been afraid")? In what ways do they intensify during his stay in the village, his time in prison, and his stay in Los Angeles? How true is Tosamah's claim that "Loneliness is there as an aspect of the land"?

14. Who are the runners after evil whom Abel hears when he comes to after his beating? In what ways are they related to the Dawn Runners and to the race of the dead in Chapter 4? In what ways does Abel take on the attributes of both a dawn runner, a runner after evil, and a participant in the race of the dead?

15. What are the similarities and differences among Abel's, Francisco's, Ben's, and Tosamah's attitudes toward Native American life and white society?

About the Author

"Almost unbearably authentic and powerful.... Anyone who picks up this novel and reads the first paragraph will be hard pressed to put it down."
--Cleveland Plain Dealer
Born in 1934, N. Scott Momaday is a poet, scholar, and painter of Kiowa Indian descent. He has written a number of books of poetry, fiction, and memoir, including The Way to Rainy Mountain and The Names. His 1962 poem, "The Bear," won the Academy of American Poets prize. In 1969, he won the Pulitzer Prize for House Made of Dawn.

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House Made of Dawn 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wanted to read authentic Native American literature and Momaday came highly recommended. A slim book, but one to savor. The descriptions of the mesas and landscape are poetic, yet real. I felt as though I glimpsed something beautiful. I personally believe it is important for Americans to understand this culture and more importantly, to try to keep it living as much as possible. This is a book I will read again, and share with students.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for a reason. Though told in the native american tradition of non-linear storytelling, the patient reader is quickly rewarded with a stunning narrative of great beauty and powerful realism. I've read it several times over the years and it only gets better with each "retelling." Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel is a classic journey of separation, initiation, and return. The journey of Abel, an emotionally fragmented Jemez Pueblo Indian, follows in the footsteps of Gilgamesh, Ulysses, and King Lear. The cyclical telling of Abel's journey requires that the reader listen actively within the story. If you can do that you will find yourself on a wondrous, sometimes painful, life's journey alongside Abel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
N. Scott Momaday has written a powerful book that takes the reader into his circle of life. Abel tries so hard to lose his blood memory that he finds the journey excruciatingly painful. This book is full of metaphor and prose that paints a canvas with the bold strokes of a Pablo Pacasso. He shows the internal struggle of a man finding his own traditions. It contains the elements of an orally told, traditional story, frought with tricksters, healers, evil spirits, and comforts. All the while, taking the reader on his journey through the throes of alcoholism and hopelessness. Yet this is a book of hope, of wonder, and of healing. Told in a tradional NA syle, unless the reader is aware of NA genre, they will feel somewhat uncomfortable for the first reading, but if you allow yourself to see with your heart instead of your eyes, you will see the wonders within this tome.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book may not be for everyone, but it is a beautifully written, thoughtful account of a man's coming home, to a land and culture as much as to a family.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Told imaginatively and compassionately. Must read for yourself to be able to appreciate fully.
Sean191 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the second book I've read written by Momaday. It's also the last I'll read. I just don't like his writing style. Towards the end of the book it took on a different style, less convoluted, less confusing, but it was too little too late.
MeditationesMartini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There's a certain kind of Verfremdung or ostraenie or whatever that people tend to bust out when they're trying to give you a peek into the alien mind of the utter Other, the Other that is being presented as different in kind, whether it's the "literal" alien from outer space, or the exoticized racial alien, or what have you. You see it in comic books a lot, and science fiction. Some of its hallmarks appear to be:

-only using declarative sentences;

-lack of access to the subject's thoughts, or more usually, presentation of his thoughts in a profoundly estranging way;

-paying hyperattention to sensory and chemical responses on the part of the alien subject - all the lights are brighter, the wind cuts, the smells are strange, and the subject feels amorphous fear - whether it's the alien-in-the-familiar like a Predator popping up in New York, or the alien-in-the-alien - like in this book, with Abel the Kiowa out in the mesas - it's not whether it's alien to the subject that matters, but to the reader, and it makes him considerably less than a protagonist really.

So that offended me some at first and seemed a bit Uncle-Tommy on Momaday's part at first, to say nothing of annoying, and exactly the sort of pseudo-sympathetic book about natives that would have won a Pulitzer in 1969, but then I proceeded and there were delights! The amazing description of the hawks hunting and then doing a blood dance on the bodies of their prey, and the talk about us whiteys and how we're enervating, killing ourselves with words. Cool.

And finally you see Abel's story take shape in the words of others and the emotional hollowness left behind in his women and the strangeness left behind by his contact with others, and you can see it as psychodrama, or the dull sad downfall of a drunken Indian, or the translation to philistines, on the Pulitzer committee and beyond, of a great soul. The incredible multipage monologue that fills most of the last half of the book has an epic arc and inevitability, giving Abel his bard - "The Ballad of Abel the Hunter." And you realize the reason he doesn't get to be his own protagonist is because that would be cleaning up the crimes of history. We - whites, settlers - made him into this ludicrous creature. But Momaday rescues him, ennobles him, and in the powerful final passage, frees him to assume his centrality, lets Abel hunt. And he is magnificent.

debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Abel returns to the reservationafter serving in World War II,but has trouble adapting tohis life there. Very depressing.I was most amazed with the waythis author brought me into hisworld through the use of sensorydetails.
curls_99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn provides an interesting look into the struggles Native Americans who come from reservations to find identity. He follows the life of a young man named Abel who has returned to his reservation in New Mexico after fighting in World War II. He has been deeply affected by the war and struggles to hold a job and maintain relationships. Abel moves to California to try to find himself but eventually realizes that he will only find himself back home on the reservation. Momaday based his story on his life experiences as a Native American and on the real experiences of other Native Americans. I found the book a bit difficult to follow and was not surprised to discover after reading that it was originally intended to be a collection of poems. There were times that the story felt a bit disjointed for me. I do think that he provides an interesting perspective on real issues for the Native American community and would be interested to hear how Native Americans read it today.
isomdm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
No plot just random thoughts of a drunken indian.
YAbookfest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
House Made of Dawn was a landmark book when written in 1966, offering insight into the experiences of Native Americans in the mid-20th century. It is the story of Abel, who grows up in a tiny village on the Kiowa reservation in the southwest, where life is ruled by ancient traditions and the natural rhythms of the land. When he enters the military during World War II, this natural order is shattered and Abel struggles to find himself, no longer at ease at home but unable to function in the modern, Anglo world. The writing style and structure of the novel is unusual. Some of the events in the novel are based on Momaday¿s personal experiences and actual incidents that took place in Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico. It frequently draws on traditional Native American storytelling and myth, with themes of death and rebirth. The detailed, poetic, sensory descriptions of the land draw the reader into the Native American experience of harmony with nature. In that sense, it is very much like the opening of Steinbeck¿s The Pearl. Reportedly, it began as a series of poems, grew into a series of short stories, and was finally shaped into a novel, a process that results in a somewhat fragmented structure. This combination of techniques can pose challenges for the reader.Momaday was the first Native American to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize when House Made of Dawn won the honor in 1969. The book would certainly be considered a foundation piece for any Native American studies program and would add a unique perspective to a course on modern American fiction.
ijustgetbored on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book I will never, ever understand.
Terpsichoreus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Momaday's now-famous book has more social and political importance than literary. Like the genre it ushered in, it may have been positive for the writer in general, but often relied upon a cliche racist/anti-racist dichotomy played through vague and often meaningless metaphor.The author's busy mind has made a complex work, but not one with any central point or in-depth exploration. The 1970s New Age movement was a combination of many different world philosophies, attempting to find some common ground for humanity that might soften the Hegemonic West. Unfortunately, without a rhetorical basis, this movement provided us with mere watered-down generalism.It is now a popular personal philosophy because it is so vague that it can be used to support any concept and ideal. Momaday falls into this same trap with his erratic and varied text, which started out as a poetic series.This all ended in Momaday's premature Pulitzer, and he's sat steadfastly on that laurel ever since, and given us no more reason to presume he deserved it. The prize committee was clearly interested in following civil rights with a politically correct investment in 'diversity'. The only problem is that Momaday's work is as fundamentally colonized as Kipling's.His presentation of 'native' themes and storytelling methods is a fairly thin veil over what is not as much a Native American novel as just an American novel. The Native culture Momaday represented was already overwritten by the dominant western culture.Though Momaday tried to inject some cultural understanding and 'oral traditions' into his book, in the end it is little more than a descendant of Faulkner's. Not a badly written one, but neither is it focused enough to represent some cultural 'changing of the guard'.
Casey Surma More than 1 year ago
“The House Made of Dawn,” by N. Scott Momaday is a compelling coming of age tale that I thought was an excellent piece of Native American literature. Although the way the book was written may be a little confusing to some including me, there is a reason for that. The story is about a man named Abel who has Navajo heritage who just comes back home from a tour of duty in World War 2. He does not come back to the reservation the same though, as he is plagued with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and also has turned into an alcoholic. While Abel does not come back at all the same person that he was prior to going overseas to serve, he also has struggles with his identity, and his place in the world. He has difficulties balancing the traditional world of his people and the modern world which following the war has left him scarred and lost. This book does a great job of showing what life is like for the Native American war vet after they get home. They have been the largest demographic to enlist in wars for the United States based on their population size. The book just gives you a good idea as to what its like for Native Americans to fight for a country that will not fight for them in return. It also captures Abel’s longing for a rebirth, and all of the destructive decisions along the way that keep him from achieving his goal of fitting in in society. It is important to keep in mind the perspective that is being told in this book as all of the chapters are told in a different time period with flashbacks that can confuse you if you do not keep them all in order. The most important thing to remember though is that this book is used as a way to show how many Native people are shown as out of place in modern society, and important theme to note especially in the second half of the book. His relationship with women is also a common theme and coping mechanism he uses along with alcoholism for his PTSD. Overall this book may be a little hard to understand at times, but it is a great thought provoking read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is rife with detailed descriptions that paint a rich picture of a scene, but they bury the story. The author sets a scene then follows up more that don't seem to support the story. The story jumps from one character to another with little transition to help the reader see a relationship between the characters or at least to provide a trail for the reader to follow to get into the story. I rarely put a book down unfinished, but after 73 pages, I'm moving on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hate writing reviews on nook. Press back accidentally and poof its gone. This is my third attempt. House made of dawn is often beautiful in its language, yet is terribly difficult to follow. I do not recommend this book. Though there are some very beautiful scenes in here, and deeply felt emotion by the characters, it pains me to say the overall experience is hardly worth the trouble of unraveling its weeded plot.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
House Made of Dawn House Made OF Dawn, a romantic Native American piece composed of the mystical Indian culture and the personal tragedies that concurred with that culture's demise at the hands of the white man. Momaday plots House Made of Dawn on a series of flashbacks. Francesco lives half in the present and half in the past until his old age when he begins to live almost exclusively in the past. Momaday introduces characters such as Abel, Benally, Tosomah and Father Olguin, who all have one foot in the past and one in the future. The novels plot underlines the theme of the presence of the past in people's everyday lives. That past pushes them through their present lives and pulls them each to the values of wholeness and unity between people and their land. Momaday establishes a powerful topic, but the book is very hard to follow. Momaday moves through time fully and the reader is, constantly lost as to where they are at in the novel. Momaday also introduces characters without actually introducing them to reader and in contrast we don't know what they share in relation to the supporting characters in the novel. The vocabulary is very basic to understand, but the overall readability is chaotic. Momaday constantly switches ideas with nothing more than a paragraph break, from myths to dreams and the present and the past and adds unknown character's that he has picked up on of not where. In the beginning there is not prelude to the novel until you reach the last chapter. The first part of the novel you can experience the spirituality of the characters, and the second part fills you in with all the blanks in the beginning of the novel. This was very aggravating, because as a reader you back track to see what information you missed but when you go back and reread you realized that you didn't miss anything and that Momaday just hasn't wrote it. Momday does tie up all the loose ends up I don't agree with how he constructed it. As an educated reader I would not recommend this book. If you are like me and hate to reread and not being told what's going on you will hate this book. I'm not sure how the novel won the Pulitzer Price? It must have been an under developed year of writing. By: Josh Sturgill
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pads in gently and sleeps.