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House Made of Dawn

House Made of Dawn Summary


Here you will find a House Made of Dawn summary (N. Scott Momaday's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

House Made of Dawn Summary Overview

After his service in World War II, Abel comes back to his rural hometown in New Mexico in 1945. He stays with his grandfather Francisco, a farmer, and gets to know a young white woman named Angela, who he meets through the local priest, Father Olguin. His time back home brings back a flood of memories regarding his family and his past. Angela and Abel begin an affair, taking part in various local traditions and ceremonies. However, after a particular celebration involving a bull chase and traditional rituals, Abel, in an apparently inexplicable act, murders an albino man. Years later, Abel is released from prison and placed under an Indian Relocation program in Los Angeles. He starts working at a factory where he befriends Ben Benally who offers to share his apartment. During his stint in Los Angeles, Abel is severely beaten and left nearly dead on a beach, an incident that rekindles his memory of Milly, a social worker who spent time with him and Ben and eventually became his lover. In stark contrast to Abel's exhausting day-to-day life are the compelling sermons delivered by the Priest of the Sun, John Big Bluff Tosamah, detailing the stories of the Kiowa people. In the later section of the story, Abel leaves for New Mexico, promising Ben to meet someday to sing the ceremonial song "House Made of Dawn." After losing his job, Abel's life spirals out of control, leading to increased alcohol dependence and aggression, and eventually a brutal fight with Ben. Abel disappears, and when he reappears three days later, he is severely beaten. Soon after, Abel returns to his hometown where he finds his grandfather on the brink of death. Following Francisco's death, Abel participates in a ceremonial race, an act symbolizing his ongoing struggle and resilience.


The book kicks off with a poignant prologue, intertwining a quote from the novel itself: "there was a house made of dawn, it was made of pollen and rain." The lead character, Abel, is pictured sprinting amidst the rain just as dawn is breaking, near the town of Walatowa in New Mexico. He appears small under the vast winter sky, his body marked with remnants of charred wood and ashes.

part 1

In the summertime, Francisco, Abel's aged granddad, is working the fields in Walatowa. He recalls a tribal race from his younger days, which he won by outpacing Mariano, the fastest runner. This memory from 1945 coincides with the return of his grandson Abel from World War II service. Drunk Abel steps off the bus and into Francisco's welcoming arms. The following day, Abel reminisces about his deceased mother and brother. He's also fixated on his unknown Navajo father, seen as a stranger by the rest of the tribe. Abel remembers his time with the Eagle Watchers Society, descendants of the Tanoans, a persecuted and forgotten tribe. As part of this society, Abel once hunted a vigorous eagle. Elsewhere in town, Father Olguin is visited by Angela St. John, an enigmatic woman from Los Angeles staying in the local Benevides house. She needs someone to chop wood for her and Father Olguin suggests Abel. Abel accepts Angela's job offer, chopping wood under her attentive gaze. Angela is intrigued by Abel's intensity but annoyed by his aloofness. That evening, Father Olguin invites Angela to the feast of Santiago, a town tradition. The feast of Santiago, an annual event on July 25th, tells the story of the saint's adventures in Mexico. During the celebration, Abel is injured by an albino man wielding a dead rooster, under the gaze of Angela. Days later, Abel finishes chopping Angela's wood, sparking a passionate affair between the two. Father Olguin visits, only to discover Angela's affections lie elsewhere. As a storm brews, the town is abuzz with festivities featuring a bull running through the streets. Francisco joins the holy men in a ceremonial hut while Abel and the albino man share a tense exchange at Paco's, the local bar. Abel ends up killing the albino in the rain.

part 2

Upon his release from prison for homicide, Abel is located in Los Angeles, under the Indian Relocation program's supervision. Reverend John Big Bluff Tosamah, the Sun's Pastor and Priest, delivers a sermon titled "The Gospel According to John," with Cristobal Cruz, his follower. Tosamah's sermon largely recounts Kiowa legends from his grandmother, like the Tai-me tale. Abel shares a small apartment with an Indian, Ben Benally, and works with him in a factory. Currently, Abel is found battered and half-conscious on the beach, recollecting the previous months in Los Angeles, including Tosamah's sermons. Abel remembers Milly, a social worker who visits the apartment and assists Abel in adapting to Los Angeles life. Milly eventually becomes Abel's girlfriend. Only bits and pieces of Abel's past are exposed to us, such as his time as a brave and wild soldier during World War II. Abel also recalls a ceremony with the Sun Priest which involved the use of hallucinogenic peyote. On the following day, Tosamah gives another sermon—"The Way to Rainy Mountain"—that narrates the Kiowa's origin story of Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Tosamah's grandmother saw the last Kiowa sun dances in 1887 above Rainy Mountain Creek when she was seven. She later witnessed the final gathering of the Kiowa as a sun dance culture, referred to as "Sun Dance When the Forked Poles Were Left Standing." American soldiers from Fort Sill disrupted this last assembly, stopping the Kiowa tribe from performing the ceremony, their faith's central act. In her twilight years, Tosamah's grandmother resided in a small house near the junction of Rainy Mountain Creek and the Washita River. Every summer, excitement and reunion prevailed among the Kiowa. At his sermon's conclusion, Tosamah narrates the story of visiting his grandmother's grave on Rainy Mountain. Meanwhile, Abel musters the strength to rise from the beachside ditch where he had been lying and gradually navigates his way across Los Angeles back to the apartment he shares with Ben.

part 3

The narrative now shifts to Ben Benally, Abel's roommate in Los Angeles, who recalls the events of previous days. After a brutal attack left Abel in a ditch, he left the city to go back to Walatowa. The night prior to his departure, they had joined a group of Indians on a city hill, including Tosamah and Cristobal Cruz, for songs and dances. There, Abel and Ben made a promise to reunite in the future, with just two horses on the hills, singing the song "House Made of Dawn." As Ben reflects, it is revealed that Abel has been struggling with alcohol and stopped his factory job to frequent bars. One night, during a poker game at Tosamah's, a drunk Abel attempted to punch Tosamah but ended up stumbling and becoming a laughing stock. Abel's life spiraled further down into alcoholism and destitution. He had a disagreement with Ben and moved out of their shared apartment. Their encounter with a dishonest policeman who mugged them earlier in the week suggests that Abel might have been seeking revenge when he left. Whether Ben's assumption is right or not, Abel came back to their apartment after three days, severely injured and seemingly on the brink of death.

part 4

Abel comes back to the reservation and discovers his ailing grandfather, Francisco, on the brink of death. He stays by his side, allowing the narrative to delve into Francisco's fading thoughts. As a young man, Francisco once pursued a bear for miles, eventually shooting it near a river. Blood-streaked, he made his way back to town and shared the bear meat with armed townsfolk. His final recollection is of showing Abel the location of the "race of the dead" and instructing him to listen for the spectral race at dawn. In the dead of night, Abel is jolted awake, aware that Francisco has died. He promptly dresses Francisco's body in line with tribal customs, and takes it to Father Olguin at the nearby mission. The priest is initially confused by Abel's insistence on leaving the body before daybreak. However, he eventually understands Abel's reasons. Abel exits the mission and heads to the fields beyond Walatowa, where the "race of the dead" occurs. As dawn breaks, he sees the runners race with the sunrise. Abel follows them, his body weary but propelled by the "House Made of Dawn" song.

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