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English 106

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House Made of Dawn | Introduction

When it was first published in 1968, N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn garnered scarce critical and commercial attention. Yet within a year, it won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and had received international critical acclaim.

During the early 1970s America became interested in the plight of Native Americans as the truth about reservation life was exposed and publicized by Native American activists. By chronicling the struggles of a young Native American man named Abel, Momaday was able to explore some of the issues and conflicts that faced the Native American community in the twentieth century. House Made of Dawn was a crucial link in teaching the general public about the real lives and beliefs of Native Americans.

Although most critics admire the poetic beauty of his narrative style, Momaday's indirect way of storytelling--weaving together past, present and myth with no apparent order--may prove challenging to some readers who are used to a linear progression of events. Most critics, however, consider this style necessary for understanding Abel and his culture.

Key Literary Elements


The setting is a Native American reservation in New Mexico and a

neighborhood in Los Angeles, California from 1945 to 1952.


Major Characters


The protagonist of the novel, he lives on a reservation in New

Mexico with his grandfather, his mother and older brother having

died, until he goes to war. He comes home and commits murder.

He is put into jail for six years and is relocated to Los Angeles,

California where he works in a factory for a short time and then is

beaten severely and returns to the reservation.


Abel's grandfather, he is an elder of his tribe as well as a sacristan

of the Catholic church.

Father Olguin

The priest of the mission in the town where Francisco lives.

Rev. J. B. B. Tosamah, the Priest of the Sun, a Native preacher

who preaches in a basement of a building in Los Angeles.

Minor Characters

Mrs. Angela Grace St. John

A woman who comes to the church and speaks to Father Olguin.

She lives in Los Angeles and visits the valley of San Juan de San

Diego. She has a brief affair with Abel.


Abel's brother who dies as a boy.

Nocolas teah-whau

An old woman with a white mustache and a hunched back who

bets for whisky on the side of the road when Abel is a child. She is

said to be a witch. She curses Abel when he is a boy.

Juliano Medino

A man whose house Abel and Francisco visit for a gathering of

people, dancing and prayers.

Medino's daughter

A girl who has sex with Abel the night of the gathering.


The chief of the Eagle Watchers Society and member of a people

from the Tanoan city of Bahkyula who had been so defeated by

European-American encroachment that their numbers dwindled to

twenty before they were taken in by another group of people. As a

result they developed a keen sense of humility and pride.

John Raymond

The rancher whose horse Abel had trained.

San Juanito

One of the Eagle Watchers Society who catches an eagle on the

same day Abel does.


A boy who helps Father Olguin in the church.

Chapter Summaries With Notes


The house made of dawn is made of "pollen and rain." The hills

are multicolored and horses of several colors are grazing on the

plain. Abel is running. At first he runs hard and breathless, but then

he begins to run easily. He is far enough out that he cannot see the

city any longer. It is dawn and the road takes him to clusters of

juniper and mesquite trees. The sun goes behind a cloud and then

comes out again. Abel is naked to the waist and his arms and

shoulders have been marked with burnt wood and ashes. It rains. It

is winter time. He becomes small in the landscape and looks as if

he's standing still.


The prologue has a strong tone of reverence for the land. Abel

seems to be someone who has been away from the land for a long

time and is returning. His running is represented as a sacred act of

marriage or reunion with the land.



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