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The novel of a...
The novel of a proud stranger in his native land.
Walatowa, Canon de San Diego, 1945
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...
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
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."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.
--Cleveland Plain Dealer
Posted August 15, 2008
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.
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Posted June 29, 2014
Posted February 25, 2014
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 11, 2002
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
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Posted October 18, 2002
Posted July 7, 2001
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 7, 2001
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 6, 2012
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Posted May 18, 2013
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Posted August 14, 2011
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