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House Made of Dawn | Study Guide

N. Scott Momaday

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House Made of Dawn | Symbols


House Made of Dawn

The house made of dawn is not only an image referenced in the beginning and at the end of the novel, but it is also the source of the title. It is the opening line to a Navajo prayer. Ben recites the prayer in the section "The Night Chanter." The lengthy prayer, which is included in the novel, speaks of what is and of peace. "As it used to be long ago, may I walk. / Happily may I walk." It seeks beauty in many directions: before, behind, below, above, all around. This type of prayer is notably absent in the discussions of "evil" found in Fray Nicolás's letters. It is a contrast with the federal government's policies and programs of relocation, and it is at odds with John Big Bluff Tosamah's urging to assimilate and forget the past.

The Albino

The albino, Juan Reyes, is a character, but he is also a symbol. Throughout the novel he is regularly called the "white man" instead of albino or by his name. He is representative of the living ideas of myth made flesh. There was an episode at Jemez the author cites as a source for the novel. In this case an albino was killed because he threatened to turn into a snake and bite a man. If one believes in the shape-shifting ability of albinos—as Abel clearly did—the action of murder makes sense. Moreover, Abel's stance that "a man kills such an enemy if he can" is logical. The murder is not judged by Abel's peers; it is judged by a court that does not understand the threat Abel saw in Juan Reyes. It is symbolic of the difficulty of living between two worlds. Abel was considered to have acted within the realm of acceptable behavior when he took lives during World War II. But here he is considered a killer for eliminating a threat.

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