Literature Study GuidesHouse Made Of DawnThe Longhair Walatowa Cañon De San Diego 1945 July 20 July 25 Summary

House Made of Dawn | Study Guide

N. Scott Momaday

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House Made of Dawn | The Longhair: Walatowa, Cañon de San Diego, 1945 (July 20–July 25) | Summary

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Summary

July 20

Francisco is driving a wagon with a "team of roan mares." He pauses to check a snare, and finding a caught sparrow, he drops the bird into the river and resets the snare. He is on the wagon road to San Ysidro, and he reminisces. He remembers that "he had rubbed himself with soot, and he ran on the wagon road at dawn." That year he had killed "seven bucks and seven does." He continues on until he has come seven miles to the trading post. At just after one, a bus comes. The door of the bus opens, and "Abel stepped heavily to the ground and reeled." Francisco's grandson, Abel, falls against him so hard Francisco's leg nearly gives out. He puts his grandson in the wagon and drives him back home.

July 21

Abel sleeps through the day and the night, and then he goes out and climbs a hill. The chapter then covers several memories of his childhood. The first memory reveals he did not know who his father was. His mother was ill, and she died in October of the year he was five years old. The next memory when he was "older then, but still a child" is when his brother, Vidal, dies.

The third memory is from when Abel was 17. He had gone with his grandfather, and there was a hunt, as well as a dance with "black half-naked crows hopping about and stooping." After the dance he was drunk on wine and had sex with a pretty girl who afterward "dressed and ran away." When he chased, she laughed at him.

The next memory tells of the Eagle Watchers Society, which was the "principle ceremonial organization of the Bahkyush." Abel was not thinking of this, or of eagles, but of the Valle Grande. He sees two golden eagles. The female holds a rattlesnake that she drops and the male catches it, but then drops it too. After seeing this Abel tells "the old chief," and as a result he goes with the eagle hunters in November. Abel catches an eagle, but once it's "bound and helpless" in the sack, he feels "shame and disgust," so "he took hold of its throat ... and cut off its breath."

The fifth memory is about Abel leaving for the war. He hadn't ever been in a vehicle until then. The final memory shows Abel can remember his long-ago past with clarity. The recent past is far less clear to him. This last memory is of the war, being on the ground surrounded by dead bodies. The air is smoky, and in the distance, there is mortar fire. A machine approaches, and he is "shaking violently" as it "bore down upon him," and then passes by.

As he watches the town and dawn arrives, a car appears in town. Abel is looking upon the town, the brightening sky, and the shadowed mesa. He notes he's not eaten in two days, and he can smell the "sweet wine" scent on his clothing.

The point of view switches to Father Olguin who is in the sacristy of the church when he hears the car stop outside. The "pale, dark-haired young woman" gets out of the car and attends mass—but does not take the sacrament (receive communion). After mass he speaks with her, Angela St. John, who identifies herself as "Mrs. Martin St. John." She lives in Los Angeles, but is in New Mexico for her health. She needs to hire someone to chop wood for her.

The perspective shifts back to Abel, who notes there "was no sign of life in the town" at this hour. He has returned to his grandfather's house, but has not spoken to Francisco yet. Come evening, he goes out to the hill at the edge of the fields and sees his grandfather and others working in the field.

July 24

Most of the narrative for this date is from Angela St. John's perspective, but a brief aside is from Father Olguin's. Angela watches Abel work, and she is fascinated. As she studies him, she thinks of her life, her pregnancy, and her unhappiness. His movements make her think of an animal, a badger or a bear, she had seen. "She would have liked to cup her hand to the wet black snout, to hold for a moment the hot blowing of the bear's life." When Abel is finished for the day, she speaks to him, and she thinks she would like to get a reaction from him; she thinks of asking him "How would you like a white woman?" She doesn't, suspecting he wouldn't "even have been ashamed for her—or in the least surprised."

Abel leaves, and Father Olguin arrives to ask if she will attend the celebration for the feast of Santiago. She agrees, and then thinks more about Abel and the Cochiti corn dance she'd seen recently: "It was simply that they were grave, distant, intent upon something that she could not see."

July 25

The perspective now shifts to Father Olguin, who recalls the story of Santiago, a saint who, at his horse's advice, stabbed the animal to death "and from its blood issued a great herd of horses, enough for all the Pueblo people." He also brought forth from his mouth the rooster he had eaten. It also volunteered for death, and he tore it apart so the "blood and feathers of the bird became cultivated plants and domestic animals" for the people. Following this story, Angela St. John takes up the narrative and tells of the feast of Santiago. Through her eyes, the reader sees the contest in which a live rooster is buried to its neck. Men on horseback must try to snatch it up. Abel does not do well, but an albino rider takes the bird in hand and beats it on Abel until the bird is dead—much as Santiago killed the rooster and its blood became the animals and crops.

The story shifts back to Father Olguin who is, later that day, reading an 1874–75 journal by one of his predecessors, the priest Fray Nicolás, who writes of a circumcision, life among the people there, and an albino who "is dead & raw about its eyes & mouth." After this the journal changes to homilies and the like. However, there is also an 1888 letter from Fray Nicolás, which includes an accusation his sister-in-law is speaking ill of him and a discussion of Francisco, in which the late priest says he is "evil & desires to do me some injury." He relates a story of when the boy was "no more than 6 or 7" and fell into the river, so the priest made him stand naked before the fire. He adds the boy was "so fair a child" and he "liked to play cross with him & touch him after to make him laugh."

The perspective shifts briefly to Angela, who is back at her house. She feels more settled in it, and her description is of it as a part of the land.

Analysis

The difficulty of focus is already apparent in the July 20 section. The prologue sets up a story of Abel, the runner at dawn, but the first chapter talks not of him, but of his grandfather. However, what the chapter offers the reader is the first of the reminders a story does not exist in isolation—neither should a man. Francisco was once a runner at dawn. Now, he is a man at peace. He's checking his snares, thinking on what once was. In all he projects acceptance.

The one exception is the state of his grandson. He hides his embarrassment at Abel's drunken state. He pretends not to struggle with the burden (literally) of Abel's weight upon him, much as he struggles to hide the emotional toll of it.

The July 21 section of the chapter offers the reader the key events in Abel's life that create the man he is in the present. It is, in essence, an example of all the ways he has been isolated. The foundation of his identity, of most people's identity, is family and community. Abel has lost his mother and brother, and he had no connection to his father.

These pages provide the most concise and orderly listing of memories within the novel. Abel is reflecting on his past and how it shaped him. The reader can clearly see the ideas of the past and present both being part of the narrative is integral to the way this novel is constructed. Thus far, the reader has glimpsed Abel running (prologue), but there is no sense of when he ran. The reader becomes privy to a few of Francisco's memories, which add to the sense of family and cultural tradition. And finally, the reader learns of key experiences in Abel's past.

The lack of a father is presented in terms of alienation. "His father was a Navajo, they said, or a Sia, or an Isleta, an outsider anyway." Abel is doubly alienated because he lacks a father, but the community is sure the father was not one of them. The death of his mother is simply put: "His mother died in October, and for a long time afterward he would not go near her grave." From here the alienation continues as he loses his brother. They pray over him, but he still dies. When Abel sees him, Vidal's face is "terribly thin and colorless, but all the pain was gone from it."

The flow of reasons for Abel to be alienated seems to abate when he has relations with a woman, but she leaves and laughs at him when he cannot catch up with her in his drunken state, and again the alienation returns. Abel's sense of alienation seems likely to pause at this point as the landscape is detailed in poetic terms. "Such vastness makes for illusion, a kind of illusion that comprehends reality, and where it exists there is always wonder and exhilaration." Abel sees the eagle, and he joins the Eagle Watchers Society. This society is not a place that he fits; they are Bahkyush. The reader might wonder if this is a result of his heritage from his father, but the text offers no clear answer. A second society of sorts seems to offer a community to Abel: he joins the army. The memories from that aspect of his life are convoluted and bleak. An attack results in many deaths, but Abel survives. All of these things add to the overwhelming sense of isolation that is abated by the land. Abel's peace is within the expanse of the New Mexico landscape: it is the one sure thing to offer him peace. The reader may also note here and keep in mind for later the pervasive alienation and isolation is also eased in the intimate company of women.

In the July 24 section, Angela St. John, like Abel, feels alone and also like him, she thinks of nature as a comfort. Her recollection of a "badger or a bear" that she had seen "slap at the water" comes to mind at the sight of Abel. She sees him as if he is a part of nature. The text does not offer value judgment on this association of the man with animals, but the reader may want to consider it as a point of discussion.

In some ways Angela and Abel both look to nature for solace in their troubles. In another way Angela sees Abel like a beast rather than a man. She associates him with a bear. The reader will read the story of the maiden and the bear at the conclusion of Angela's role in the novel, and this earlier scene, told from her perspective, will give that later story additional layers of meaning. This trait of layered meaning is typical of the whole of Momaday's text. No aspect of the book exists without having meaning borrowed from other voices and narrative threads in the novel.

In the July 25 section the story of the past, of the things Father Olguin learns from letters, is significant in it allows the reader to note the past is part of the present. This tendency to mix stories of the past and stories of the present is part of what the reader has already experienced in Francisco's and Abel's memories. Here, though, it is contained within the journal and letter. That doesn't mean it is entirely true, however. Bias in the person who is writing influences the degree of truth it holds, and it also allows Momaday to assign weight to the pages Father Olguin reads because it's more linear in its presentation than most of what is offered when the past is made present in the novel.

The reader will also note this section has a noted cultural intersection. The ceremony with the rooster plucked from the ground and killed by beating it on a man seems brutal. It is, however, symbolic and meaningful to the people. Likewise, the representation of the albino child, Juan Reyes, is of illness. This is markedly different from how Abel sees the grown man.

The connection between Angela St. John and Abel continues. Her attitude here is reminiscent of the sections where Abel thinks of the land.

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