Literature Study GuidesHouse Made Of DawnThe Longhair Walatowa Cañon De San Diego 1945 July 28 August 2 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 28–August 2) | Summary

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Summary

July 28

The details of this date open with more discussion of the landscape. Momaday writes the town "lies out like the scattering of bones in the heart of the land." The point of view is handed to Abel, who has not felt reunited with this place despite hopes and efforts. His attempts to speak with his grandfather are not working, and the attempts to pray and sing are not working either. He wanders the land, and he passes the Benevides house where Angela St. John is staying. The perspective switches to Angela St. John, who has been waiting for Abel's return. She locks up the house and goes to the bathhouse, and when she returns Abel is sitting on the front stoop. She invites him in, gives him coffee, and speaks. He listens to her "distress," and she is "grateful—and chagrined." Angela invites Abel to have sex with her, and in this, too, she seeks control. Ultimately, she does not have control, and she thinks again of the "badger at the water, and the great bear, blue-black and blowing."

The chapter closes with yet another perspective, that of an old man. Due to the reference to "gathering his crippled leg" it is presumably Francisco. He is weary and toiling in the field, and he senses he is being watched. He is aware that "evil had long since found him out and knew who he was." The description of "nearly sightless eyes" and "barren lids" imply it is the albino watching.

August 1

Perspective once more returns to Father Olguin, who has "at last begun to sense the rhythm of life in the ancient town." He feels as if he is a part of it, and he imagines himself making a visit to see Angela St. John. He thinks about her and knows he is "aware of her as a woman." He imagines her envying him. Thinking thus, he rings the midday bells. Simultaneous with this is a procession of the people through the town.

When Father Olguin sees Angela, she does not react as he thought she should, or as he had fantasized she would. A storm begins, and she listens as he speaks. However, ultimately she laughs, and he thinks it is "hard and brittle" and "nearly too controlled." He leaves, returning to town where the streets are full of adults, children, and animals. After Father Olguin leaves, Angela contemplates the rain.

The perspective now shifts to Francisco, who is back in the town watching the people and the celebration. He pays special attention to the Navajo children, who were afraid of his crippled leg and of his age. He thinks of them as a harvest, too, and realizes that "The Diné, of all people, knew how to be beautiful." He enters the kiva with the other men, and after he emerges, the people came out. A drummer begins an "incessant roll and rattle of the sticks upon the drum." The dancer begins, moving with a little horse, "a beautiful, sensitive thing, and the dancer gave it life." As the dancer moved, "the medicine man presided over the little horse with prayers and plumes, pollen and meal." Then, the bull came forward, running, as the clowns chased. Francisco recalls when he was young and had danced as the bull and "bent far forward and crouched with the likeness of the bull on his back."

After the ceremony, the wagons and most of the Navajos leave. Abel and the albino are speaking in a bar. The albino's body "quaked and the white hands jerked and trembled helplessly." Abel's smile grew "thin and instinctive, a hard, transparent mask." The two men leave the bar. "All around was silence, save for the sound of the rain" and the wind. When the "white man" surges forward, Abel has a knife. Then Abel feels the "white man's breath." He feels the "hot slippery point of the tongue, writhing." He pulls the knife out and stabs the albino again. He slashes open the albino's stomach. After the murder, "Abel was no longer terrified."

August 2

The perspective shifts to Francisco, who is riding to the fields in his wagon. He checks for the reed snare. It has been released so that "the little noose hung from it like a spider's thread." He carries his hoe in hand and goes into the field as "the long afternoon went on around him, and he was alone in the fields." The chapter closes with his acknowledgment "that he was alone again."

Analysis

The difficulties of alienation are weighing on Abel in the July 28 section of the chapter. As much as he is trying to find his answers in the land and his remaining family member, it is not working. Angela St. John, likewise, is struggling with her own feelings of isolation and personal distress. In this they find peace together. Sex provides not only a way to connect, but it offers both Angela and Abel comfort that words do not. This same experience was part of what Abel felt in his memories of the past. He recalled a physical connection with another woman that provided some sense of meaning for him, although it was tainted by his drunkenness and her laughter. Angela is not laughing.

This section also describes a feeling of something evil that is watching Francisco. The description is the same as that of Juan Reyes, the albino. Whether or not Reyes is "evil" and whether or not he was watching Francisco, there is a sense the reader should make note of him. He was referenced in the letters of the former priest, and he draws attention as he kills a rooster by assaulting Abel with it. Now, Francisco feels he is being watched by evil, and evil is described in the words that define Reyes too.

One very significant note for readers in the August 1 section of the chapter is the descriptions of the people in the priest's words and in Francisco's. The priest feels like they are unappealing. He describes them thus: elders, "lean young men on horseback, drab and drunk," and "beautiful straight-backed girls" who were "born to the saddle," as well as drunk, "fat, degenerate squaws" and "sad, sullen bucks," and dogs.

The priest, for all of his belief he understands, fails to see any of the people. He even has a false sense of Angela St. John whom he expects to be interested in him. But she is not interested at all. When he leaves, Angela remains, studying the storm that engulfs the village. "With the sound and sight of the fury all around, Angela stood transfixed." She is in tune with the nature of the place, and she sees more truly than the priest who has turned to another priest's letters for clarity rather than a connection with the soil or a true attempt to understand the Diné.

In this section the reader also learns about the event that sends Abel to prison. Although Momaday offers no clarity, no judgment, as to whether or not Juan Reyes was evil, the text doesn't require that. Abel felt he was evil, and he made a choice to kill "an enemy." The reader will do well to recall most Native Americans lived on the reservations, and the cultural traditions and views of evil are not the same as in the Anglo world. Beyond that, Abel had left the reservation to go to war. This, too, is useful to think about historically. War in the middle of the 1900s was not a thing with low death count. The text includes very few memories of the war, but World War II was deadly: 416,500 American soldiers died in it. Further, as many as half of the veterans discharged suffered from what was then called combat stress reaction (CSR) and is now called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Abel, a veteran of combat, almost certainly is suffering from CSR/PTSD. His difficulty reentering into society is undoubtedly influenced by this, and his kill "an enemy" stance surely was as well.

By the August 2 section, Abel's murder of the albino results in his imprisonment. Francisco is alone because his one remaining family member committed murder. Abel survived the war, but he has not been on the reservation very long before he is lost in another way. While the novel is primarily centered around Abel, the other characters' lives are all influenced by his actions and often influence his actions. No person exists as a solitary being, which the narrative threads of the text clearly reflect. Nonetheless, a pervasive sense of isolation exists in many of their lives.

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