Literature Study GuidesHouse Made Of DawnThe Night Chanter Los Angeles 1952 Summary

House Made of Dawn | Study Guide

N. Scott Momaday

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House Made of Dawn | The Night Chanter: Los Angeles, 1952 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter has only one section, dated February 20. In it Ben Benally meets Abel, who has just been released from prison, and offers him a place to stay. He thinks of their time as roommates. Abel drank, and he was not intimidated by Martinez, a crooked cop. He considers telling Abel about "Beautyway and Night Chant."

Ben thinks about the conflict Abel and John Big Bluff Tosamah had, about how Abel was unsettling to Tosamah who complained Abel was a "longhair" and wouldn't let go of the past. He thinks about Tosamah's talking about how things ought to be. Then he thinks about Abel's not talking to anyone initially, but he warmed up to Ben and to Milly.

Ben recalls the past, about being on the land and meeting a woman, Pony. He shifts back to his present and thinks about Abel and his difficulties. Abel didn't get on well at his job. He was hassled by the parole officer. Ben's narrative floats between Abel's recent troubles at integration, his own recalled encounters with Pony, and Milly's story. He eventually shifts to recalling Abel's hands being bruised by Martinez. Unlike Ben and most people, Abel didn't cower before Martinez.

From there Ben shifts to his neighbor, Old Carlozini, and her dead rodent (which he presumes to be a guinea pig). He thinks it's sad. This thread transitions into thoughts of Abel—all of the bits of memory do. He recalls Abel seeing "that white woman," and he tries to make sense of just what it was that prevented Abel from adjusting. He recalls then Abel went after Martinez, and he was severely beaten; Ben called the ambulance. He also calls the white woman (Angela St. John), who arrives and thanks him. She talks to Abel, and she tells him about her child and a story she tells him. That story is of a maiden and a bear, which is a holy story to his people.

Then Ben recalls telling Abel the Night Chant.

Analysis

Ben Benally's perspective is the most completely fluid narrative in the book. More than any other, Ben's section—which is marked as his in it is entitled "The Night Chanters"—is a combination of time and voice. The story is ultimately about Abel, but part of what makes it significant is because of what Abel represents to Ben.

With John Big Bluff Tosamah, the reader is left to infer why Tosamah reacts as he does to Abel. The reader is given a very different experience here. Ben is contemplating everything, constantly. He ponders the reason a white woman should tell a story so similar to the people's story of the bear and the maiden, Esdzá shash nadle. He thinks about why Abel reacted as he did. He sees the small detail. It's not simply Abel has gone after Martinez with vengeance, it's when the crooked cop tried to intimidate them, Abel was not cowed. He stood and Ben could see "his hands in the light and they were open and almost steady." Ben notices.

Similarly, the conflict between Abel and Tosamah is clearer to the reader because of Ben's view. He sees Abel doesn't like the way Tosamah is speaking, but more specifically, he sees Abel is "looking for Tosamah" and it is a "bad, scary look." Abel has a ferocity in him the reader glimpses through Ben's view. He also sees clearly Abel is "hurt inside somehow, and pretty bad." Ben has a clearer view than any other character, and the reader can see Abel more truly because of it.

What Ben offers to Abel is, in part, the thing Milly and Angela St. John have tried to offer with their bodies. It is the thing Francisco has tried to offer with his patience and his reminder of the sense of place and history. Ben offers reminders of the people, of the land, and he offers prayer. The title of the book comes from a line in the prayer "The Night Chant." The title of this section ("The Night Chanter") comes from that as well. Ben is a holy man in the way that is quiet, not loud as Tosamah is with his sermons. He prays quietly with Abel on the hillside, and that heals Abel enough to make him think to go home.

This is not to say the healing offered by Angela and Milly was meaningless. Angela comes to the hospital to see Abel. She reminds him he is valued, that he has touched her life in such a way she tells her son a story of a maiden and a bear. Francisco, in the following section and before this, has also offered Abel healing. What has not been healing for Abel has been the government interference that further alienated him from land and people.

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