House Made of Dawn
Even though the novel House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday is a fictional story, it also can serve as a sort of ethnography for modern Native Americans. Momaday writes the book in a form that makes more sense when read out loud. This mirrors the value that Native Americans place on oral tradition. The various priests in the story also tell several stories from Native American tradition and they are passed along in this way in the book. Native Americans place great value in stories and this is shown in the book. The novel also shows how the priests are important in Native American culture.
The two priests, one in Walatowa and one in Los Angeles, are central figures in their respective towns. Also shown in the book is the importance of tradition. The Eagle Watcher society is one example of a tradition that Abel remembers having participated in when he was young. There are also feasts and ceremonies held. The running in the book also symbolizes tradition that is handed down from generation to generation. Francisco remembers running in the race when he was young and Abel runs at the end of the book. The main character Abel functions as an important symbol of Native Americans. It starts by showing the world Abel was born into.
He is born into “the house made of dawn, made of pollen and rain. ” This implies a freedom in the Native American world and close ties to the natural world. We know Abel has changed when he comes back on the bus. Francisco goes to meet him and it describes the foreign mechanical sounds of the bus as compared to the sounds of the natural environment. This tells us he is coming from a different world so to speak. After Abel kills the albino and leaves prison, it shows his real entrance in the modern world of Los Angeles. He starts out as a hard worker but the pace of life is so different in Los Angeles.
Here he works twelve hours a day to get by whereas at his home in Walatowa, the pace of life was much more leisurely. Eventually Abel starts to degenerate. He feels out of place in the modern world. Eventually we see Abel alone and beaten, washed up on the shore of the beach. He is the modern Indian, alone and reeling on the edge of the void, washed up by America’s indifference. This story is paralleled by the story of the decline of the Kiowa culture. It says how the Kiowa were once a strong sun dance culture but in the end they are strong-armed into stopping the sun dance.
This shows that the past is not lost, but continues in modern Indians as loss and loneliness. Ben, Abel’s friend in Los Angeles, is also important to the story. He shows us an Indian who has successfully integrated himself with the modern world. He tries to help Abel because of the kinship that he feels they share. The two eventually promise to return to their culture and to sing the song, House Made of Dawn, from their childhood. Eventually the story House Made of Dawn comes full circle. In the beginning, you see from an American’s point of view a lone man running in the dawn’s light.
The end of the book clarifies what is going on here. Abel, having returned from Los Angeles hurt both emotionally and physically, has lost his grandfather. Like his grandfather before him, he then runs in the dawn light. Abel is strengthened by the song “House Made of Dawn” running through his head. He is also strengthened by the fact that he feels he is running with his ancestors who ran before him, possibly even his grandfather. In the end, Abel has transcended his pain. He has returned to his culture in his own way and has taken his grandfather’s place in his household.