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House Made of Dawn

N. Scott Momaday

Important Quotations Explained

The Night Chanter (Los Angeles, 1952)–The Dawn Runner (Walatowa, 1952)

Key Facts

Long ago there was bad times. The Kiowa were hungry and there was no food. There was a man who heard his children cry from hunger, and he began to search for food. He walked four days and became very weak. On the fourth day he came to a great canyon. Suddenly there was thunder and lightning. A Voice spoke to him and said, "Why are you following me? What do you want?" The man was afraid. The thing standing before him had the feet of a deer, and its body was covered with feathers. The man answered that the Kiowas were hungry. "Take me with you," the Voice said, "and I will give you whatever you want." From that day Tai-me has belonged to the Kiowas.

The story of Tai-me—appearing here in the January 26 portion of "The Priest of the Sun"—figures not only in House Made of Dawn, but also in Momaday's other works, such as The Names: A Memoir and The Way to Rainy Mountain. Tai-me, a sun dance doll, is for the Kiowa an essential part of their sun dance culture and their most sacred object. To John Big Bluff Tosamah, who tells this story in part of his first sermon in the novel, Tai-me represents the richness and importance of a culture that expresses itself through hundreds of years by word of mouth. Whereas white American culture has inundated itself with words, diluting their worth, power, and meaning, Native American oral traditions such as that of Tai-me are valued and cherished because their oral nature makes them always only one generation away from extinction.

Far below, the breeze ran upon the shining blades of corn, and they heard the footsteps running. It was faint at first and far away, but it rose and drew near, steadily, a hundred men running, two hundred, three, not fast, but running easily and forever, the one sound of a hundred men running. "Listen," he said. "It is the race of the dead, and it happens here."

This passage, from "The Dawn Runner," February 27, is important in that it reveals the historical reasons behind Abel's run in the prologue and in the end of the novel. Told to Abel by his grandfather Francisco, who is nearing death, the story is one of the most memorable tales from Francisco's and Abel's youth. In the valley a bit north of the town, a race of the dead takes place once a year at dawn—the same race Abel runs in at the end of the novel and in the prologue. In this symbolic act, Abel reconnects himself to his life in Walatowa and accepts the responsibility and heritage passed down to him from the previous generations.

Tsegihi. House made of dawn, House made of evening light, House made of dark cloud, House made of male rain, House made of dark mist, House made of female rain, House made of pollen, House made of grasshoppers, Dark cloud is at the door. The trail out of it is dark cloud. The zigzag lightning stands high upon it. Male deity! Your offering I make. I have prepared smoke for you. Restore my feet for me, Restore my legs for me, Restore my body for me, Restore my mind for me…

Ben Benally sings the song "House Made of Dawn" to Abel on a hill in Los Angeles in this passage from "The Night Chanter," February 20. The song is one of the songs of their ancestors, and represents the "old ways" to the two characters. Both Ben and Abel make a pact to sing the song together sometime in the future, but we do not see this occur in the course of the novel. However, another instance of the song occurs at the end of the novel. After Francisco dies and Abel runs in the valley—the same course where the race of the dead is run—Abel sings this song to himself under his breath. The song encapsulates a number of Native American ceremonial practices, and is what Momaday uses to begin his novel, both in the prologue and of course, the title of his novel itself.

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