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House Made of Dawn

N. Scott Momaday

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

The Priest of The Sun (Los Angeles, 1952)

The Night Chanter (Los Angeles, 1952)–The Dawn Runner (Walatowa, 1952), page 2

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The Night Chanter - February 20

This section is told from the point of view of Ben Benally, Abel's roommate in the apartment in Los Angeles. It is the day after Abel—badly beaten by unknown assailants and left in a ditch on the beach—has left Los Angeles to return to Walatowa. Ben remembers going up on a hill in the city with many Indians the night before. The group, which included Tosamah and Cristobal Cruz, started playing songs and dancing while Abel and Ben went off by themselves. Abel and Ben made a pact to meet sometime in the future, just the two of them and two horses among the hills, and to sing the song called "House Made of Dawn."

Ben gradually reveals the events of the prior weeks. We learn that Abel had been drinking far too much and finally quit working at the factory to spend all his time at bars. One evening, over a poker game at Tosamah's, Abel became so enraged with Tosamah that he tried to hit him. Abel was too drunk, however, and merely stumbled, provoking laughs from the others in the room.

From that point on, Abel descended further into drunkenness and poverty until he had a fight with Ben and left the apartment. Abel and Ben had been mugged by a corrupt local cop earlier that week, and Ben implies that Abel was perhaps intending some sort of revenge when he left the apartment. Regardless of whether or not Ben's guess is correct, Abel returns to the apartment three days later, crashing to the floor of the stairwell, badly beaten and seemingly close to death.

The Dawn Runner - February 27

Abel returns to the reservation to find his grandfather, Francisco, ill and on the verge of dying. Abel tends to his grandfather for days, and the narration switches to the inner thoughts of the stricken old man. When Francisco was younger he had tracked a bear for many miles through the forest. He finally caught up to the bear by a river, and shot. Smeared with the blood of the young bear, he entered the town to be greeted by the men with rifles, whom he gave strips of bear meat. Francisco's last memory is of taking Abel to the plain where the race of the dead takes place, telling him to listen to the dead run at dawn.

The Dawn Runner - February 28

Abel wakes up in the middle of the night sensing that Francisco has passed away. He immediately dresses the old man's body according to ceremonial tradition, and takes the body to the local mission, where he leaves it with Father Olguin. The Father does not understand why Abel insists on leaving the body before dawn break, until he finally has an epiphany that explains Abel's actions.

Abel leaves the mission and travels to the plain outside of Walatowa where the race of the dead takes place. It is just before dawn, and as the sun strikes the rim of the valley, the runners run with the dawn. Abel runs after them, stumbling in his exhaustion but using the song "House Made of Dawn" to carry him forward.

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