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House Made of Dawn

N. Scott Momaday

Study Questions and Essay Topics

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Quiz

Study Questions

Discuss Abel as seen through the eyes of Ben Benally in the novel's third section, "The Night Chanter."

Several different aspects of Ben's character determine how he sees Abel. The two men do share some kinship in the similar experiences they had on the reservations during their youth. They are even related somehow, Ben claims, and they share the unique experience of growing up on a reservation and then attempting to make the transition to city life. Ben is both practical and pragmatic and understands how to adjust to life in Los Angeles, while he sees Abel as incapable to do so. Ben's judgment of Abel, which is based on what he has seen many Native Americans undergo, is temporally situated after Abel's crisis and decline in Los Angeles has occurred, giving him the benefit of hindsight. Ben's narrates Abel's decline in contrast to his own stability—a fruitful angle from which to analyze the relationship between the two characters in the novel.

In what sense is House Made of Dawn an autobiographical novel? What roles do Kiowa legends and stories play in the creation of autobiography?

The word autobiography has many layers of meanings, but simply put it can mean "life telling." An autobiography describes more than the life of a single person, but also the many lives that intersect with that person, creating a rich complex of relations and stories. Some of these can be accounts of events that occur in the life of a person, but more often than not, many of them recount the events and circumstances of people who lived long ago. These stories are therefore much like the Kiowa legends, and some in this novel in fact are the Kiowa legends. What is important to understand about autobiography is that it is not a matter of fact versus fiction—such as the difference between the newspaper and a novel—but more about the importance of the events, legendary or personal, that shape identity of the characters.

What beliefs formulate Francisco's and Abel's worldview and in what ways do their two worldviews differ?

The relationship between Francisco and Abel is by far the most important in the novel and is addressed in many scenes throughout the novel. Many of Abel's flashbacks involve Francisco, the person who took care of him when he was young, the only father figure he had, and, at some point in his life, the only member of his immediate family. The two of them share a specific worldview that is heavily influenced by the stories they share. For Abel, Francisco is the source of much of what he knows of Kiowa culture, while, for Francisco, Abel is the person to whom he must entrust what he has learned from his ancestors and what he himself has learned during his own lifetime.

What each of the two men individually experience during their lives—prison, relocation, and World War II for Abel, and the last whispers of an old way of life for Francisco—is where we can grasp how they differ. Francisco has never left the reservation and therefore never fully interacted with modern America. Abel, on the other hand, has experienced the brunt of the hardship of the transition to modern America. Abel's comfort with English is a product of an education of which Francisco has experienced very little, as he did not really need knowledge of English in his simple farming life. What Francisco does know, however—such as what events correspond to which place the sun rises in the horizon—is a part of a body of knowledge of which he is one of the few remaining teachers. It is this handed-down knowledge that provides the basis for much of Abel's worldview.

Suggested Essay Topics

The narrative of House Made of Dawn is a juxtaposition of flashbacks and temporal shifts rather than a linear, chronological progression. What effect does this have on the reader?

Both Milly and Angela St. John have similar roles in the narrative of the novel. What do these roles say about Abel's notions of gender, cultural differences, and class?

Using Abel's experiences with Native American relocation camps in Los Angeles, analyze the differences between industrial America and the reservations.

Many scenes in the novel describe the act of hunting, such as Francisco's bear hunt and Abel's eagle hunt. What do these scenes say about the characters' relationship to nature?

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