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Introduction

When it was first published in 1968, N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn garnered scarce critical and commercial attention. Yet within a year, it won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and had received international critical acclaim.

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N. Scott Momaday

Momaday was born on the Kiowa Reservation in Lawton, Oklahoma, on February 27, 1934. His father, Alfred Morris, was an artist and teacher; in fact, his artworks are used to illustrate several of Momaday’s books, including his history of the Kiowa people, The Way to Rainy Mountain. His mother, Mayme Natachee Scott, taught and wrote children’s books.

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Plot Summary

A Prologue

The very first section of House Made of Dawn creates the mood for the story. Set in a canyon at sunrise, the protagonist of the novel, Abel, is introduced. Thematic issues that will appear throughout the book are also presented: Abel’s isolation and his struggle to communicate, as well as the communion of man and nature. In addition, it introduces the image of Abel running, which will also be the final image in the novel.

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Characters

A Abel

The protagonist of the story, Abel is a Native American war veteran who struggles to find his place in the world. Some critics have interpreted Abel’s behavior as being caused by the strain of trying to balance the expectations of white culture with Indian culture. Others assert that the novel’s flashbacks indicate that Abel was estranged and uncommunicative even before he left the reservation for the army.

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Themes

A Prejudice and Tolerance

Strangely, for a novel about Native American suffering in the white world, there is not a lot of overt prejudice on the parts of the characters in House Made of Dawn. The most brutal character in the novel, Martinez, says nothing to indicate that his action is racially motivated; he has a Spanish name himself, making him no more a representative of the white culture than Abel. The two white women, Angela and Milly, treat Abel well and respect his heritage.

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Construction

A Point of View

In this novel, Momaday often shifts from one point of view to another; as a result, it is not always clear whose thoughts are being related, or when, or what they have to do with the overall story. At first it seems that Abel will be the focus of the novel, but soon the point of view shifts to Francisco. Moreover, there is little consistency in the point of view: while it seldom shifts from one person’s perspective to another within one scene, it does not follow a pattern of staying with any one point of view for a whole chapter, or even a section.

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Historical Perspective

A The Postwar Reservation

As with many other minority groups in America, Native American populations became more connected with the mainstream culture as a result of World War II. Prejudice and discriminatory policies did not disappear overnight, but the fact that people from ethnic subcultures were thrown together in barracks in the war led to some softening social boundaries. Many whites met real Indians for the first time, and many Indians met their first whites.

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Questions

Investigate the tribal customs of Native Americans from different parts of the United States, such as the northern or southeastern regions of the country. Report on how their practices differ from those of the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest.

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Compare and Contrast

Late 1940s: After Europe is decimated as a result of World War II, America becomes an economic superpower, creating a thriving economy and a population boom. 1968: The generation of Americans born in the late 1940s and early 1950s is dubbed the Baby Boom generation. Many members of this generation reject the materialistic culture and emphasize spiritual values. Today: America has experienced the longest economic expansion in its history.

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Further Reading

One of Momaday’s best-known works is The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969), his history of the last days of the Kiowa people.

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