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.

B The Longhair

In 1945 Abel’s grandfather, Francisco, rides his horse-drawn wagon into town and picks up Abel from the bus station. The young man is returning from his service in the army during World War II. So drunk that he does not recognize his own grandfather, Abel stumbles off the bus and into his grandfather’s wagon.

Waking the next day at Francisco’s house, he recalls frightening images from his early life on the Native American reservation: the mournful sound of the wind blowing over a hole in the earth; the sight of a snake carried up into the sky by an eagle and then dropped, wriggling in its fall to the hard ground. He then reflects on his wartime experiences.

The story shifts to Father Olguin, the Catholic missionary assigned to the reservation at Walatowa. He is visited by Angela St. John, a pregnant white woman from Los Angeles. Mrs. St. John is pregnant and has come to bathe in the local mineral baths to soothe the soreness in her back. She asks Father Olguin to recommend a local person looking for work who can chop wood for her. A few days later, Abel comes to her house. He chops the wood, but does not talk to her.

At the feast of Santiago, Abel participates in a competition that is based on a folk story about Santiago, who founded the town by sacrificing a rooster. The townspeople believe that the discarded feathers and blood of the rooster produced plants and animals from the ground. At the feast, contestants ride horses toward a rooster that is buried up to its neck in the ground, trying to reach down and pull it out. Abel does poorly at the competition. The winner is an albino on a black horse, who takes the rooster over to Abel and beats him with it.

A few days later, Abel walks to Angela St. John’s house. She invites him in, gives him coffee, and asks if he would like to make love to her. He accepts, and the two become lovers. Father Olguin comes to talk to her about her sin a few days later, but she does not regret her actions.

After a festival in town, Abel sits in a bar and has a few drinks with the albino. They leave together, and, while walking up the street, the man puts his arm out to Abel. Abel pulls out his knife and stabs the man, killing him.

C The Priest of the Sun

Seven years later, the story shifts to Los Angeles. Reverend John Big Bluff Tosamah, the pastor of the Holiness Pan-Indian Rescue Mission and the Priest of the Sun, preaches to Native Americans in the city. Tosamah is a Kiowa, and he recalls stories told him by his grandmother, who had been present for the last of the Kiowa tribe’s sun dances in 1887. He passes these Indian stories along to those in his congregation, many of whom are from other native groups.

Abel has served his jail time for the murder of the albino. He is trying to start a new life in Los Angeles at the urging of the Indian Relocation Service. Abel has a close friend, Benally, who is an Indian also transplanted from the reservation to the city; Abel also has a girlfriend named Milly, who is the social worker assigned to his case. He struggles to stay out of trouble and survive in a white man’s world.

D The Night Chanter

Benally clarifies some of the details of Abel’s life in Los Angeles. He is familiar with many of the members in the Native American community and mentions their names in the process of telling the story. He remembers that after his release from prison, Abel was brought to the factory where Benally worked. Feeling sorry for him, Benally gave him a place to live and went out to bars and to the beach with him.

One night they are stopped by Martinez, a local police officer. When Abel does not respond appropriately, Martinez hits his hands with his nightstick. His bones are not broken, but Abel’s pride is-soon he stops going to work, and spends his days drinking and wandering the streets: He went downhill pretty fast after that. Sometimes he was here when I came in from work, and sometimes he wasn’t. He was drunk about half the time, and I couldn’t keep up with him … Pretty soon I wouldn’t give him any more, but you know what he did? He started asking Milly for money.

He loses a succession of jobs, and eventually is attacked and beaten up on the street.

Benally contacts Angela St. John. She visits Abel in the hospital and tells him that she has told Indian stories to her son Peter about a man born of a bear and a maiden. Benally puts Abel on a bus back to the reservation.

E The Dawn Runner

When he returns to the reservation, Abel discovers that his grandfather is dying. Abel listens to him murmuring in his delirium for six days about a bear hunt from his youth. The old man dies on the seventh morning.

Abel wakes Father Olguin before dawn and makes arrangements for the old man’s funeral service. He takes off down the road south of town. When he spots the figures of men running, he strips off his shirt and runs after them.

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