House Made of Dawn

By N. Scott Momaday


Welcome to the vibrant and profound world of House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday! 📚✨ This masterpiece, first published in 1968, marks a significant moment in Native American literature, being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969. N. Scott Momaday, belonging to the Kiowa tribe, weaves a narrative that’s deeply rooted in Native American culture, presenting a mesmerizing exploration of identity, belonging, and the powerful ties to ancestral land.

The novel is often celebrated as a pioneering work that brought Native American oral and historical traditions into the modern literary landscape. Its genre blends elements of a psychological novel with that of a cultural and spiritual odyssey, providing readers a unique lens through which to view the challenges and beauty of Native American life in the mid-20th century.

Momaday’s storytelling is a bridge between the ancient and the contemporary, offering a deep dive into the struggles and resilience of its characters, particularly focusing on Abel, a young Native American man caught between the traditional world of his ancestors and the disruptive currents of modernity.

So, get ready to embark on a journey through stunning landscapes, rich traditions, and the complex web of human emotions with House Made of Dawn. Let’s delve into the heart and soul of this literary treasure! 🌄📖

Plot Summary

House Made of Dawn is a compelling narrative structured around the life of Abel, a young Native American man struggling to find his place in both the world of his ancestors and the larger American society. The story unfolds through a series of non-linear flashbacks and forward leaps, enveloping readers in a journey of memory, identity, and redemption. Here’s a detailed look into the main events:

Exposition — The novel opens in the late 1940s, with Abel returning to his reservation in Walatowa, New Mexico, after serving in World War II. The reservation is a place where traditional Native American culture collides with the influences of modern American life. Abel feels alienated and struggles to reconnect with his community and its ancient traditions.

Rising Action — Abel’s attempts to reintegrate into his community are met with various challenges. He forms a complex relationship with a medicine man named Francisco, who represents the link to the traditions Abel seeks to understand. During a ceremonial event, Abel participates in a grueling footrace, an experience that deepens his spiritual crisis.

Climax — The turning point of the novel occurs when Abel murders a man named Albino, a fellow Native American. This act is fraught with personal and cultural symbolism, representing Abel’s inner turmoil and his conflict with the societal values imposed upon him.

Falling Action — Following the murder, Abel is convicted and sent to prison. His time in incarceration further alienates him from his identity and roots. Upon release, he moves to Los Angeles, where he becomes further estranged from his culture, struggling with alcoholism and aimlessness in an urban environment that is indifferent to his plight.

Resolution — The novel closes with Abel’s return to his home in Walatowa. He participates in a ritual ceremony, running in the dawn, which symbolizes his attempt to find renewal and reconnection with his community and cultural heritage. The ending is open-ended, leaving Abel’s future and the possibility of his redemption uncertain but suggesting a movement towards healing and reconciliation with his identity.

Through its intricate structure and powerful imagery, House Made of Dawn offers a deep exploration of the struggles faced by Native Americans in the mid-20th century, touching on themes of displacement, identity, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world.

Character Analysis

House Made of Dawn presents a rich tapestry of characters, each contributing to the novel’s exploration of identity, tradition, and the human condition. Here’s a closer look at the main characters:

  • Abel — Abel is the protagonist, a young Native American veteran grappling with his identity and place in both his traditional community and the broader American society. Haunted by his experiences in World War II and struggling with alcoholism, Abel’s journey is one of profound existential crisis. He embodies the conflict between the old ways of his people and the invasive pressures of modern life.
  • Francisco — Francisco is Abel’s grandfather, a respected member of the community and a link to Abel’s cultural and spiritual heritage. He represents the enduring strength of Native American traditions amidst the encroaching influences of the modern world. Through Francisco, we see the dignity and depth of the customs that Abel is at risk of losing.
  • Tosamah — Reverend John Big Bluff Tosamah, a Kiowa priest and a persuasive orator, offers a contrasting perspective to Abel’s experiences. His sermons provide insights into the Native American experience in America, blending humor with poignant critique. Tosamah serves as a voice for the displacement and resilience of Native American people in an urban setting.
  • Ben Benally — A close friend to Abel in Los Angeles, Ben represents the possibility of adapting to new environments while maintaining one’s cultural identity. His character offers a glimpse into the challenges and complexities of urban Native American life, showcasing the struggles with isolation, identity, and belonging.
  • Millicent — A minor character who symbolizes the intrusive and often misunderstood intentions of outside influences on Native American communities. Her interactions with Abel highlight the cultural chasm between Native Americans and the dominant American society.

Character Analysis Summary:

CharacterPersonality/MotivationCharacter Development
AbelStruggles with identity and belonging, haunted by war and loss. Seeks connection with his roots.Progresses from alienation to a tentative step towards self-discovery and reconciliation.
FranciscoEmbodies traditional values and wisdom. Serves as a cultural and familial anchor for Abel.Remains a steadfast beacon of tradition and resilience amidst change.
TosamahWitty, critical, and insightful. Uses his oratory to critique society and connect with his heritage.Acts as a bridge between traditional narratives and modern challenges.
Ben BenallySupportive and understanding. Struggles with his own sense of identity and place in an urban setting.Highlights the ongoing struggle for balance between cultural integrity and adaptation.
MillicentRepresents external misunderstanding and simplification of complex cultural issues.Serves to underscore the cultural and personal miscommunications between worlds.

Through these characters, House Made of Dawn not only explores the intricate dynamics of identity and belonging but also illuminates the diverse responses to the pressures of modernization and cultural erosion.

Themes and Symbols

House Made of Dawn is rich with themes and symbols that weave through its narrative to create a tapestry of meaning that reflects on the Native American experience, identity, and spirituality. Here’s an in-depth look at some of the major themes and symbols in the novel:


  • Identity and Belonging — The struggle to maintain a personal and cultural identity in the face of modernization and displacement is central to Abel’s journey. This theme explores the tension between traditional Native American ways of life and the pressures of contemporary American society.
  • Alienation and Loneliness — Characters in the novel experience profound isolation, not only from society at large but also within their communities and personal relationships. This alienation is a reflection of the broader disconnection from culture, land, and identity.
  • The Sacred and the Profane — The novel juxtaposes sacred Native American traditions with the profanity of violence, alcoholism, and loss. This theme highlights the conflict between spiritual or cultural purity and the degradation of these values in a modern context.
  • Healing and Redemption — Through the ritual and ceremonial aspects of the narrative, the novel suggests the possibility of healing and redemption. Abel’s participation in traditional ceremonies represents an attempt to reconcile with his past and find a path forward.


  • The Dawn Run — The dawn run symbolizes renewal, hope, and the potential for reconciliation with one’s self and community. It is a powerful assertion of identity and a return to cultural roots.
  • The Eagle — Representing freedom, vision, and spiritual strength, the eagle is a recurring symbol that connects the characters to their cultural heritage and the natural world.
  • The Landscape — The landscape in the novel, from the deserts of New Mexico to the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, symbolizes the broader context of Native American dislocation and the search for place and meaning within it.
  • The House Made of Dawn — The title itself symbolizes the idea of creation and beginning, reflecting themes of identity, rebirth, and the cyclical nature of life according to Native American cosmology.

Through these themes and symbols, House Made of Dawn offers a nuanced exploration of the complexities of Native American life, the search for identity in a changing world, and the enduring power of tradition and spirituality.

Style and Tone

N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn is celebrated not only for its narrative but also for its distinctive style and tone, which play crucial roles in conveying the novel’s themes and emotional depth. Let’s delve into these aspects:

  • Lyrical Prose — Momaday’s prose is notably lyrical and poetic, rich with vivid imagery and sensory detail. This style imbues the narrative with a dreamlike quality, seamlessly blending the natural landscape with the inner landscapes of the characters’ minds. The lyricism serves to bridge the gap between the spiritual and the mundane, reflecting the interconnectedness of all elements of life in Native American culture.
  • Non-linear Narrative — The novel employs a non-linear narrative structure, weaving together flashbacks, dreams, and present-day events in a way that reflects the cyclical nature of Native American storytelling. This technique challenges the reader to piece together Abel’s story from fragmented memories and experiences, mirroring Abel’s own quest for identity.
  • Symbolic Language — Momaday uses symbols extensively to convey deeper meanings and connect the characters’ personal experiences with larger cultural and spiritual themes. This symbolic language elevates the narrative, allowing the novel to communicate complex ideas and emotions in a nuanced manner.
  • Tone of Reverence and Melancholy — The tone of the novel fluctuates between reverence for the natural world and the traditions of Native American culture, and a profound sense of melancholy over the losses and alienation experienced by its characters. This duality reflects the novel’s exploration of the beauty and tragedy of human life.
  • Integration of Native American Oral Traditions — Momaday integrates elements of Native American oral traditions into the narrative, including stories within stories and ceremonial language. This not only enriches the narrative but also serves as a form of cultural preservation and celebration.
  • Use of Multiple Perspectives — The narrative shifts between different characters’ perspectives, offering a multifaceted view of the story and its themes. This approach allows for a deeper understanding of the characters and the complexities of their experiences.

Through these stylistic choices and tonal nuances, Momaday creates a rich, immersive reading experience that captures the essence of Native American cultural heritage, the beauty and harshness of the natural world, and the deep, often painful, quest for identity and belonging.

Literary Devices used in House Made of Dawn

N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn utilizes a variety of literary devices to enhance its narrative depth, emotional resonance, and thematic complexity. Here are the top 10 literary devices used in the novel, each contributing significantly to its storytelling prowess:

  1. Symbolism — Symbolism is pervasive throughout the novel, with elements like the dawn, eagle, and landscape serving as powerful symbols of identity, freedom, and the connection between land and people. These symbols enrich the narrative by adding layers of meaning that extend beyond the literal.
  2. Imagery — Momaday’s use of vivid and evocative imagery brings the natural world to life, creating a rich sensory experience for the reader. This imagery is not only aesthetic but also serves to deepen the connection between the characters and their environment, highlighting the spiritual significance of the land.
  3. Flashback — The novel’s non-linear structure relies heavily on flashbacks to reveal Abel’s past and the historical and cultural background of the characters. This device allows Momaday to explore the complexities of memory and identity, showing how the past continually informs the present.
  4. Foreshadowing — Through subtle hints and clues, Momaday foreshadows key events and revelations in the narrative, creating a sense of anticipation and depth. This device enhances the thematic exploration of fate and destiny, suggesting that the characters’ lives are deeply intertwined with cultural and cosmic forces.
  5. Metaphor — Momaday employs metaphors to draw connections between seemingly disparate elements, such as comparing the human experience to the natural landscape. This device enriches the novel’s themes, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all things.
  6. Personification — The personification of the natural world imbues it with a sense of agency and spirituality, reflecting Native American beliefs in the animacy of the land. This device serves to blur the lines between the human and non-human, inviting the reader to view the world through a different lens.
  7. Alliteration — The use of alliteration enhances the musicality of the prose and reinforces the novel’s oral tradition influences. This device adds a lyrical quality to the narrative, making the language itself a vehicle for cultural expression.
  8. Simile — Through similes, Momaday creates vivid comparisons that illuminate the characters’ emotions and experiences, making them more relatable and poignant. This device helps to convey the complexity of the characters’ inner lives.
  9. Stream of Consciousness — Momaday employs a stream of consciousness technique to depict the characters’ thoughts and feelings in a direct and immersive manner. This device allows for a deeper exploration of consciousness and identity, presenting a multifaceted view of the characters’ internal struggles.
  10. Repetition — The repetition of certain words, phrases, or motifs throughout the novel serves to emphasize key themes and ideas, creating a sense of rhythm and unity in the narrative. This device reinforces the novel’s exploration of cycles, tradition, and change.

By skillfully weaving these literary devices into the fabric of his narrative, Momaday crafts a work that is not only a profound exploration of Native American identity and culture but also a rich literary experience that engages the reader on multiple levels.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s explore examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, presented in a detailed table format.


Dawn as a symbol of renewal and hopeThe motif of dawn represents new beginnings and the potential for healing and reconciliation within the protagonist’s life and community.
The eagle as a symbol of freedom and spiritual visionThe eagle embodies the aspiration for spiritual elevation and the freedom to live in harmony with one’s cultural identity and heritage.
The house made of dawnThis symbolizes the creation of the universe in Navajo cosmology, linking the novel’s narrative to broader themes of creation, identity, and belonging within Native American spirituality.


Descriptions of the New Mexico landscapeThe vivid portrayal of the landscape serves to ground the story in a specific place, emphasizing the deep connection between the land and the characters’ identities and spiritual lives.
The urban scenes in Los AngelesContrasting imagery highlights the alienation and disconnection from nature experienced by Native Americans in urban settings, underscoring themes of loss and dislocation.
The ceremonial dances and ritualsDetailed imagery of these events provides insight into the cultural and spiritual practices of the characters, offering a window into the rich traditions that form the backbone of their community.


Abel’s memories of warThese flashbacks reveal the trauma and disorientation felt by Abel, illustrating how his experiences in World War II haunt him and affect his ability to reintegrate into his community.
Recollections of childhood and familyThrough these memories, the novel explores the themes of loss, belonging, and the impact of generational trauma on individual identity.
Visions of ancient ceremonies and landscapesThese flashbacks connect the characters to their ancestral past, emphasizing the enduring importance of tradition and the land in shaping identity.


Early mentions of the dawn runThese hints foreshadow the novel’s climactic return to traditional rituals and the protagonist’s search for renewal.
Dialogue hinting at conflictConversations between characters often contain subtle clues about future tensions and challenges, setting the stage for the novel’s exploration of cultural and personal conflicts.
Descriptions of the landscapeThe way the landscape is described can foreshadow changes in the novel’s mood and the characters’ journeys, linking the physical and spiritual worlds.


The journey as a metaphor for healingAbel’s physical and emotional journeys throughout the novel symbolize his quest for healing and self-discovery within the context of his cultural heritage.
The broken jar as a metaphor for shattered identityAn incident involving a broken jar reflects the fragmentation of Native American identity and culture due to colonization and modernization.
The eagle’s flight as a metaphor for spiritual liberationThe eagle’s flight represents the aspiration for spiritual freedom and the desire to transcend the limitations imposed by society and history.

This structured approach provides a clear and detailed understanding of how N. Scott Momaday uses literary devices to enrich the narrative of House Made of Dawn, adding layers of meaning and enhancing the novel’s thematic depth and emotional impact.

House Made of Dawn – FAQs

Q: What is the significance of the title “House Made of Dawn”?
A: The title “House Made of Dawn” refers to a Navajo religious song and symbolizes creation, renewal, and the promise of a new beginning. It reflects the novel’s themes of identity, rebirth, and the connection to cultural roots and the natural world.

Q: Who is the protagonist of “House Made of Dawn”?
A: The protagonist of the novel is Abel, a young Native American man who struggles with his identity and belonging between the traditional world of his people and modern American society.

Q: What are the major themes in “House Made of Dawn”?
A: Major themes include identity and belonging, alienation and loneliness, the sacred versus the profane, and the possibility of healing and redemption through connection to cultural traditions and the natural world.

Q: How does N. Scott Momaday’s use of language contribute to the novel’s impact?
A: Momaday’s use of lyrical, poetic language and vivid imagery deeply immerses readers in the natural landscape and inner lives of the characters, enhancing the novel’s exploration of complex themes and emotions.

Q: What role does the landscape play in “House Made of Dawn”?
A: The landscape is crucial in the novel, serving as a symbol of home, identity, and spiritual connection. It contrasts the natural beauty of New Mexico with the alienation experienced in urban Los Angeles, reflecting the characters’ internal and external struggles.

Q: Can “House Made of Dawn” be considered a Native American novel?
A: Yes, “House Made of Dawn” is considered a seminal work in Native American literature, reflecting the culture, traditions, and challenges of Native American life, particularly from the perspective of the Pueblo people.

Q: What literary devices does Momaday employ in the novel?
A: Momaday utilizes a range of literary devices, including symbolism, imagery, flashback, foreshadowing, metaphor, and personification, to deepen the narrative and connect the reader to the themes and characters.

Q: What is the significance of the dawn run in the novel?
A: The dawn run symbolizes renewal and hope for Abel, representing a physical and spiritual journey towards healing, reconnection with his community, and reaffirmation of his cultural identity.

Q: How does “House Made of Dawn” address the issue of identity?
A: The novel explores identity through Abel’s experiences and struggles, highlighting the impact of cultural dislocation, the loss of traditions, and the search for a sense of belonging in a changing world.

Q: What impact did “House Made of Dawn” have on literature?
A: “House Made of Dawn” had a significant impact on American literature by bringing Native American perspectives and storytelling traditions to a wider audience, helping to pave the way for future generations of Native American writers.


What is the primary setting of “House Made of Dawn”?Los Angeles, CaliforniaWalatowa, New MexicoChicago, IllinoisNew York, New York
Who is Abel’s grandfather?TosamahFranciscoBen BenallyMillicent
What symbolic act does Abel participate in at the end of the novel?A dance competitionA dawn runA storytelling sessionA pottery making ceremony
Which character represents the connection to Native American traditions and the spiritual world?Ben BenallyMillicentFranciscoTosamah
What is a major theme of the novel?The importance of technology in modern societyThe exploration of spaceIdentity and belongingThe impact of globalization
What literary device is extensively used by Momaday to enhance the narrative’s depth?IronySymbolismSatireHyperbole
How does the landscape influence the characters in the novel?It offers them financial opportunitiesIt serves as a backdrop for their adventuresIt symbolizes their connection to identity and spiritualityIt provides a setting for political debates
What event marks a turning point for Abel’s character?Winning a lotteryHis return from World War IIMeeting a famous celebrityStarting a new job
Which character offers a perspective on urban Native American life?FranciscoMillicentBen BenallyTosamah
What does the title “House Made of Dawn” symbolize?A real estate ventureA construction projectCreation, renewal, and hopeA historical monument

This quiz is designed to test comprehension of House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, focusing on its settings, characters, themes, literary devices, and symbolic elements.


Identify the Literary Devices Used in the Following Paragraph from “House Made of Dawn”:

“The sun rose upon him where he lay in Abel’s arms. And in that instant he was aware of the earth around him, whole and sound; and the sound was good. He was alone and singularly free, responsible only to the sun, and he had no choice but to rejoice in the day, in the light, and in the movement of the river, and in the wind that promised him the earth and delivered it; he lay still, listening to the river, feeling the warmth and the light, and he was happy.”


  1. Symbolism: The sun symbolizes renewal and hope, a new beginning for Abel.
  2. Imagery: Vivid imagery is used to describe the earth, the light, the river, and the wind, creating a sensory experience that connects the reader to the natural world.
  3. Personification: The wind is personified, described as making a promise and delivering the earth, adding a spiritual dimension to the natural elements.
  4. Metaphor: The earth represents not just the physical land but also a sense of belonging and connection to one’s roots and identity.
  5. Alliteration: Phrases like “singularly sound” and “rejoice in the day, in the light” use alliteration to enhance the musical quality of the prose.

This exercise encourages students to closely read and analyze the text, identifying how literary devices contribute to the thematic depth and emotional resonance of “House Made of Dawn.”