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Free Study Guide for House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday-Summary
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CHAPTER 3: July 24


Abel goes to the Benevides house to chop wood for Angela St. John. She had thought she would bargain with him, but he was disinterested in bargaining. She watches him chop the wood and is amazed at how he puts everything into the movements. He seems to release everything in him when he lets the ax fall on the wood. The sight of it makes Angela catch her breath. She recognizes after a while that some "useless agony" is put into his actions in chopping the wood.

She watches him on and off all day long. Often when she is alone in the afternoon, she becomes restless and out of sorts. She thinks of the child growing inside her. She whispers "Oh, my darling!" to it and thinks of some disaster coming in the wind. She hears the ax ringing out in the evening. It reminds her somehow of once having seen a bear entering the water. She had wanted to reach out and touch its wet muzzle. Angela goes outside and sits on the porch watching Abel. He comes up to her when he finishes chopping and tells her the wood has gum in it and will burn long. He looks at her without smiling, but not unfriendly. She asks him if she should pay him now. He tells her he will finish the wood pile on Friday or Saturday and she can pay him then.

She wonders why he wonít negotiate with her on any terms. She feels unsettled by this fact and feels that she must hold her ground against him. She asks him if he will come on Friday or Saturday but he doesnít answer. She tells him he must tell her so she will be sure to be home. He still doesnít answer. Darkness falls and he walks away from her without a word.

She thinks of her body. She thinks of it as being vile and obscene, "the raw flesh and blood of her body, the revealed veins and the gore upon her bones." Now it is made even more monstrous with the fetus growing big-headed inside it. She has always felt a fear and disgust for her body. She has always fantasized about a death by fire in which she would be so quickly burned that there would be no moment of decomposition and not even a stench.

She goes out into the yard and gathers the wood. She feels the marks on the wood where the ax hit it. She inadvertently touches the "stiff and immovable" ax. She thinks of the "sacramental violence" that went into transforming the wood into these pieces. She sees before her a low plateau. It is covered with the black spines of trees long since burned. She takes the wood inside and lights some of it. She watches the flames curl around the wood.

Later that evening, Father Olguin comes to tell her tomorrow is the feast of Santiago. She thanks him and says she will go. She had seen earlier that summer the corn dance at Cochiti. She had been amazed at the beauty of it. The dancers seem to have been able to dance forever. They were incredibly serious in her eyes. They werenít just sad or formal or devout. They were instead "unspeakably grave." She wonders what it was that they saw. She wonders if they saw beyond the landscape into nothingness. She thinks of what it means to say "beyond the mountains" and mean it. The mountain signifies everything; it signifies being. To see beyond the mountain means to see into nothingness.

Abel reminds her of those dancers. However, "his vision had fallen short of the reality that mattered last and most." He had come upon her everyday world and so she can stand up to him. She relaxes in her thoughts and watches the fire. It is now made up of only small embers.


Here, Angela St. John encounters something in Abel that takes her aback. She is disturbed by him, taken out of her center. She connects the vision of him chopping wood with two memories. In one, she saw a bear entering water. She had been drawn to it, wanting contact with its wet muzzle. In the second, she saw Native Americans dancing at Cochiti and had sensed their connection to a vision of nothingness.

Angela responds to Abelís impassivity with power plays. She wants to bargain with him. When he is immovable, she feels the need to best him, to show her strength. Her instincts at this point run in the direction of control.

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