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Free Study Guide for House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday-Summary
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CHAPTER 4: July 25


Father Olguin knows the story of Santiago. He was a saint who rode into Mexico in the disguise of a peasant. On the way, he stopped at the home of an elderly couple. They gave him their bed and slept on the floor. They killed their rooster, their only valuable possession, to feed him. He told them who he was and gave them his blessing and continued on his way. He came to the royal city where the king had proclaimed a day of celebration and games. The winner would marry the kingís daughter. Santiago won. The king didnít want a peasant to marry his daughter, so he ordered his men to kill Santiago on his journey away from the city. Santiago brought the rooster whole and alive from his mouth. The rooster warned him of the plot and gave Santiago the spur from his right leg. Santiago used it as a magic sword and killed the kingís men. When he finished his journey, his horse spoke to him, telling him to sacrifice it for the people. Santiago stabbed the horse to death and from its blood came a great herd of horses to be used by all the Pueblo people. The rooster also spoke to Santiago and tells him to sacrifice it for the people. Santiago tore it apart and scattered the remains. The blood and feathers became cultivated plants and domestic animals to be used by all the Pueblo people.

The feast of Santiago is held in the late afternoon. Father Olguin takes Angela St. John to the village center. As they walk toward the village, they notice an old man tending his long hair. They see people looking out of houses at them. Father Olguin speaks to them. Angela stands aside and notices the sense of excitement in the town.

When they get to the Middle, they hear a great deal of noise. The Middle is an ancient place. It is one hundred yards long and forty wide. The earth is rolling and concave. It is an enclosed space with narrow passages at the four corners. Angela and Father Olguin enter the space. They see people standing around on the roofs along with a drummer beating an even rhythm on the drum. Its sound reminds her of the sound of a storm coming up. She notices a freshly dug hole in the ground.

Riders come into the Middle. They are eight men and eight boys. Abel is among them riding his grandfatherís mare sitting rigidly in the saddle. One of the men is an albino and he rides a fine black horse. A town official brings out a white rooster and buries it in the hole in the ground. The riders ride on the rooster and reach for it. They do so inexpertly and the people laugh at them. Abel also makes a poor showing. The sight makes Angela despise him a little. She is taken up with the spectacle and feels her body going limp. The white man gets hold of the rooster and rides among the other riders until he is beside Abel. He turns on him and flails him with the rooster brutally. Abelís mare is hemmed in against the wall. When the bird is dead, the man keeps swinging it until the neck breaks and blood splashes everywhere. The pieces of the bird are scattered all around. Townswomen throw water to finish the sacrifice. Afterwards, Angela is exhausted. She feels like she did the first time she had sex, "too tired for guilt and gladness."

Father Olguin goes up to his room and says his office. After eleven, he comes down again and makes a fire in the kitchen. He never sleeps at night. He uses the nights to read and write. He brings out a book which he had found when he first came to this parish among its records. Itís a journal dated in the year of 1874 and its entries begin on the 16th of November. It is a priestís diary. He writes of his illness. He writes of Francisco, who is the boy who helps him in the church. He writes to God of his devotion and his actions in service. He writes of going to see Tomacita Fragua who is dying. In the next entry, he writes of her death. He was called after the Native Americans had already performed their death rites on her body, calling these rites "dark custom[s]." He writes on Christmas day of the nativity play in which some members of the community acted.

In the entry under the next year, 1875, he writes of having just returned from Cuba. He writes of a confession in which a woman named Maria Delgado confessed to 9 mortal and 32 venial sins, who seemed to think of the 9 sins as miracles. He writes of the birth of an albino born to Manuelita and Diego Fragua, who was named Juan Reyes. He writes his paranoid fantasies of Francisco, whom he thinks is out to get him. He thinks Francisco is "one of them" because he "goes to the kiva a puts on their horns and does worship that Serpent which is the One our most ancient enemy." He writes of Franciscoís sexual relationship with Porcingula Pecos, "a vile one" who is already pregnant. He is disappointed in Francisco whom he says was such a fair child with whom he loved to play.

He writes a letter to his brother accusing him of coveting his favor with God. He wonders why his brother hasnít sent the razor and strop which he requested. He wants his brother to tell him if Catherine speaks ill of him. He promises to save his brother if he will confide in him. He writes to his brother of how God comes to him sometimes in "a sourceless light that rises on His image at [his] bed." He says God consoles him and asks him to speak of his love, but Nicolas canít speak because he is so moved by Godís presence. Then God scolds him.

When Father Olguin finishes reading, he feels consoled. He feels as if he has gotten a glimpse of his own ghost. He feels like being able to read this journal is a gift given to him of another manís sanctity. He goes to sleep.

Angela returns that same night to the Benevides house "alive to the black silent world of the canyon." She drives along the road thinking of the land around her. When she arrives at the house, she feels that it is no longer the chance place of her visit to this area. The house seems like a secret, like she is. The house is her "stage of reckoning."


There are three elements of this section. First, the description of Angela St. Johnís experience of the feast of Santiago, second, the inserted genre of Father Nicolasís late nineteenth century journal and letters along with Father Olguinís use of them, and third, Angela St. Johnís new sense of belonging in this land. Abel is part of the spectacle of the feast of Santiago; nothing comes from his point of view in this section of the novel.

The feast itself is probably strange to most readers of the novel, but it contains elements common to all major religions, especially the sacrifice. Here, however, the sacrifice is enacted as spectacle rather than performed as ritual. The time of the feast of Santiago is late July, just before harvest, a time to seed the earth in order to inspire it to produce in abundance.

The connection between the feast of Santiago and the way Father Olguin uses the journals of Father Nicolas isnít at first apparent. The two parts of this section of the novel are perhaps connected in the sense that Father Olguin feeds off the spiritual strivings of his predecessor. He feels relieved by the act of reading Father Nicolasís struggles and consoled. The people are relieved and consoled by the repetition of the spectacle year after year.

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