The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday is a literary work that stands out based on a variety of elements and features. The purpose of this work was for the author to connect with the readers by means of communicating a unique autobiographical story that was far more than a simple narration about his past experiences in life. Instead, as a writer true to his Native American background, Momaday uses his literary talent to speak out for his people – the Kiowa, and their cultural identity that was tightly connected to the lands on which they used to live.
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In his story entitled The Way to Rainy Mountain, Momaday includes a wide range of landscape and place descriptions for the purpose of showing the uniqueness of the land, the special vision the Kiowa people had of the landscape, and the tight connection to it that was expressed in the detailed knowledge of the lands and places.
In The Way to Rainy Mountain, Momaday uses a multitude of landscape descriptions that are designed specifically to reflect on the uniqueness of the land on which the Kiowa lived. Such descriptions can be found from the very beginning of the book and right to its end, and their variety demonstrates the significance of the land to the author and his people. The descriptions are usually very detailed and colorful.
They depict the places and lands that the Kiowa people occupied and their unique nature and character. For example, in the prologue to his story, Momaday wrote: “To look upon that landscape in the early morning, with the sun at your back, is to lose the sense of proportion. Your imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where Creation was begun” (5). The aforementioned lines give the idea to the reader that the author has spent many early mornings looking at the plains and experiencing the feelings he described.
Providing a detailed description of the place, Momaday assumes the role of a tribal storyteller whose major purpose was to engage the audience and invited them along to the journey through his memories and imagination (Brígido-Corachán 59; Garrait-Bourrier 2-3). This seems to be done for the purpose of communicating how truly unique the land was and that one required its deep knowledge and understanding to feel about it in a way the Kiowa people did.
The special vision the Kiowa had about their land is another aspect helping the author express the significance of the places described. In particular, Momaday wrote that “Loneliness is an aspect of the land” (5). This statement could potentially mean that one had to practice solitude and stay one-on-one with the land in order to understand it and connect with it as the Kiowa had. The author’s focus on the smallest details demonstrates how observant one had to be to get to know the land.
Momaday mentions grasshoppers in the air, birds singing “out of the shadows”, and scissortails in the grass, and the vision of a cricket in front of the shining moon he noticed in the evening (12). Such small details often come unnoticed or are left out from narrations, but in Momaday’s story, they are significant because they represent the symbols of home, and the ability to notice them – the identity of the people.
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Interestingly, the mere inclusion of these details in the narration made Momaday’s work atypical for an autobiography provoked the arguments among critics as to the genre to which The Way to Rainy Mountain belongs (Pratt 89; Roemer 770). This controversy signifies that the author’s intention was for his work to tell a story in a way his people did but not how it was supposed to be done from the perspective of an autobiography.
The Kiowa people’s attachment to their lands is one of the most important aspects of their identity; and this is what made Momaday add the land as one of the main elements in the story. For the Kiowa, their homeland was characterized by much more than a political meaning or the size the territory (Schnell 157). The ultimate interconnectedness between the places, people, plants, and animals is an essential part of the culture as seen from the story.
For instance, the legend about the redbird says: “… the tree began to grow taller, and the child was borne up into the sky. She was then a woman… instead of the redbird, there was a young man standing before her” (Momaday 22). It seems that the Kiowa saw themselves as equal to all the other elements living together in harmony and serving and parts of the natural life-cycle of the land.
In that way, The Way to Rainy Mountain by Momaday is a somewhat autobiographical story where the author assumed the role of a tribal storyteller sharing the legends of this people in order to communicate the uniqueness of their lands, the special vision the people had of the lands, and the tight connection between the Kiowa and their lands. In that way, it is possible to notice that landscapes and nature serve as some of the main elements or even characters in the stories told by the author thus showing the significance of these elements to the Kiowa culture and identity.
Brígido-Corachán, Anna M. “Wordarrows: The performative power of language in N. Scott Momaday’s non-fiction work.” Language Value, vol. 4, no. 2, 2012, pp. 56-69.
Garrait-Bourrier, Anne. “N. Scott Momaday: A Postmodern Rebel with a Cause?” Journal of the Short Story in English, vol. 4, 2010, pp. 1-9.
Momaday, Scott N. The Way to Rainy Mountain. UNM Press, 1976.
Pratt, Stacy. Answering the Arrowmaker’s Challenge: Autobiography as a Model of American Indian Literary Nationalism in The Way to Rainy Mountain. Web.
Roemer, Kenneth M. “Inventive Modeling: Rainy Mountain’s Way to Composition.” College English, vol. 46, no. 8, 1984, pp. 767-782.
Schnell, Steven M. “The Kiowa Homeland in Oklahoma.” The Geographical Review, vol. 90, no. 2, 2000, pp. 155-176.