The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

At the novel’s opening, Grey is a self-assured, uninhibited adolescent. She develops mainly in terms of the natural maturation that comes with age. She already has a powerful sense of self, is equally at home in her two worlds (Kiowa and Navajo), and understands the sources of her strength. “Never had Grey to quest after visions,” Momaday repeats throughout the novel; she easily creates her own. Early on, she manifests these qualities of strength and self-assurance in a fairly adolescent way— declaring herself mayor of the collection of abandoned sod-houses where she lives and daydreaming about life with Billy the Kid. Her power and freedom reach their apotheosis in her fantasies about life with Billy the Kid; in these fantasies, she is totally free, brave, supremely capable, and loved. As she matures, and especially after she meets Set, the same qualities she has in abundance in her dreams begin to exhibit themselves more strongly in her real life. At the age of twenty, she understands her responsibility to guide and heal Set, a worldy, successful man approximately twice her age. Grey engineers Set’s rites of passage and brings him into a stable and supportive Indian family. Grey’s development mirrors Set’s, without the turmoil and emotional and spiritual confusion. Because Grey has always been deeply connected with her native culture, she knows and understands her own identity.

Set is the product of a very different environment. An orphan, he is cut off completely from the Indian world. In adulthood, Set seems happy and successful but has no real connection to the community around him. His only true sense of himself is found through his art. When...

(The entire section is 686 words.)

The Ancient Child Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Locke “Set” Setman

Locke “Set” Setman, a forty-four-year-old artist of Kiowa descent. Orphaned when he is seven years old, he is sent to a Catholic boarding school and is subsequently adopted. As an adult, he is a successful painter, living a sophisticated life in San Francisco. He receives an enigmatic telegram summoning him to the funeral of Kope’mah, an Indian relative he never met. Intrigued, he travels to the Oklahoma reservation where she lived. While he is there, Grey gives him a bundle that contains the powerful bear medicine. Set politely accepts it, not realizing that from it emanates a magic power that will transform him, body and soul. When he returns to the city, his life gradually falls apart. Although he continues to paint, the tone of his paintings changes. Originally valued for their vivid color, his paintings take on a darker aspect that reveals his growing inner turmoil. Set tries to hide his despair by carrying on as if his life is unchanged. He travels to Paris to exhibit his work but is suddenly called back home because of the death of his adoptive father. His father’s death and his growing obsession with the medicine bundle lead to Set’s further psychological deterioration, and he finally experiences a complete breakdown. He is found in his paint-stained studio, sitting in front of the open medicine bundle. After being committed to a psychiatric hospital for several weeks, he is released. Lola drives him to Oklahoma and places him in Grey’s care. Grey takes charge of his healing and drives him to Lukachukai, a Navaho reservation and her childhood home. Surrounded by Grey’s family, he continues his recovery and begins to paint again. He and Grey marry, and they soon expect their first child. Before their baby is born, Set...

(The entire section is 729 words.)

The Ancient Child Characters

Momaday provides, in the opening of his novel, a list of the characters in order of their relative appearance and significance, starting with...

(The entire section is 477 words.)