The Man Made of Words Essay - Critical Essays

The Man Made of Words

Readers may consider THE MAN MADE OF WORDS: ESSAYS, STORIES, PASSAGES a collection of random prose, as N. Scott Momaday notes in his preface, but he sees both unity in the collection and evidence of his development as a writer. Part one consists of essays on Native American subjects, part two of travel accounts to Europe and Native American sites, and part three of anecdotes and observations on Native American and other subjects. How these pieces are unified is indicated by Momaday in the first essay, “The Arrowmaker,” which recounts a Kiowa legend that Momaday interprets as an allegory of existence. In the legend, a Kiowa arrowmaker draws on his sense of identity and shrewd language to dispose of a lurking enemy. The arrowmaker becomes “the man made of words” and Momaday’s prototype.

THE MAN MADE OF WORDS is thus the record of an existential act—how Momaday has used writing to define and hold on to his Native American identity. The cultural abyss that Momaday has bridged is suggested by numerous autobiographical glimpses in the collection. He grew up on a Kiowa homestead near Rainy Mountain Creek in Oklahoma and on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. He now travels the world, has numerous friends in artistic/intellectual circles, likes fine food and wine, and has learned to fly.

The collection also records Momaday’s views on such topics as language, the oral tradition, and the land. He believes that the Native American oral tradition gives words their true, sacred value, while the print culture brought by European settlers debases language. Similarly, the land and places revered by Native Americans are threatened. A recurrent theme throughout the collection is the decline and loss of the sacred.

Sources for Further Study

Atlanta Journal Constitution. June 29, 1997, p. L9.

Booklist. XCIII, April 15, 1997, p. 1376.

Kirkus Reviews. LXV, March 1, 1997, p. 360.

Library Journal. CXXII, May 1, 1997, p. 104.

The Nation. CCLXIV, June 30, 1997, p. 31.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, June 15, 1997, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, March 24, 1997, p. 67.