N. Scott Momaday Essay - Momaday, N(avarre) Scott (Vol. 2)

Momaday, N(avarre) Scott (Vol. 2)

Momaday, N(avarre) Scott 1934–

Pulitzer Prize-winning American Indian (Kiowa) novelist and critic. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28.)

[House Made of Dawn] is as exquisite as its title suggests. If ever a cause needed someone to publicize it and promote it, it is the cause of the American Indian. Their treatment is historically unjustifiable and, in our times, incredible. N. Scott Momaday could easily be that "someone" who would so dramatize their plight as to bring about popular demands for reform. This book is no "Uncle Tom's Cabin," but its successor could be.

Momaday writes with virility and vigor, yet each word seems skillfully chosen. His passages are molded with loving care and expert, professional style. The reader can easily identify with the characters and understand their emotional depths. This is certainly an exceptional talent and one that I hope will be used often.

Charles Dollen, in Best Sellers, June 15, 1968, p. 131.

[In The Way to Rainy Mountain,] Pulitzer Prize-winner Scott Momaday, himself a Kiowa, evokes the spirit of his people and their land, and does so in prose that is often close to poetry….

Momaday's subject matter is ostensibly the migration made by the Kiowa 300 years ago from the headwaters of the Yellowstone River to the southern Plains…. The story itself is impelling, but it is Momaday's method of presentation that makes it meaningful.

Each set of facing pages contains three paragraphs, in three different kinds of type. The first paragraph is the telling of legend, timeless; the second is the telling of history, largely from the nineteenth century; the third paragraph is the author's contemporary impression or comment from having heard the legends, read the history, and traveled the same route taken by his forefathers centuries before.

Toward the end of Rainy Mountain one section consolidates the three parts in a non-distinguishable group so that the three "voices" are the same. Legend, history, and contemporary experience come together, as they should, in a personal reality. The three's becoming one reflects a basic method and concern in Western American literature; thus it is no surprise that Momaday stresses three things in particular throughout the book (in addition to his three voices): a time that is gone forever, a landscape that is incomparable, and a human spirit which endures.

John R. Milton, "Minorities," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1969 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, June 21, 1969; used with permission), June 21, 1969, pp. 51-2.

American Indian literature … is one of Momaday's main concerns. He treats it variously in his Pulitzer Prize novel, House Made of Dawn, in The Way to Rainy Mountain, which is far and away his best book, and in a few of the handful of poems he has published….

In The Way to Rainy Mountain the mute presence that mulls and marks in "the endless wake of some final word" is the ghostly heritage of Momaday's Kiowa ancestors…. [What] he is dealing with is an intensely felt experience something on the order of racial memory, an inheritance that he feels in his blood. The main literary problem, then, is the presentation of an experience which is both personal and collective, and this Momaday does by an unusual technique….

In order to reveal this very complicated experience as fully as possible (and the book is less than 100 pages long) he employs three voices, using a different type for each, and alternating them, a paragraph at a time. The voices are the legendary, the historical, and the personal or contemporary….

What [his] technique gives the reader … is a wide variety of styles and kinds of detail. Because Momaday can thus attain a concentration close to that of poetry in these short sections, the narrative evokes complex feelings that are unusual to prose…. As Momaday alternates his voices we watch his cultural past, endlessly fascinating and forever irrecoverable, taking its life in his mind.

Kenneth Fields, "More Than Language Means," in The Southern Review, Vol. VI, No. 1, Winter, 1970, pp. 196-204.