Momaday, N. Scott (Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1995)
N. Scott Momaday 1934–
(Full name Navarre Scott Momaday; also rendered as Navarro and Novarro) American novelist, poet, autobiographer, nonfiction writer, editor, and artist.
The following entry provides an overview of Momaday's career through 1993. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 2 and 19.
Of Kiowa descent, Momaday is widely recognized as one of the most successful contemporary Native American literary figures. Considered a major influence by numerous Native writers, he has garnered critical acclaim for his focus on Kiowa traditions, customs, and beliefs, and the role of Amerindians in contemporary society. Although highly regarded for the novel House Made of Dawn (1968), winner of the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Momaday considers himself primarily a poet and notes that his writings are greatly influenced by the oral tradition and typically concern the nature and origins of Native American myths.
Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, during the Great Depression to Alfred Morris and Mayme Natachee Scott, Momaday is of Kiowa, white, and Cherokee ancestry. His father was a Kiowa artist and educator whose work has often been featured in Momaday's books. Although primarily of white descent, Momaday's mother, who was also an educator, strongly identified with her Cherokee roots—even dressing in Native clothes and adopting the name "Little Moon." Her advocacy of "self-imagining" as a means of achieving Native identity is considered a basic premise of Momaday's writings. During his early years, Momaday moved about the American Southwest with his parents, who eventually settled on the Jemez Pueblo reservation in New Mexico. He attended a military school in Virginia, the University of New Mexico, and Stanford University, where he worked under the guidance of American critic and poet Yvor Winters. He first gained critical attention after winning a Pulitzer Prize for House Made of Dawn. A member of the Gourd Dance Society and an accomplished artist, Momaday has taught at numerous schools, including Stanford, the University of Arizona-Tucson, and the University of California-Berkeley, where he was instrumental in instituting a Native American literature program.
Momaday's first major publication, The Journey of Tai-me (1967), is a nonfiction account of Kiowa folktales and myths, particularly those concerning the tai-me, a medicine bundle or doll used in the Kiowa sun dance. Thematically, much of the volume is also included in the autobiography The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969), which has occasionally been classified as both a novel and a nonfiction work detailing Kiowa history and legends. Divided into three main sections—"The Setting Out," "The Going On," and "The Closing In"—The Way to Rainy Mountain spans several hundred years of Kiowa history, relating and at times reimagining the tribe's customs, sacred myths, settlement on the Great Plains, and "Golden Age" prior to the encroachment of white settlers onto their lands in the 1800s. However, rather than merely focusing on the past as he did in The Journey of Tai-me, Momaday employs several voices and combines ethnography with personal reminiscences to depict his family's participation in Kiowa traditions and rituals; the book ends with Momaday visiting his grandmother's grave at Rainy Mountain, a place sacred to the Kiowa people. The 1976 autobiography, The Names, similarly incorporates family and tribal history. Focusing on Momaday's early years, the volume details the importance of naming and self-identity as well as Momaday's evolving understanding of language, imagination, and the creative process. Aspects of The Journey of Tai-me and The Way to Rainy Mountain are additionally present in House Made of Dawn. Momaday's best known work, House Made of Dawn concerns Abel, a young Jemez Pueblo searching for a sense of identity in white and tribal society. Following Abel's return to his reservation after serving in World War II, the novel relates the events leading up to his incarceration in prison for murder, his subsequent release and attempt to become integrated into white society in Los Angeles, and his relationships with various whites and Native Americans. Incorporating a circular structure, Native storytelling techniques, and biblical allusions, the novel emphasizes historical attempts to convert Native Americans to Christianity as well as the alienating effects of assimilation. House Made of Dawn is also known for its fragmented, stream-of-consciousness narrative style, its inclusion of multiple voices, and its use of flashbacks, all of which have earned Momaday favorable comparisons with American novelist William Faulkner. Momaday's second novel, The Ancient Child (1989), similarly concerns a Kiowa man alienated from his heritage. Occasionally classified as a post-Symbolist, Momaday is additionally known for the verse collections Angle of Geese, and Other Poems (1974) and The Gourd Dancer (1976). Oral traditions and Kiowa customs are central to these volumes, which feature prose poems, syllabic verse, and Native chants, and often focus on philosophical issues regarding nature, identity, death, knowledge, and current events. In the Presence of the Sun (1993) contains short stories and, among other poems, a sequence concerning the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid, a prominent figure in Momaday's artwork and his The Ancient Child. Acknowledging his focus on Kiowa history and culture in his writings, Momaday has asserted: "I think that my work proceeds from the American Indian oral tradition, and I think it sustains that tradition and carries it along. And vice versa. And my writing is also of a piece. I've written several books, but to me they are all part of the same story. And I like to repeat myself, if you will, from book to book, in the way that Faulkner did—in an even more obvious way, perhaps. My purpose is to carry on what was begun a long time ago; there's no end to it that I can see."
Consistently praised for his exploration of Kiowa concerns and traditions, Momaday is a seminal figure in both mainstream American and Native literature. His House Made of Dawn and The Way to Rainy Mountain are frequently taught in literature courses, and critics note that his works are of relevance and importance to Natives and non-Natives alike. In particular, his early poetry is frequently hailed as among the most significant of the century. Howard Meredith has observed: "His art … provides a glimpse of the depths of existence that extends cultural perspectives to understand better the living universe."
SOURCE: "The Post-Symbolist Methods," in Forms of Discovery: Critical and Historical Essays on the Forms of the Short Poem in English, Alan Swallow, 1967, pp. 251-97.
[Winters was an American critic, poet, short story writer, and editor who emphasized that all good literature necessarily serves a conscious moral purpose. In his best-known critical work, In Defense of Reason (1947), Winters stated: "I believe that the work of literature, in so far as it is valuable, approximates a real apprehension and communication of a particular kind of truth." Momaday, who studied under Winters while at Stanford, has noted that Winters greatly influenced his writing. In the excerpt below, Winters offers an analysis of "The Bear," "Buteo Regalis," and "Before an Old Painting of the Crucifixion," placing Momaday's work within the Post-Symbolist tradition.]
I use the term "post-Symbolist" to describe a kind of poetry which develops most commonly and most clearly after the French Symbolists but which sometimes appears before them or independently of them. Logically, it should follow them and should follow from them, but these things happen as they will.
The associationistic doctrines taught that all ideas arise from sensory perceptions, and gradually it came to be thought that all ideas could be expressed in terms of sensory perceptions, but this effort, as in Pound's Cantos or in much of...
(The entire section is 2918 words.)
SOURCE: "Anglos and Indians," in The New York Times Book Review, June 9, 1968, p. 5.
[Sprague is an American journalist, critic, and nonfiction writer who has written about the history of the American West. In the following review, he offers praise for House Made of Dawn.]
This first novel [House Made of Dawn], as subtly wrought as a piece of Navajo silverware, is the work of a young Kiowa Indian who teaches English and writes poetry at the University of California in Santa Barbara. That creates a difficulty for a reviewer right away. American Indians do not write novels and poetry as a rule, or teach English in top-ranking universities either. But we cannot be patronizing. N. Scott Momaday's book is superb in its own right.
It is the old story of the problem of mixing Indians and Anglos. But there is a quality of revelation here as the author presents the heart-breaking effort of his hero to live in two worlds. Have you ever been to the Rio Grande country of New Mexico and wandered through the adobe Pueblo village there? It is a frustrating experience. The long-haired Indians with their blankets and headbands are not hostile—just indifferent. One returns to the comfort of Santa Fe feeling vaguely discontented and wondering why everything Anglo seems callow and obvious compared with this ancient culture that doesn't even bother to pave the streets.
(The entire section is 640 words.)
SOURCE: "Exhibition," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3508, May 22, 1969, p. 549.
[In the following, the critic provides a mixed review of House Made of Dawn, questioning the novel's merit as a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.]
House Made of Dawn is about an American Indian called Abel. It is written in self-conscious prose, which can be as regularly rhythmical as Hiawatha, and has some of the sentimental primitivism of that poem. Abel, however, has moved on, and moved down, from the great days of Crows, Comanches and the rest; no golden-world reformist statesman he, no well conducted pursuer of a modern Minnehaha. Instead he is hoicked out of his "reservation"—a sort of goldfish bowl in which his fellownationals drift dreamily round in artificial preservative—for combat duty in the Second World War. From this he returns to his people demoralized, not belonging in a full sense to any culture, either primitive or mid-twentieth-century Los Angelesque. He murders a disgusting albino (symbolism here?), serves a prison-sentence, is "relocated", but fails again to make satisfying contact with urbanized members of his race. He starts drinking himself into stupors, has strenuous yet unmeaningful love-affairs—one with Millie, a white social worker who is in every way most obliging but still somehow won't do—is beaten up by L.A. toughies, and at last returns to the reservation and...
(The entire section is 399 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Way to Rainy Mountain, in Western Humanities Review, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Summer, 1970, pp. 290-91.
[In the review below, Dickey favorably assesses The Way to Rainy Mountain.]
In a three-hundred-year migration, the Kiowa Indians emerged, as out of a hollow log, from the canyon confinement of the Montana Rockies, touched monolithic Devil's Tower which rose into the night sky to place seven of their kinsmen as the Big Dipper, and among the Comanches of the "intermountain plain" learned the Sun Dance and became horsemen—"a time of great adventure and nobility and fulfillment." "The Kiowas reckoned their stature by the distance they could see," and in the heart of the continent "acquired the sense of destiny, therefore courage and pride." Their golden age perished with the buffalo, "the animal representation of the sun," and these summerseeking people were at last quiescent near the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. In a spiritual and intellectual pilgrimage [recorded in The Way to Rainy Mountain], N. Scott Momaday retraces the path of his Kiowa ancestors, "to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth … to give himself up to a particular landscape … to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it." His journey ends at Rainy Mountain and the grave of his grandmother, who had seen white men spoil the last...
(The entire section is 816 words.)
SOURCE: N. Scott Momaday, Boise State College, 1973, 46 p.
[Trimble is an American educator and critic. In the excerpt below, she briefly analyzes some major themes and symbols in House Made of Dawn.]
Invited to submit to Harper & Row some poetry for publication, Momaday instead submitted the prose manuscript of House Made of Dawn for the Harper Prize Novel Contest, even though he had missed the deadline. Harper & Row published the book in 1968; Signet followed with a paperback edition in 1969. "Three Sketches from House Made of Dawn" had appeared in the October 1966 issue of The Southern Review, with a footnote announcing the pending publication by Harper & Row, and with a statement by the author:
The novel is about an Indian who returns from World War II and finds that he cannot recover his tribal identity; nor can he escape the cultural context in which he grew up. He is torn, as they say, between two worlds, neither of which he can enter and be a whole man. The story is that of his struggle to survive on the horns of a real and tragic dilemma in contemporary society….
The three sketches were incorporated into House Made of Dawn: "The Sparrow and the Reed" principally as the first chapter; "Homecoming" as the first part of the second chapter; and "The Albino" as part of the fourth...
(The entire section is 2511 words.)
SOURCE: "N. Scott Momaday's Angle of Geese," in The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Vol. XI, No. 3, Summer, 1975, pp. 658-61.
[In the following review, Finlay offers a stylistic and thematic description of Angle of Geese, praising the volume as Momaday's best work.]
N. Scott Momaday's reputation, before Angle of Geese, rested upon two works of prose, House Made of Dawn, a novel concerned with the dislocation and eventual disintegration of an Indian youth in urban America (parts of which were first published in The Southern Review), and The Way to Rainy Mountain, a half-mythical, half-historical account of Momaday's Kiowa ancestors, beautifully illustrated by the poet's father. These two books are considerable achievements, especially The Way to Rainy Mountain, which contains some of the most powerful prose written in recent years, or any year, for that matter. Yet Angle of Geese, made up of eighteen poems, three of which are in prose, is by far the greatest thing Momaday has done and should, by itself, earn for him a permanent place in our literature. Considering, though, the general insistence upon the loose and the anecdotal in contemporary poetry, I should realistically add that Momaday's poetic reputation will probably be quiet and underground.
Nearly all of his poems are concerned with what Yvor Winters, in his...
(The entire section is 977 words.)
SOURCE: "N. Scott Momaday: Racial Memory and Individual Imagination," in Literature of the American Indians: Views and Interpretations; A Gathering of Indian Memories, Symbolic Contexts, and Literary Criticism, edited by Abraham Chapman, New American Library, 1975, pp. 348-57.
[Strelke is a photographer, poet, editor, and educator who frequently teaches courses on Native Americans. In the essay below, she examines Momaday's thematic focus on personal redemption and identity and discusses his blending of individual history, racial memory, Native art and culture, and Western aesthetics in House Made of Dawn and The Way to Rainy Mountain.]
On one level, the writings of N. Scott Momaday, notably the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, House Made of Dawn, and the multigenre books, The Way to Rainy Mountain, center on the responses that Native Americans make to their ethnic backgrounds, their racial memory, their "Indianness." Because of these concerns, and because Momaday is himself a Native American, these books are taught in Native American literature courses or are included as material in courses in ethnic studies: they picture the values, lifestyles, and problems of minority groups in "mainstream" American culture, presenting examples of racial conflict which are too often resolved with the Native American's rejection, alienation, or assimilation.
On another level—and...
(The entire section is 3990 words.)
SOURCE: "Memories of an Indian Childhood," in Harper's, Vol. 254, No. 1521, February, 1977, pp. 94-5.
[Abbey was an American novelist and nonfiction writer. In the following, he offers a positive review of The Names.]
[In The Names: A Memoir, an elegiac] autobiography of his youth, Mr. Momaday gives us another version of a man's search for the roots of his...
(The entire section is 1593 words.)
SOURCE: "Words and Place: A Reading of House Made of Dawn," in Western American Literature, Vol. XI, No. 4, February, 1977, pp. 297-320.
[An American critic and educator, Evers has authored several books on Native American songs and has served as president of the Association for Study of American Indian Literatures. In the essay below, he examines Momaday's focus on language, landscape, and Native American rituals and narratives in House Made of Dawn.]
Native American oral traditions are not monolithic, nor are the traditions with which Momaday works in House Made of Dawn—Kiowa, Navajo, and Towan Pueblo. Yet there are, he suggests [in "A Conversation with N. Scott Momaday," Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literary Magazine 2, No. 2 (1976)], "common denominators." Two of the most important of these are the native American's relation to the land and his regard for language.
By imagining who and what they are in relation to particular landscapes, cultures and individual members of cultures form a close relation with those landscapes. Following D. H. Lawrence and others, Momaday terms this a "sense of place" [in his "A Special Sense of Place," appearing in Viva, Santa Fe New Mexican, (7 May 1972)]. A sense of place derives from the perception of a culturally imposed symbolic order on a particular physical topography. A superb delineation of one such symbolic...
(The entire section is 8170 words.)
SOURCE: "The Art and Importance of N. Scott Momaday," in The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Vol. XIV, No. 1, January, 1978, pp. 30-45.
[In the excerpt below, Dickinson-Brown offers a stylistic examination of House Made of Dawn, The Way to Rainy Mountain and several of the poems in Angle of Geese.]
The Kiowa Indian N. Scott Momaday came to public attention in 1969, surprising everyone, including himself and his editors, by winning the Pulitzer Prize for his novel House Made of Dawn. He has before and since maintained a quiet reputation in American Indian affairs and among distinguished literati for his genius, his extraordinary range, his fusion of alien cultures, and his extraordinary experiments in different literary forms.
House Made of Dawn is a memorable failure. Some of its passages attain a prose surface brilliance and also a depth, not at all like the historic depth of Macaulay or the ancient, almost etymological depth of Hardy, but a kind of depth of physical perception simultaneous with a post-Romantic understanding of man's relationship to nature—an understanding and a sensory perception which are both great and unique:
He was a young man, and he rode out on the buckskin colt to the north and west, leading the hunting horse, across the river and beyond the white cliffs and the plain, beyond the...
(The entire section is 4460 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Names, in The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Vol. XIV, No. 2, Spring, 1978, pp. 387-89.
[In the piece reprinted below, McAllister provides a mixed review of The Names, questioning, in particular, Momaday's advocacy of self-imagining as a means of establishing Native identity.]
Scott Momaday remains one of the premier writers of American Indian literature, his reputation established by two of his first achievements, the novel House Made of Dawn and his cultural memoir, The Way to Rainy Mountain. Since the latter appeared in 1969, he has continued to produce essays and poems and to demonstrate that he is one of our most polished writers; but his admirers have waited eagerly for his next full-length work. The Names is that work. Perhaps my eagerness inflated my expectations too much; in spite of its many good qualities, it is a disappointment.
One excellence of Momaday's writing is his perfection of control, that diamond-cutter's precision of style. It is a talent both admirable and dangerous. In neither his poetry nor his prose is there ever a sense that Momaday has let go, set things loose, there is always that infinite shyness costumed as sophistication, the unstated mystery not even acknowledged, a privacy of meaning and purpose. Privacy is a basic right. The razor balance of personal privacy versus public honesty...
(The entire section is 1023 words.)
SOURCE: "N. Scott Momaday: Towards an Indian Identity," in American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1979, pp. 39-56.
[Zachrau is an educator. In the essay below, he discusses Momaday's focus on the search for Native identity in House Made of Dawn, The Way to Rainy Mountain, and The Names.]
During the past twenty years ethnic literature and its impact have increased considerably. However, in comparison to Black or Jewish literature, Indian writing has played a relatively small role. While Black and Jewish writers defined themselves in terms of their ethnic identities and expressed their problems and concerns within this context, American Indians did not consider themselves primarily Indians, belonging to one common ethnic group, but emphasized their specific tribal origins as means for self-identification. In the 1970s, this attitude changed significantly with the advent of "Red Power"—a political and sociological movement indicative of the birth of a new sense of identity.
Since Indian history was originally transmitted through a strong, formalized oral tradition, there are virtually no written accounts of the original tribal histories, and as a consequence of the modern Indian experience, information on differing American Indian cultures is relatively poor. The destruction of numerous Indian tribes and their being forced to live together in reservations led...
(The entire section is 7345 words.)
SOURCE: "N. Scott Momaday: Beyond Rainy Mountain," in American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1979, pp. 57-67.
[In the following essay, Berner analyzes the themes and organization of The Way to Rainy Mountain.]
Defying generic description, The Way to Rainy Mountain is an abbreviated history of the Kiowa people, a reworking of Kiowa folklore, a mixture of legend, historical fact, and autobiography. More precisely, it may be considered a kind of prose poem derived from traditional materials which are perceived personally, an exercise in self-definition made possible by a definition of the Kiowa experience. Ultimately the book's subject must be understood as language itself—its origins, its power, its inevitable collapse, and finally, its re-birth as art.
As Emerson says in Nature, every word was originally a poem, arising out of a need for some means of referring to a concrete phenomenon; for example, he says, supercilious means "the raising of the eyebrow" and spirit means "wind." But the word, which begins as a metaphor, becomes, through common usage, a cliché and finally sinks into the common earth of denotation. Yet words are the only means by which the poet can give meaning to reality, achieve self-definition, and in the process restore vitality to the words.
The structure which outlines the progress of language in...
(The entire section is 4233 words.)
SOURCE: "Beautyway: The Poetry of N. Scott Momaday," in The South Dakota Review, Vol. 18, No. 2, Summer, 1980, pp. 61-83.
[In the essay below, Mason provides an in-depth analysis of The Gourd Dancer, examining the major themes of each section and of the volume as a whole.]
N. Scott Momaday's first full-length collection of poems was finally published in 1976. Previously he had published some eighteen poems in the chapbook, Angle of Geese and Other Poems. These poems plus two others make up part 1 of The Gourd Dancer, a book which is the summation in poetry of that evolution of ideas and verbal skill we have observed in prose in House Made of Dawn, The Way to Rainy Mountain, and The Names.
The Gourd Dancer clearly establishes Momaday as a poet of some stature and demands that the close attention given his prose be given to his poetry as well. The book presents a distinct and distinguished music in post-modern poetry and a fresh and compelling vision. Momaday has brought the same intense concision, the same scrupulous craftsmanship to his poems that he brought to his prose. More important perhaps, he has treated the themes of his prose with a poetic rhetoric of marked originality.
The Gourd Dancer is divided into three parts, each of which is dedicated to one of Momaday's three daughters. This tripartite structure is a...
(The entire section is 8789 words.)
SOURCE: "Tribal Roots: Exploring the Fate of an American Indian Artist," in Chicago Tribune—Books, October 1, 1989, p. 3.
[An American critic, essayist, novelist, and editor, Larson is the author of American Indian Fiction (1978). In the following excerpt from a review of The Ancient Child, he praises Momaday's "poetic" depiction of a protagonist who recovers his Native heritage, but contends that the novel is disrupted by irrelevant subplots.]
For most American readers, N. Scott Momaday's first novel, House Made of Dawn (awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1969) presented a disturbing picture of American Indian life on the edge. Abel, the main character, had served valiantly in World War II but found no affinity with tribal life after his return to the reservation. His reassimilation was thwarted by alcohol and violence. His renewal with the land and his people was clouded in mystical ambiguity. That sense of returning to one's tribal roots is central to Momaday's second novel, The Ancient Child.
The dominant story follows Locke Setman, nicknamed Set, a successful artist who lives in California, distanced both physically and emotionally from his Kiowa heritage. When he is called back to his people for the funeral of an old woman, Kopemah, his sense of connectedness is temporarily jolted:
He was completely at a loss. He knew...
(The entire section is 969 words.)
SOURCE: "Splendor in the Grasslands," in The New York Times Book Review, December 31, 1989, p. 14.
[In the following mixed review, Marston faults Momaday's romanticized view of Native history in The Ancient Child.]
Locke Setman, or Set, has achieved almost everything a person can in late 20th-century America and, of course, is suffering heavily for it. He is the central character in The Ancient Child, N. Scott Momaday's first novel since he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for House Made of Dawn.
Set is a San Francisco artist who has continued to paint large, colorful and pricey canvases, even though his inner vision has tried to pull him in less lucrative artistic directions. By conventional standards, Set has been well rewarded for this submersion of self. The fortysomething artist has a home and studio on San Francisco Bay, is moderately famous and has a relationship with a beautiful art collector—"the sort of affair that everyone ought to have once, as a birth-right."
He tries to keep this life going—who wouldn't?—but he can't. Dissonant elements begin to creep into his paintings, he takes up with a woman attracted by this dissonance, his beloved adoptive father dies and finally he cracks wide open. But this is not another story of a conventional midlife crisis. For although Set was raised by and as an Anglo in San Francisco, he was born an...
(The entire section is 1296 words.)
SOURCE: "N. Scott Momaday: A Man of Words," in World Literature Today, Vol. 64, No. 3, Summer, 1990, pp. 405-07.
[In the essay below, Meredith discusses Momaday's literary attempts to preserve Native American culture and examines his use of Kiowa traditions as a narrative form and "a measured angle of vision" through which to view the world.]
N. Scott Momaday marks a decisive line of demarcation in the cultural tradition of the Kiowa people. In doing so, he has struck a responsive chord among the other diverse peoples of North America. He is a collector of the ancient traditions that circulated orally among the Kiowa people and others of the American Southwest. With him begins a literary tradition of those prose narratives which previously had circulated almost exclusively within specific tribal contexts. This process is one in which a great literary work, House Made of Dawn, issued at a stroke.
Such a collecting and refashioning of old material cannot be ascribed to the initiative of Momaday alone. The time and place are ripe for it. Indeed, what is most important is that the presuppositions for this collecting and refashioning are present in the ancient tribal traditions themselves. The majority of these old narratives are etiologies. Their purpose is to explain some facts in tribal heritage, about a place or in the spiritual tradition. Previously the validity of these...
(The entire section is 2526 words.)
SOURCE: "Contemporary Innovations of Oral Traditions: N. Scott Momaday and Leslie Marmon Silko," in Sending My Heart Back across the Years: Tradition and Innovation in Native American Autobiography, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1992, pp. 153-99.
[In the following excerpt, Wong analyzes Momaday's emphasis on "orality" and its influence on the discussion of ancestral and racial heritage, communal self, and individual identity in The Way to Rainy Mountain.]
Momaday's belief in the transforming capabilities of the imagination, in the synthesizing potential of memory, in the identity-inducing possibilities of the land, and in the power, beauty, and grace of the word finds its way into The Way to Rainy Mountain. The first of his two autobiographies, The Way to Rainy Mountain is the more experimental. Many critics, including Momaday himself, have commented on its unique structure and purpose.
Claiming that it defies generic classification, Robert L. Berner refers to The Way to Rainy Mountain [in "N. Scott Momaday: Beyond Rainy Mountain," American Indian Culture and Research Journal 3, No. 1 (1979)] as "an abbreviated history of the Kiowa people, a re-working of Kiowa folklore, a mixture of legend, historical fact, and autobiography." Not content with these attempts at labeling, he calls it "a kind of prose poem," "an exercise in self-definition," and, most...
(The entire section is 3669 words.)
SOURCE: "Imagination Man," in The New York Times Book Review, March 14, 1993, p. 15.
[In the following review, Bode praises Momaday's descriptions of Kiowa culture and history as well as his use of voice and language in In the Presence of the Sun.]
According to their mythology, the Kiowas entered the world through a hollow log and called themselves the "coming out" people (Kwuda). They were nomadic hunters who migrated from the headwaters of the Yellowstone River down through the Black Hills into the shadow of the Rocky Mountains and onto the Great Plains. Along the way they acquired many of the elements of Plains Indian culture: horses, the Sun Dance religion and a love for the open sky.
The Cheyennes and Sioux drove the Kiowas south, where for a hundred years, in alliance with the Comanches, they ruled the southern plains from the Arkansas River to the Rockies. "Centaurs in their spirit," the bold Kiowas raided as far south as Durango State in Mexico, and, in confederation with the Cheyennes, Comanches and Apaches, fought the eastern Indians intruding into their territory. Guns, frontier traders and wars with the United States cavalry extinguished the buffalo herds and the Sun Dance and hastened the collapse of Plains Indian culture. By the close of the last century, the Kiowas were settled on a reservation in Oklahoma.
N. Scott Momaday—the teacher, poet,...
(The entire section is 807 words.)
SOURCE: A review of In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961–1991, in The Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 13, No. 4, July-August, 1993, pp. 14, 22.
[Here, Anderson provides a thematic and stylistic review of In the Presence of the Sun.]
There have been a number of notable collected and selected volumes of poetry over the past few years, including award-winning books by Mary Oliver and Hayden Carruth, as well as important editions from Gary Snyder, Donald Hall, Derek Mahon, Cynthia Macdonald, Adrienne Rich, and others. The significance of this is not lost: As we approach the end of the millennium, many of our poets are at the top of their form. These collections allow us to assess their accomplishments as well as gauge the state of the art over the past several decades.
We are fortunate to add to the growing list of retrospective collections this new book from N. Scott Momaday. In the Presence of the Sun offers "stories," poems, and drawings from over 30 years. Many of us first became aware of Momaday through his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, House Made of Dawn, but it was as a poet that he first appeared on the literary scene.
Momaday's early work, still some of his best, bears the influence of his teacher at Stanford, Yvor Winters. These are, nonetheless, poems of grace and resonance. Winters encouraged the young Momaday to work in a variety...
(The entire section is 1499 words.)
SOURCE: A review of In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961–1991, in World Literature Today, Vol. 67, No. 3, Summer, 1993, p. 680.
[In the following positive review, Meredith argues that In the Presence of the Sun fully achieves Momaday's purpose, which is to "express my spirit fairly."]
In the Presence of the Sun, a collection of poetry, stories, and visual-art pieces, presents a set of individual works that define Scott Momaday's style, from his early period and to more recent times, as well as his visual expression in still lifes and figure studies. Each of the works has individual traits, but there are elemental connections among them. Included are familiar early poems from volumes such as Gourd Dancer and Angle of Geese, a series of poems focusing on Billy the Kid; new poems; a reprint of In the Presence of the Sun: A Gathering of Shields, originally published as a signed, limited letterpress edition by the Rydal Press earlier in 1992. Illustrations include acrylics, graphite sketches, monoprints, etchings, pen-and-ink drawings, and watercolors. Momaday writes: "The poems and stories, the drawings here, express my spirit fairly, I believe. If you look closely into these pages, it is possible to catch a glimpse of me in my original being."
Momaday brings a significant vision of his ethnic foundations and period style in...
(The entire section is 689 words.)
Trimble, Martha Scott. "N. Scott Momaday (1934–)." In Fifty Western Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, edited by Fred Erisman and Richard W. Etulain, pp. 313-24. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982.
Provides an overview of Momaday's life, a discussion of the major themes of his works, critical reception of his writings, and a listing of primary and secondary sources.
Allen, Paula Gunn. "Bringing Home the Fact: Tradition and Continuity in the Imagination." In Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature, edited by Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat, pp. 563-79. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Discusses the inclusion of Navajo and Pueblo beliefs in House Made of Dawn, arguing that Momaday's focus in the novel is on sickness, healing, and harmony.
Antell, Judith A. "Momaday, Welch, and Silko: Expressing the Feminine Principle through Male Alienation." The American Indian Quarterly XII, No. 3 (Summer 1988): 213-20.
Examines Momaday's House Made of Dawn, James Welch's The Death of Jim Loney, and Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, arguing that their treatment of the alienated Native American male underscores the role and power of...
(The entire section is 1187 words.)
(The entire section is 0 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of N. Scott Momaday Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!