Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

N. Scott Momaday’s choice of setting is important. Navajos traditionally believe that mountains are powerful places for healing ceremonies, and they believe that the Lukachukai Mountains are the most powerful mountains of all. Lukachukai therefore is the ideal setting for the protagonist’s year-long healing ritual.

More important, Set’s healing ritual is an adventure of life and love, a celebration of what it means to be a part of—as opposed to apart from—the world. Paradoxically, Set becomes whole only as he becomes part of the world. His story is thus also an initiation ceremony, one in which the naturally and elementally pure forces of nature and love sustain and perpetuate life.

Throughout the story, the basic conflict hinges on whether Set, the outsider, can become part of the whole world to which Grey and her family already belong. This conflict stems not so much from Set’s non-Navajo origins, but from the knowledge that his past isolation from any type of unified or family-oriented society may interfere with his healing and joining process. The reader immediately sees that Grey is “beautiful in her whole being.” The question remains as to whether Set can also become beautiful in his “whole being.”

Lela describes Set’s situation succinctly with a Navajo metaphor, telling him, “The bear stands against you”; that is, something powerful and spiritually or physically dangerous threatens his health or...

(The entire section is 547 words.)