The Way to Rainy Mountain Essay - Critical Context

N. Scott Momaday

Critical Context

The Way to Rainy Mountain is a remarkable example of the way traditional tribal materials can be used to achieve a new combination of the traditional and the personal by a literary artist who is sensitive to those materials and determined not to violate them. The most notable achievements by American Indian writers are works which are simultaneously products of a tribal culture and contributions to it. Momaday succeeds in attaining both these ends. His book is the most important definition of the Kiowa identity by a Kiowa writer and a distinguished contribution to the culture of the tribe. At the same time it is a deeply personal work, a product of its author’s effort to achieve a sense of what it meant to him to be a modern Kiowa.

Because The Way to Rainy Mountain—in an earlier version titled The Journey of Tai-me (1967)—was Momaday’s first published work, it must be considered crucial in his development as an artist, a necessary first step in the discovery of his origins and thus of himself. Because his example was such a great inspiration to so many young Indian writers—and many of them have affirmed this—and thus so great an inspiration in producing what might be called a modern American Indian literary renaissance, The Way to Rainy Mountain must be considered a seminal work.

Beyond the book’s significance as an influence on a whole generation of young writers, it must be considered a remarkable achievement as a testament to the uniquely human power of language to work miracles. As such, it is not only a remarkable personal document and a distinguished work of Kiowa literature but also a work of universal significance.