In The Way to Rainy Mountain, author N. Scott Momaday presents a culture of myth, tradition, family, and history among the Kiowa people. As Native American, Kiowa, and part Cherokee, the author spent most of his youth in Arizona and New Mexico. In addition to his Kiowa roots, he grew up on Apache and Navajo reservations, where he experienced tribal life and witnessed first-hand the cultural changes affecting the Native American populations. As preparation for this short work, Momaday consulted with his father, researched historical references, and collected personal stories from his family. He combined the memory of his personal journey with historical annotations and Kiowa myths to form a pieced together tale of Kiowa culture from its origins to its deterioration in modern times.
The Way to Rainy Mountain does incorporate several styles in its narrative presentation. What this actually means is that the author’s voice changes throughout the tale, depending on the context of each brief chapter. Voice is the personal interjection of an author’s point of view expressed by the words he or she chooses.
Momaday breaks up his book into three separate sections and chooses a different voice for each segment. He introduces the myths and oral traditions of the Kiowa tribes, relates historical commentaries, and tells readers his personal experiences along his journey, altering his voice with everything from specific historical details to masterful descriptions to imagery that identifies him as a modern-day transcendentalist.
Momaday’s style is emotional, reflective, and poetic. The reader can easily identify the various approaches he takes. For example, here is a passage entitled “Headwaters”:
Noon in the intermountain plain:
There is scant telling of the marsh—
A log, hollow and weather-stained,
An insect at the mouth, and moss—
Yet waters rise against the roots,
Stand brimming to the stalks. What moves?
What moves on this archaic force
Was wild and welling at the source.
In the introduction to the novel, Momaday writes,
A single knoll rises out of the plain in Oklahoma, north and west of the Wichita Range. For my people, the Kiowas, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name Rainy Mountain. The hardest weather in the world is there.
The reader can see the different voices of the author. One is clearly very poetic, with an abundance of imagery, and is even presented in stanza form. The other is comparatively straightforward in its description.
Momaday’s style is unique to Native American literature. His writing does not rely on translations of written material or oral presentations from other languages. He writes in modern English directly to Native Americans and non-Indian populations alike in his own non-transcribed voice, which changes from time to time with the context of each book chapter.
Momaday conveys the story of his ancestors, the Kiowa people—and specifically, his grandmother Aho—in a manner that more often resembles traditional symbolic storytelling than straightforward and factual narration. The author writes in first-person in both the Introduction and the Epilogue in order to share the basic details of his personal history. The Prologue and the two poems that frame the book are written in more formal third-person speech, describing these Native Americans and the places where they lived. Each one of these pieces helps to set the stage for the main body of the work, which is divided into 24 chapters. Each chapter consists of just three paragraphs:
- First: A traditional Kiowa tale or part of a re-telling of tribal history.
- Second: Further known details about whatever is suggested in the tale.
- Third: Momaday’s own intersection with the place, the people, or the event described in the tale.
This pattern holds through chapter 20. In chapters 21–24, the opening tale is replaced by the general genealogy of Momaday’s people, serving to bring the history closer to him and to the present day. In this way, Momaday is able to find both his spiritual/metaphoric and literal “way” back to his people by considering the past and how it applies to him today. The approach allows him to establish a meaningful connection with the long culture of his family. We readers just tag along, as he does.
Momaday's story is one of personal reflection, a masterful blend of narration, exposition, and description. He moves among these types of writing seamlessly. By the conclusion of the story, he has told his own story, his grandmother's story, and the history of the Kiowa people, replete with explanations of tribal myth and legend.
Sometimes his tone is straightforward and objective as he relates significant facts; sometimes his tone is intensely emotional, especially when speaking of his grandmother. He says that when she died, "her face was that of a child."
The story begins with a lyrical description of Rainy Mountain. The language is poetic. The summer prairie is "an anvil's edge." The "steaming foliage seems almost to writhe." The grasshoppers are "popping up like corn." Momaday uses simile, metaphor, and personification within the first few lines of his story. They permeate the rest of the story, as well.
The title is in itself significant, suggestive of the story's theme. Momaday doesn't take a trip to Rainy Mountain. He makes his way, in much the same way as his ancestors. His is a symbolic journey, as well as a personal one. When he stands at his grandmother's grave at the narrative's conclusion, he embraces not only her memory, but also his own heritage. His grandmother's grave lies "at the end of a long and legendary way . . . ." Momaday writes, "I saw the mountain and came away." He has changed in a significant way.