The structure of N. Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain is unique. Discuss your feelings about the structure — what you liked about it and what you didn't like about it (in both cases, explain why).

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Momaday does indeed use a unique structure to convey the story of his grandmother Aho and to explore the history of his ancestors, the Kiowa people. The Way to Rainy Mountain is not a book that consists of a single continuous narrative from beginning to end, as most books do....

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Momaday does indeed use a unique structure to convey the story of his grandmother Aho and to explore the history of his ancestors, the Kiowa people. The Way to Rainy Mountain is not a book that consists of a single continuous narrative from beginning to end, as most books do. It contains poetry, prose, brief folktales, factual accounts, and personal experiences, all tied to the native history. It toggles between more formal writing and casual conversational style. Here is the pattern it follows:

  • “Headwaters” (poem, written in third person)
  • Prologue (told in third person, more formal)
  • Introduction (told in first person)
  • The Setting Out; The Going On; The Closing In (twenty-four chapters labeled I–XXIV, made up generally of three paragraphs each).
  • First paragraph of the chapters: A traditional Kiowa tale or piece of tribal history OR Bits of Momaday’s genealogy and family tree (told in third person).
  • Second paragraph of the chapters: Facts and details about the subject of the tale (told in third person).
  • Third paragraph of the chapters: The author’s relevant experience with the people, place, or event (told in first person).
  • Epilogue (told in first person)
  • “Rainy Mountain Cemetery” (poem, written in third person)

One interpretation is that this style mimics the process of the author finding his “way” as he comes upon pieces of information and reacts to them. Whether you like this arrangement or not is a matter of individual opinion, of course. As you make your decision, consider your answers to these questions. Do you understand how, in a step-by-step fashion, Momaday learns something about the Kiowa and then figures out how he can relate to it? Can you keep the voices straight in order to make sense of them? Or do you find yourself becoming more confused as you go along? If the author had told his story in traditional narrative style, what would the book look like? What if he put all of the folktales together in one section, then followed it with all of his travels and research in another section? Would you read the folktales then? Or would you skip them to get to the personal parts? Do you think the book would be as powerful that way? Or can you think of any better method of conveying as much information as Momaday has here? He no doubt spent a great deal of time deciding which format would best suit his approach.

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Your question is subjective, since it calls for your own feelings, but it might be helpful for you to begin by reviewing the structure of the story. First of all, Momaday's piece is a nonfiction narrative written in first person; he is recounting his personal journey when he returned to his grandmother's home after her death, the place where he grew up.

During the course of his narrative, he includes many passages of exposition. He takes several "time-outs" from the story of going home to tell the reader of his grandmother's life and the history of the Kiowa people. (Part of the Kiowa history he recounts is a Kiowa legend about the formation of the Big Dipper.)

Momaday's narrative begins with a beautiful description of the land near Rainy Mountain, then his journey is told in chronological order with the episodes of exposition interrupting the order of the story. It ends with his visit to his grandmother's grave. Within his narrative, Momaday succeeds in telling three stories: the story of his own journey, the story of his grandmother's life, and the story of his Kiowa people. 

 

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