In The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday, how does the novel’s structure affect its tone and meaning?
Pulitzer Prize winning author N. Scott Momaday’s 1969 work The Way to Rainy Mountain explores his Kiowa tribal heritage. The text blends historical accounts, folklore, memoir, and poetic language to trace the Kiowa tribe’s beginnings in the Montana region, their war against United States Calvary at Fort Still and resettlement in Oklahoma.
The structure of the book alternates between three distinct voices or registers. The folkloric register comes from oral tradition and describes ancient myth and legend. The historic voice provides objective, historical commentary. Finally, the third register is Momaday’s own perspective, his first-hand account told as a poetic memoir. This structure results in shifting tones as the register changes from ancient and mystical, to journalistic and factual, to personal and poetic. Some readers have found this shifting structure to be confusing and have preferred instead to read each voice in its entirety rather than in the order presented in the book.
The structure of this text has similar elements to anthropological qualitative research. Momaday’s three-part structure can be seen as a researcher’s triangulation—providing three perspectives that support each other in meaning. The ancient, historical, and personal blend and corroborate meaning rather than conflict. Each gains significance by its complementary juxtaposition against the other forms. This balance of voices contributes to an interpretation of the Kiowa tribe that is not static but informed by the past, interpreted from the present, and looking ahead to preserve tribal heritage into the future.