What attitude does Momaday communicate in the story The Way to Rainy Mountain?
I would want to answer this question by pointing towards the way in which this excellent book is actually in part an elegy. An elegy is a term that is used to mean a kind of funeral song or poem that praises a dead person. This suggests that this text is actually rather ambiguous in terms of its mood. It praises the Kiowa and their pride, fighting abilities and sense of freedom. However, at the same time the text also grieves about the way in which their religion has been assaulted and their culture has been lost. This ambivalence also could be said to impact the attitude or mood of this text. There are certainly numerous images of light and life and descriptions of nature that capture a joyful spirit, however, there are also images of darkness and death such as the dark mist, and the cemetery, that create a much more sombre and sad mood. Consider the following excerpt as an example of how the text creates this ambivalent mood:
The long yellow grass on the mountain shone in the bright light, and a scissortail hied above the land. There, where it ought to be, at the end of a long and legendary way, was my grandmother's grave. Here and there on the dark stones were ancestral names. Looking back once, I saw the mountain and came away.
Note the way that the setting of the narrator's grandmother's grave and the other "ancestral names" that adorn the "dark stones" are coupled with the "bright light" that lights up the "yellow grass." The mood might therefore be described as being bittersweet as there is both joy and sadness present in the text.
N. Scott Momaday's "The Way to Rainy Mountain" is an elegant, moving meditation on family, history, place, and identity. The author's prose is descriptive, detailed, and beautiful, creating an attitude that reflects respect, pride, wonder, and sadness. The narrator recounts his grandmother's journey to the southern Plains, and the journey of his Kiowa ancestors.
The vastness of the southern Plains makes a distinct impression on the narrator: "Loneliness is an aspect of the land. All things in the plain are isolate; there is no confusion of objects in the eye, but one hill or one tree or one man.” The vista of these ancestral lands humbles a person, reducing him to his most elemental self. Momaday's essay reflects the reverence with which indigenous people regard home and place. Momaday writes, "To look upon that landscape in the early morning, with the sun at your back, is to lose the sense of proportion.” The narrator recognizes the appeal that this landscape held for his ancestors; it both humbles and empowers one. "Your imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where Creation was begun," he writes. The vastness and harshness of the land embody the spirit of the Kiowa.
Momaday's descriptions of the land and its role in Kiowa history reveal an attitude of respect and wonder. He clearly regards Kiowa history as epic. His grandmother's death inspires memories of the Kiowa "and the last great moment of their history.” In Momaday's telling of Kiowa history, they were a people who "had ruled the whole of the southern Plains." The migration of the Kiowa to the southern Plains "was a journey toward the dawn and it led to a golden age." He declares, "When they entered upon the southern Plains they had been transformed." The narrator exudes pride as he recalls the epic journey of his ancestors. "They had found a way out of the wilderness," he concludes. These words convey a distinct attitude of pride, as the narrator revels in the retelling of the migration of his ancestor across the land.
As "the memory of the continental plains lay like memory in the blood," the story of his grandmother and the Kiowa constitute his own cultural inheritance. He claims that she belongs to the last Native American generation to recognize the value in these ancestral memories: "My grandmother had a reverence for the sun, a holy regard that now is all but gone out of mankind." As a child, he observed that her prayers were rooted in "suffering and hope, having seen many things. " Lastly, Momaday's attitude seems to reflects the sadness of his grandmother, who lived long enough to experience the loss of traditional Kiowa culture. "The Way to Rainy Mountain" is a contemplative, respectful tribute to the narrator's grandmother and to the Kiowa. In retelling their epic journey, he is affirming his own Kiowa identity. In reconstructing, recovering, and remembering his grandmother’s story, he is preserving for future generations the sense of meaning and purpose that descending from a people with such an incredible history confers.