The Way to Rainy Mountain

by N. Scott Momaday

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What images does Momaday use to convey strongly contrasting feelings of light and life versus darkness and death in The Way to Rainy Mountain? Is the overall mood of this work light or dark?

The images that Momaday uses to convey strongly contrasting feelings of light and life versus darkness and death relate to the creative potential of nature and the odious qualities of night.

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One of the first images in N. Scott Momaday’s multi-genre book conveys feelings of light and life. The opening paragraph vividly describes the Oklahoma land that the Kiowas knew very well. Momaday details what life is like in the summer. The resulting picture is colorful and lively. The yellow and green grasshoppers are everywhere and the tortoises crawl about the red earth. In the early morning, when the sun is at Momaday’s back, he thinks, “[T]his is where Creation was begun.”

With the above image, the light of the sun, the colorful creatures, and the red earth link to creation and life. It’s as if life and light are represented through nature and its creatures. Momaday’s distance from the scene suggests that humans play a separate role. They’re more like observers or witnesses to this image of life.

A few pages later, Momaday presents an image tied to darkness and a type of death. This image does not center on nature but humans—specifically, seven sisters and one brother. The image is covered in a “dark mist.” The darkness relates to the Devil’s Tower, the boy who turned into a bear, and the seven sisters who became the stars of the Big Dipper. With this image, the dark mist means humans, threats, and disappearance.

Throughout Momaday’s book, images tend to unite night, darkness, death, violence, and humans. The last time Momaday sees his grandma alive is at night. The story that begins “The Going On” section connects darkness and night to a family's harm and loss. Although the story about the seven sisters and one brother does leave the Kiowas feeling like they have “kinsmen in the night sky.” Thus, perhaps darkness can sometimes be amicable for humans.

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