In "The Way to Rainy Mountain," what significance does Momaday's grandmother have for him, and what does she represent?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Momaday's grandmother is a very significant presence in his personal narrative, even though she has died. It is her death that brings him home again, prompting the story itself. His memories of her are strong, and his love for her is deep. As he writes, "I wanted to be at her grave."

During his story, Momaday remembers her (Aho) vividly:

Now that I can have her only in memory, I see my grandmother in the several postures that were peculiar to her: standing at the wood stove on a winter morning . . . sitting at the south window, bent above her beadwork . . . going out upon a cane, very slowly as she did when the weight of age came upon her; praying. I remember her most often at prayer.

He also remembers growing up in Aho's house, filled with "coming and going, feasting and talk."

Momaday's grandmother was his link to his own Kiowa culture. It was through her that he learned the history of his people and the legends that had survived over centuries. He noted:"

. . . she belonged to the last culture to evolve in North America. Her forebears came down from the high country in Western Montana nearly three centuries ago.

Having lived a very long time, Aho's life had intersected with Kiowa history; she had participated as a child in the last Kiowa Sun Dance (1887), a religious rite, and had been present July 20, 1890, when the Kiowas had been dispersed by soldiers, preventing them forever from practicing "the essential act of their faith." She had experienced, according to Momaday, "a vision of deicide."

In returning to Rainy Mountain to visit Aho's grave, Momaday paid tribute to her and reconnected with his identity as a Kiowa:

. . . I awoke at dawn and went out on the dirt road to Rainy Mountain . . . . 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.

Having completed his pilgrimage, Momaday returned to his own life with a greater sense of his own identity.

Read the study guide:
The Way to Rainy Mountain

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