What is the thesis or main idea of The Way to Rainy Mountain?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At its core, The Way to Rainy Mountain serves as a way for the author to answer the questions “Who am I?” and “Where did my people come from?” He is in search of his ancestors, in search of his own personal history. His key starting point is with his...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

At its core, The Way to Rainy Mountain serves as a way for the author to answer the questions “Who am I?” and “Where did my people come from?” He is in search of his ancestors, in search of his own personal history. His key starting point is with his grandmother, Aho, who was a Kiowa. After Aho passes away, Momaday works his way back to the roots and the folklore of this Native American people, both geographically and historically. His task includes a pilgrimage to Rainy Mountain, a rounded hill that stands alone and near the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma. It is a special place for the Kiowa. Many of the double-page spreads of this book start with a native legend, which is followed by geographic or historic facts, and which concludes with Momaday’s experiences in the same place or under the same circumstances. This unique approach winds up being both historical and personal. What Momaday learns along his way gives him a better understanding of both the Kiowa and his own place in the world. He shares this knowledge with us in this combination of myth and memoir. It’s possible that some individuals may be inspired to learn more about their own cultural heritages as a result of reading this book.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It looks like you are asking about the thesis or main idea for The Way to Rainy Mountain. 

Essentially, the novel is made up of a collection of stories about Kiowa history, Kiowa culture, and Momaday's family history. If I were to sum up the main idea, I would argue that memory (assisted by verbal tradition) is an important preserver of culture, especially when there are few recorded events to rely on. Both the verbal tradition and recorded history contribute immensely to how history is remembered.

In the book, Momaday traces the history of his people, the Kiowas. He tells of their migration from the headwaters of the Yellowstone River to the south of the Wichita Mountains. The Kiowas were an adaptive people; they allied with the Comanches and the Crows, acquired a large number of horses, and adopted the sun religion of the Plains Indians. 

Horses became extremely important to the Kiowas after the buffalo was decimated. In fact, the Kiowas began naming their religious rites as the "horse-eating sun dance" or Tsen-pia Kado. Momaday holds the summer of 1879 as the time the buffalo disappeared completely from Kiowa life.

This mention of the loss of the buffalo is pivotal to the story: it underlines the resilience of the Kiowa people, who fought desperately to retain their adopted way of life. Even after the last Kiowa warriors surrendered to the United States cavalry, members of the tribe relied on their adaptive natures to navigate an alien culture. Momaday's grandmother chose to convert to Christianity. Yet, she retained a fierce pride in her Kiowa heritage.

Momaday also writes about how there were only ten fighters in the Kiowa warrior society. These warriors were called the Ka-itsenko (Real Dogs), and their battle prowess was revered by all. Momaday relates that there were always dogs lingering around his grandmother's house when she was alive.

Most importantly, Momaday's knowledge of Kiowa history has been reinforced by testimonies from older members of the tribe such as Ko-Sahn, an acquaintance of Momaday's grandmother. At the time of her interaction with the author, Ko-sahn was one hundred years old. Yet, her memories of the Sun dances were vivid, and she related scenes from those events with both pride and wistful longing.

In the book, Momaday's retelling of Kiowa history is supported by both recorded history and verbal tradition. He makes the point that much is gained when we rely on both to help us envision the past and to preserve important traditions for future generations.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team