The Man Made of Words

by N. Scott Momaday

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

As The Man Made of Words is a collection of discrete short stories and essays, there is no central narrative arc or list of characters. There are, however, several characters who seem to have special significance for Momaday.

N. Scott Momaday

The author himself is perhaps the most central character. He narrates nearly all of the stories, and they tend to be personal reflections on his own travels, beliefs, history, and experiences. Momaday is deeply spiritual. Open to discovery wherever he goes, he is a seeker of sacred places. He is a native Kiowa and an artist, author, and traveler. In short, he is himself a "Man Made of Words."

Black Elk

An old Sioux holy man, Black Elk is the author (with help from the poet John Neihardt) of the classic 1932 text Black Elk Speaks. Eloquent and plainspoken, his uses of language and symbolism—especially the symbol of a circle—demonstrate his part in a significant lineage of Native storytelling. As a man who has seen and lived both the old way of life and the new, Black Elk is uniquely situated to tell the story of his people. This he accomplishes with grace and true literary skill.


Ko-sahn is an elder Kiowa woman who inspires Momaday. He is in awe of her great wisdom, age (she is over one hundred when Momaday knows her), and beauty. He not only remembers her but also imagines her often in various situations. She is a recurring inspiration to him.


Gudal-san, a great red hunting horse, is famous for his inability to be beaten in races. As a result, he becomes sacred, and his bones are kept beneath the barn in Momaday's childhood home. When the bones are stolen, it is an act of sacrilege.

Henry "Billy the Kid" McCarty

Billy the Kid is a character who reappears in several contexts due to Momaday's admiration of his character. Billy the Kid exemplifies the Wild West. He is polite to ladies, is true to his word, and honors promises made to nuns. At the same time, he does not hesitate to kill men when it seems to him the correct course of action. Billy the Kid's sudden death seems rather an anticlimax for one who led such a dramatic life.

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