N. Scott Momaday

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N. Scott Momaday American Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Momaday’s vital identification with the Southwest and with Native American nations (particularly the Kiowa) is consistently reflected in his choice of locations, subject matter, and protagonists. Momaday is unwilling to write about anything that he has not examined and does not know intimately, and his focus is restrained yet powerful. He does not speak Kiowa, but he has made his Kiowa heritage a stepping-stone to understanding broader multicultural experiences. He sees in the mixed blood of his people and their ability to adapt to new situations hope for their survival, not as the Plains warriors of the past but as modern artists, thinkers, and community members with a whole sense of themselves and their place, not only in the Native American world but in the world at large as well. Thus, he regularly draws parallels between world mythologies and gives his stories a texture and a depth that promise more than an ethnic vision.

Momaday has described himself as a “word walker,” a storyteller who uses language on his life’s journey in a way that transcends dimensions. If language is as powerful as Momaday believes, the spoken word can create a new reality, with precision, awareness, and harmony with the rhythms of nature essential to their appropriate expression. For him, words have an integrity that brings insight and vitality. Consequently, Momaday’s distinctive juxtaposition of what may initially appear to be fragmented scenes is actually designed to reveal essences rather than simple chronological sequences. In House Made of Dawn, for example, the shattering of Abel’s body after his beating by Martinez is dramatically reinforced by the abrupt intrusion of prison memories, childhood experiences, and a peyote ceremony.

Such is the Native American concept of “seeing”—to recognize the facet of creation existing on this plane and beyond to its essence as an integral part of the Great Mystery (God). Momaday’s central concern is humankind’s harmonious and awe-filled relationship with all existence. When humankind denies this relationship or responsibility for it, the inevitable results are isolation, alienation, and disintegration. The blindness motif in House Made of Dawn is only one example of the consequences of self-alienation or other forms of alienation.

To Momaday, any separation from nature deteriorates the human spirit. Lack of positive female relationships, disregard for ancestral heritage, and denial of tribal memory can hasten an individual’s, or a culture’s, demise. As a result, Momaday moves repeatedly from crises to vividly detailed descriptions of landscapes, because he believes that an intimate connection with “place” is vital to human awareness and understanding. In The Way to Rainy Mountain, the historical description of an important ceremonial teepee’s destruction by fire is followed by a slow, soothing description of silence and shadow at day’s end.

Light and shadow, sound and silence, circular imagery, water and animal symbolism, and the four directions of the Medicine Wheel recur, thematic and stylistic instruments with which the author heightens his reader’s awareness of the interconnectedness of life. According to American Indian philosophy, the Medicine Wheel reflects the process of life from birth to death. Each direction possesses its own integral characteristics. The healing of Abel’s dawn run at the conclusion of House Made of Dawn exemplifies Momaday’s use of Medicine Wheel symbolism. The color for the East is the red of dawn; its season spring; its spiritual quality understanding; its animal totem the eagle, a representation of a direct connection to the Great Mystery achieved as the result of successful passage through major life crises.

Momaday’s prose writing style is most often described as lyrical. This quality is evidenced in his stress upon the rhythm and sound of his word choices, designed to reflect both the content and the substance of his subject matter. The...

(The entire section is 4,456 words.)