Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The bear is a powerful figure that runs throughout N. Scott Momaday’s canon and is associated with the author himself. What are the characteristics of the bear? What is its function in the book or poems that you have read?

What is the Kiowa creation story of the Seven Sisters constellation and of the Devil’s Tower? How does Momaday personalize that story and make it part of his life?

The Ancient Child is the story of a San Francisco artist. What in the structure, the language, and the content of the book keep readers focused on the artistic? What type of artistic evolution does the main character, Locke Setman, undergo?

Billy the Kid is a recurring figure in Momaday’s books and poems. What do readers learn about him, his real life, and the fantasy life that Momaday creates for him? Is it hard to draw the line between fact and fiction? What are his virtues in the fantasy version? Why must Grey’s fascination with him end?

Momaday is a spokesperson for protecting and preserving the land and its creatures. Support this assertion with evidence from the Momaday works that you have read.

Although Momaday has his lost modern Indians return to their heritage to find themselves, he does not advocate a return to a lost past. Instead, his traditional characters have a place in the modern world. Choose two such characters and illustrate the two sides of their natures, the traditional and the modern.

How important are family and community in his stories? Support your generalizations with specific evidence.

In The Way to Rainy Mountain, Momaday describes the history of the Kiowa in order to delineate their character as a people. What does the history that he describes reveal about the Kiowa? What do you think his message is to modern Kiowas?

Momaday’s canon shows great respect for the elderly and a strong sense of loss when a grandparent or an aged relative dies. What does he feel is lost besides someone dear to the individuals in his story?

Some have called Momaday a purely Native American author, but others describe him as a multicultural author speaking of a wider experience than that of one ethnic group. What values does Momaday advocate and what issues does he address that speak to a cross-cultural audience?