The Way to Rainy Mountain

by N. Scott Momaday

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What is the key metaphor in The Way to Rainy Mountain?

Quick answer:

One important metaphor in The Way to Rainy Mountain is the Rainy Mountain itself, which can be understood as a representation of the protagonist's journey and a metaphor for the Kiowa culture. Another important metaphor is the character of the grandmother, who represents the cycle of life and creativity.

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Each reader is likely to interpret N. Scott Momaday’s book in a different way, but one central metaphor one could look at is the grandmother. While Momaday incorporates the organizing principles of the hero within the existence of a quest and the adventures of travel, the grandmother is distinct because she represents family, the larger family-like Kiowa community, creativity, and the cycle of life. Grandmother and grandfather are synonyms for ancestors as well as terms that designate relationships between specific individuals of different generations.

Trying to figure out the significance of his grandmother’s life, actions, and stories is the catalyst that takes Momaday on the journey into his own family’s past and into Kiowa culture. The experiences she rememberssuch as the Sun Dance that was later bannedand her creative reconfigurations of the mythic past are both significant contributions that she makes and that stand for Kiowa creativity. The severe rupture that came with her death represents Momaday's own break from his culture. The fact that he not only reconnects with it, both through physically traveling to important sites in Kiowa territory and through embarking on creative projects, indicates his position in the phase of rebirth that follows death.

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Because Momaday does not actually name the "most important metaphor" for his readers, we are left to decide for ourselves. Your question, then, is an opinion question.  In my opinion, the most important metaphor in The Way to Rainy Mountain can be found in the significance of the title itself. Rainy Mountain becomes a metaphor for the myth, history, and personal experience of the Kiowa tribe of Native Americans.

We can use a few pertinent quotations to further explain the above idea in The Way to Rainy Mountain:

A single knoll rises out of the plain in Oklahoma, north and west of the Wichita Range. For my people, the Kiowas, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name Rainy Mountain.

The metaphor of Rainy Mountain is furthered by Momaday's description of "the way" to this Kiowa landmark. There is an explanation given for that as well:

I returned to Rainy Mountain in July. My grandmother had died in the spring, and I wanted to be at her grave.

If you put these two quotations together with the organization of the book, the metaphor becomes even more clear. The book contains three main parts: "The Setting Out," "The Going On," and "The Closing In." These main  parts are divided into twenty-four numbered sections written in three separate voices: one about myth, one about history, and one about personal experience. 

Every single part, section, and voice leads directly back to the main metaphor: Momaday's "way" back to "Rainy Mountain" as Momaday's research and discovery of his own Kiowa heritage and religion. Momaday's metaphor becomes complete as he learns about the Kiowa myths, researches the dates of Kiowa history, and listens to his own grandmother, Aho, as she tells her own personal stories about the Kiowa tribe.

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