The Way to Rainy Mountain

by N. Scott Momaday

Start Free Trial

Editor's Choice

What might the houses in The Way to Rainy Mountain symbolize?

Quick answer:

The houses described in The Way to Rainy Mountain can symbolize many things, but two examples are the human body and the Kiowa heritage. The author personifies these houses by describing them as vessels that both age and seem colorless without souls to inhabit them. On the other hand, these empty homes also take on the characteristics of those that lived in them, so they represent the Kiowa culture as well.

Expert Answers

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

Sometimes the image of a house can be used as a metaphor for the human body. For instance: Have you ever heard of an older person with white hair being described as having “snow on the roof?” This connection was popularized in gospel music by Stuart Hamblen’s song “This Ole House,” released in 1954. In the lyrics, the singer approaches death with joy by knowing that he will no longer need his aging physical body, which is in need of repair, when his spirit goes to heaven. While this song has no Native American connections, its basic premise could be applied to Momaday’s house references.

Other educators have shown here that the houses illustrate the strong links the Kiowa had to nature and, more specifically, to the landscape of the Great Plains. Let’s look at the description again; and this time, think of the houses as the actual bodies of the Kiowa. They age, too.

Houses are like sentinels in the plain, old keepers of the weather watch. There, in a very little while, wood takes on the appearance of great age. All colors wear soon away in the wind and rain, and then the wood is burned gray and the grain appears and the nails turn red with rust. The windowpanes are black and opaque: you imagine there is nothing within, and indeed there are many ghosts, bones given up to the land. They stand here and there against the sky, and you approach them for a longer time than you expect. They belong in the distance; it is their domain. (Introduction, 11th paragraph)

After Aho dies, her grandson returns to her house. He feels the difference. Without her spirit, no life remains in the structure. It is a skeleton of its former self.

Now there is a funeral silence in the rooms, the endless wake of some final word. The walls have closed in upon my grandmother’s house. When I returned to it in mourning, I saw for the first time in my life how small it was. (Introduction, 14th aragraph)

Equating their houses with the Kiowa themselves brings home the fact that the Native Americans and their culture were beginning to fade away as distant memories, too: just as an abandoned building eventually returns to nature.

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

Housing in this part of the world, especially the narrator's grandmother's house, symbolizes the intimate connection between the tribe and its ancient lands. In his long, lyrical description of his grandmother's house, the narrator eloquently conveys the long-standing belief of his people that a house is not just somewhere to live but a place that spiritually connects you to the ground beneath your feet.

The grandmother's house isn't simply an addition to the landscape; it has become a part of that landscape as much as the plains themselves. This is because the Kiowa people live in harmony with their surroundings. However much they've been uprooted, however far they've been forced to wander from their ancestral homelands, they will never lose their intimate connection with the Oklahoma plains.

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

The descriptions of the houses in this exciting piece of literature are very fascinating, especially given the way that there is an obvious similarity between the houses on the plain and the plain itself and the methods used to describe them. Consider the following example, which is clearly richly symbolic in the way the houses are presented:

Houses are like sentinels in teh plain, old keepers of the weather watch. There, in a very little while, wood takes on the appearance of great age. All colours wear soon away in the wind and rain, and then the wood is burned grey and the grain appears and the nails turn red with rust. The windowpanes are black and opaque; you imagine there is nothing within, and indeed there are many ghosts, bones given up to the land. They stand here and there against the sky, and you approach them for a longer time than you expect. They belong in the distance; it is their domain.

Note the way that this description is similar to that given of the plains in the way that both comment on distance and isolation, the past, and the importance of living in union with nature. Thus we can say that the houses in this text are symbolic of the deep, intimate connection that the Kiowa had with nature, and the way that they symbolise the isolated kind of lives that the Kiowa followed.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial