The Way to Rainy Mountain | Study Guide

N. Scott Momaday

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The Way to Rainy Mountain | Summary




The Way to Rainy Mountain begins with a three-paragraph note written 25 years after the book's publication. Momaday explains the text is told in a trio of voices (ancestral, historical, and personal) and that his father "told the stories, he drew the illustrations."


In the prologue, Momaday says the Kiowa story was a "struggle, and it was lost." He further notes the Kiowa story has within it the story of Tai-me, and the story of migration.


This section of the book relates the story of Momaday's journey to Rainy Mountain upon the death of his grandmother.

The Setting Out

Each segment of the three main sections of the book is told in three voices: ancestral, historical, and personal. These are typically only one paragraph long each. In the first segment, the ancestral voice begins with the story of creation. In this story, the Kiowa came to this world through a hollow log. Subsequent segments relate the story of the child who was taken into the sky to be the wife of the sun. She had a child, and when she left the sun in anger, the sun killed her and their child fell to the earth. The child was raised by the grandmother spider. In the following stories, the child is split into two twins. The twins trick a giant, and they kill a snake without knowing it was their grandfather. After the grandfather snake's death, the grandmother spider dies. The last two segments of this portion of the book tell of the Kiowas finding Tai-me (the Sun Dance doll) and of two brothers who were hungry. When one brother ate a mysterious gift of meat, he was transformed into a water beast. Each segment here, as well as in the other two main sections, is paired with historical information and personal recollections, most of which flesh out or relate to the story the ancestral voice tells.

The Going On

Here the ancestral voices tell vignettes rather than continuous stories as in the previous section. The first two deal with overcoming enemies, and the third deals with the threat of the plains weather (storms). The next two deal with brave warriors, including one who faces a steel buffalo. The following segment concerns "bad women." A woman lies to her blind warrior husband and she is "thrown away" when she is caught. The last story in the ancestral voice tells of following the sun far away to a land where there are small men in the trees with tails. All of these stories depict a type of strength, bravery, or adventurous spirit.

The Closing In

In this section, the lines between the three types of voices are more blurred. The ancestral voice begins with a tale of two brothers captured by the Utes (another tribe). Three of the first four segments focus on horses: the brothers ride away; a man sacrifices a horse to Tai-me to spare his family; and a captive Pawnee boy runs away, stealing a horse. The ancestral voice in the third and fourth segments tells about Mammedaty (the author's grandfather). Elsewhere, Mammedaty appears in the historical or personal recollection paragraphs. Here we learn Mammedaty saw four "remarkable things." He also attempted to shoot a horse that was causing trouble. Aho, the author's grandmother and his reason for the journey to Rainy Mountain, is featured in the next ancestral voice section. She once saw the Tai-me bundle fall to the ground for no reason. This segment also features Aho in the personal recollections, as the speaker recalls an iron kettle outside her house. In the final segment, the historical voice describes her beaded moccasins.


In the epilogue, the author recalls several significant events in the history of the Kiowa people, highlighting the Leonid meteor shower, the theft of Tai-me, and the treaties with the United States. He closes the book with Ko-sahn, who "spoke of many things." She sings and speaks of the Sun Dance. She is the living voice of the people, as well as a reminder of how brief their time is. At 100 years old, she recalls much of the tribe's history. The book ends with a poem by the author about the cemetery at Rainy Mountain.

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