A Critical Analysis of “My Kiowa Grandmother”

Published: 2021-07-02 00:30:16
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A Critical Analysis of “My Kiowa Grandmother,” and “Take My Saddle from the Wall: A Valediction” A Critical Analysis of “My Kiowa Grandmother,” and “Take My Saddle from the Wall: A Valediction” The essays, “My Kiowa Grandmother,” by N. Scott Momaday and “Take My Saddle from the Wall: A Valediction,” by Larry McMurtry, both seek to understand the values and traditions of an old way of life that has been lost to the trials and tribulations of time.
By reaching back into history through their families, both authors achieve the same effect, while using starkly contrasting narrative structure; they show the characteristics that have been lost to younger generations. The purpose of N. Scott Momaday’s essay, “My Kiowa Grandmother,” is personal self-expression, because he attempts to define his own values and judgments through an exploration of the memories and stories he has of his grandmother and ancestors. The title of Momaday’s essay sets the stage for the rest of his words. My Kiowa Grandmother,” becomes an exploration of who she was and the values that she lived by as part of the last generation of true Kiowa Indians. The essay that ensues is about Momaday collecting his interpretations of her life and analyzing the stories to find the values that the Kiowa honored and followed. Through his exploration, Momaday establishes a system of values that he chooses to try to follow himself. The essay’s content is divided not by a beginning, middle, and an end, but rather through a series of episodes and recollections that are slightly disconnected but belong to a larger picture.
The essay is filled with descriptions of the land the Kiowa dwelled on and the manner in which they lost that land, thus forcing them onto a reservation. He discusses the journey his ancestors took as he himself travels in their footsteps a century later across North America, from Montana to Arkansas, where the Kiowa lived for many decades. He then begins to offer a more personal view of his grandmother and his memories of her when the weight of age has come upon her (290). He illustrates for the reader a very intimate moment where he watched and listened to her praying.

Despite not speaking the native language, “there was something inherently sad in the sound” of her prayers (290). He ends the paragraph by revealing that he knew that he would not see her again after watching her pray that night. As Momaday tells the stories, they are completely separate of one another but all share in a relationship as a whole. His words indicate that the Kiowa Indians were a proud people who faced the cruelties of manifest destiny as the United States spread westward across the Great Plains, forcing Native Americans onto reservations.
Momaday sets out on his proud journey to understand his people and to adapt their culture and values in the present day, but ultimately concludes that those traits have died with “the last great moment of their history” (288). Similarly, Larry McMurtry also seeks to identify old values and traditions that are long lost to history in his essay, “Take My Saddle from the Wall: A Valediction. ” Unlike Momaday, however, he constructs his essay with an introduction, followed by the body of his essay, and then offers a conclusion that links the entire narrative together from beginning to end.
McMurtry’s approach presents a cleverly braided narrative utilizing literary devices, such as drama and humor, to reflect his main ideas. Still, both essays are expressive in nature. The authors delve deep into their thoughts in order to construct the personal essays in which each man seeks to find his values within himself. Even though McMurtry’s essay is significantly longer and “prolonged in thought” (142) compared to Momaday’s essay, he seeks to achieve an understanding of the values and traditions of his ancestors as well.
McMurtry includes a metaphor that equates the departing of his relatives, and the other cowboys of their day, as a train that has left. In a few years, the tail end of the train will pass out of sight; a way of life has come and gone (142). McMurtry creates a story about his family, based on their accounts left to him in memoirs and letters throughout the years. McMurtry’s ultimate purpose is to narrate an expressive literary essay that uses humor and drama to attract the attention of the reader.
While discussing cowboys and their straightforward wisdom, he concludes that cowboys’ observations turn into aphorisms. One such aphorism he finds particularly appealing is as follows: “A woman’s love is like the morning dew, it’s just as likely to fall on a horseturd as on a rose” (149). McMurtry also includes a great deal of drama and suspense as well. At one point, he recalls his grandfather’s troublesome drinking; one day his grandmother issued an ultimatum, sober up or she would leave him. “The threat was undoubtedly made in earnest, and he took it so immediately to eart that he stopped drinking then and there, with a jug half full of whiskey hanging in the saddle room of the barn” (143). Additionally, a substantial difference between the two essays is the author’s view of their ancestors. McMurtry admits that he “never considered genealogy much of an aid to recognition, and thus never pursued [his] lineage any distance at all” (143). On the other hand, Momaday is very curious of his lineage. So curious in fact that he actually sets out on a “fifteen hundred [mile]… pilgrimage” (289) to see where his ancestors began their journey onto the plains.
Momaday describes his ancestors as people of the Earth, whereas McMurtry’s cowboy ancestors preferred the company of minorities, such as Mexicans and Blacks, to the company of farmers. “The plow and the cotton patch [were] not only tasks [his ancestors] loathed” they were qualities of a soul that the McMurtry’s despised (146). The method of organization that authors use is important to the overall presentation of their thoughts. Momaday’s attempt at self-definition is an integral part of the pattern of his essay.
Momaday achieves his goal by organizing his thoughts in a descriptive, associative pattern that allows him to tell multiple disconnected stories that are a part of a larger picture. Momaday portrays the Kiowa people and where they lived. He describes his grandmother and his memories of her, then recounts the sad and lonely home that once belonged to her, and the commotion that once filled the rooms of the house during reunions. Each of the parts of his essay comes together as pieces of a whole puzzle do when he ventures out to her grave.
Ultimately, his quest to understand the values of the Kiowa, and to find himself within their stories and traditions, is lost as are the generations of old Indian warriors. After visiting his grandmother’s grave, the weight and understanding of the loss prevails and “looking back once, [he] saw the mountain and came away” (292). His journey to understand his people, for him, ended with the death of his grandmother. As he departed the ancient burial ground at the base of Rainy Mountain, he left not only his ancestors there, but also his dream of carrying out their traditions as well.
Each part of Momaday’s essay is a static representation in time, or snapshots of an event that occurred. Conversely, McMurtry’s essay follows a dynamic pattern; the details he provides change from one event to another. McMurtry excels at offering a great deal of description through his narration, and the pattern that he follows is an expressive narration of process. The events that McMurtry depicts are unique to him, and will differ from other accounts of the same stories provided by family and friends. This pattern allows him to eliminate the five stages that a narration of an event demands.
All the parts of his narrative are equally important in their accounts, and the resolution is the last event the McMurtry draws from. In addition, tension does not increase throughout the events that are presented. This allows McMurtry to describe a level account of many great stories that prevents the reader from feeling as if he omitted any accounts that would provide additional insight. Although each author’s essay follows a certain format for organization, the patterns the two men use are very similar as well.
In describing his essay, Momaday uses a good deal of narration to move the story along from snapshot to snapshot. McMurtry, on the other hand, uses a tremendous amount of description in each of his small stories within his essay to deliver his narration in its literary purpose. For example, when McMurtry shares one of his favorite aphorisms about dew falling on a horesturd or a rose, his description of the cowboys before and after the statement is necessary in order for the statement to make sense. In addition, McMurtry uses a fair amount of description when discussing a country club that was host for a family reunion.
The details of that paragraph range from “rusty slot-machines” to the “sights and sounds which one associates with big-city country clubs” and finally “the ploop of badly hit tennis balls” (157). His description allows the reader to generate in their mind the same picture that McMurtry portrays. The two approaches that each author uses, although similar in style, are structurally different and therefore allow each man to express his thoughts using different methods. Both authors utilize an expressive tone that opens their minds to the reader in order to grasp a better understanding of the goal of each essay.
Overall, despite the varying structure, both articles are successful in their attempt to find the values and traditions among their families and ancestors. Both endings are concise and manage to bridge the gap between the introduction and the conclusion. Similar to Momaday, McMurtry closes with a scene describing the departure of his Uncle Johnny from a family reunion only a few months before his passing: When he smiled at the children who were near, the pain left his face for a second, and he gave them the look that had always been his greatest appeal – the look of a man who saw life to he last as a youth see it, and who sees in any youth all that he himself had been (172). The final snapshot of McMurtry’s uncle before his death has stuck with McMurtry through the trials of time. Both authors realize that the traditions of their rugged ancestors were gone, “such as it was, such as it can never be again” (172). Works Cited McMurtry, Larry. “In a Narrow Grave. ” New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2006. Kindle Edition. Electronic book. 24 May 2010. Momaday, N. Scott. “My Kiowa Grandmother. ” Purpose, Pattern, and Process. United States of America: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 2005. 287-92. Print.

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