A Critical Analysis of “My Kiowa Grandmother, ” and “Take My Saddle from the Wall: a Valediction”

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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...
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