The Names By Scott Momaday

In The Names, Scott Momaday tells the written story of his family, in the traditional way stories were passed down in Native American culture

In The Names, Scott Momaday tells the written story of his family, in the traditional way stories were passed down in Native American culture. Traditionally, stories were told in song and orally. Unknown events were imagined with the most probable scenario added to enhance the story. It is similar to a techniques used by historical novelists, who must imagine or make up the dialect between historical figures. Momaday says of his work:

In general my narrative is an autobiographical account. Specifically it is an act of the imagination. When I turn my mind to my early life, it is the imaginative part I take hold. This is one way to tell a story. In this instance it is my way, and it is the way of my people. When Pohd-lohk told a story he began by being quiet. Then he said Ah-keah-de, "They were camping," and he said it every time. I have tried to write in the same way, in the same spirit. Imagine they were camping. (Momaday, Scott N. "introduction," The Names)

Momaday won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, his work allows the reader to envision and imagine what it is like to grow up as a Native American on the reservations of the Southwestern United States. He tells the story in such a way that it reads like a folk tale or novel, rather than an autobiography, this adds to the empathy we feel towards the characters.

Momaday, as noted earlier uses his imagination to recreate past events. A perfect example of this can be found on page 92:

I can almost see into the summer of a year in my childhood. I am again in my grandmother's house, where I have come to stay for a month or six weeks""for a time that bears no common shape in my mind, neither linear nor round, but it is a deep dimension, and I am lonely in it. Earlier in the day""or in the day before, or in another day""my mother and father have driven off. . . . (Momaday, P. 92)

This passage has a hypnotic effect. By telling us he is reaching into his mind to imagine an event in the past, we as the reader do the same thing, and feel the experiences of Momaday's past. We feel as if we are being hurled backwards in time, in a type of mental time warp.

We feel similar emotion when we get Momaday's thoughts about the burned down school where he was raised

From the time I was twelve until I ventured out to seek my fortune in the world. My most vivid and deeply cherished boyhood memories are centered upon that place. I used to wonder what would become of the day school in time, whether or not it would survive as I knew it, bearing always something of my presence, my having been there. It never occurred to me it might be destroyed by fire. (P. 117).

Momaday's purpose was to write in a style that would convey the plight of his people in the way they passed on their stories. He succeeds tremendously. The reader feels all the pain and sufferings Momaday endures. The fight he witnesses between his cousin John and nine or ten youths at Hobbs airforce base during World War II allows us to feel the horror in being outnumbered, and the importance of sticking together.

I could not believe what was happening, and I was very much afraid and did not know what to do. And suddenly there was an awful quiet, a hard stillness, and I could feel the rage running there, and I wanted to runaway; something was going to happen, something bad, in the next moment. Then John said softly, evenly, "Come here. Stand at my back, will you?""where I can't see." And I understood that he was talking to me, and I went to him and stood at his back, to see that no one jumped him again. And then together we moved out fo the circle and nothing happened and we got away. (P. 90)

The story echoes of stories from the past. Native Americans being outnumbered, and only able to trust each other. They had to watch each other's backs or someone would jump them from behind. Momaday says, in the next section of chapter three that the war years helped shape his personality, but not the war.

I try to think of the war, of what it was to me as a child. It was almost nothing, and nothing of my innocence was lost in it. It was only later that I realized what had happened, what ancient histories had been made and remarked and set aside in a fraction of my lifetime, in an instant. And there is the loss of innocence, in retrospection, in the safe distance of time. There are the clocks of shame; we tell the lie of time, and our hearts are broken. (P. 91)

In this passage, Momaday, tells us one of the main themes behind his memoirs, to tell the truth about the past as best as possible in order to keep our hearts from breaking. The truth is more than just a set of memories on a linear plane. There are so many aspects of a life story that remain blank, even after careful research. The blanks must be filled in with the imagination and retrospect. We cannot just examine the facts, to know about the past. Other variables must be included. The effects of the events, effect their truthfulness, and must also be considered. Momaday says near the end of the book:

I went on, farther and farther into the wide world. Many things happened. And in all this I knew one thing: I knew where the journey was begun, that it was itself a learning of the beginning, that the beginning was infinitely worth the learning. The journey was well undertaken. . . (P. 159)

We must learn about or past, to understand the truth. We must make a mental journey to the beginning of our existence and beyond to try and uncover the missing pieces to the stories of our lives. In travelling this journey we discover new truths about ourselves, friends, relatives, and ancestors. This clears up the muddy visions of our memories and we become wiser, and more learned because of the experience.

© High Speed Ventures 2011