- Reading, Learning, Teaching N. Scott Momaday, and: Leslie Marmon Silko's "Ceremony": The Recovery of Tradition
In Reading, Learning, Teaching N. Scott Momaday (volume 5 in Peter Lang Publishing's new educational series Confronting the Text, Confronting the Word), Jim Charles offers teachers and students "a useful introduction to the experiences, cultures, and landscapes that shape N. Scott Momaday's worldview and his art" (13). Charles "presents Momaday's work through the eyes of a teacher, emphasizing classroom approaches appropriate for aiding student understanding and connections to his work," and the audience for the book is most obviously high school teachers and students who are unfamiliar with but interested in studying Momaday's writings and the contexts from which the writings come (48). An important part of the book's purpose, as Charles himself writes, is thus "to convince teachers and students … to consider Momaday's work" (46).
To this end, Charles provides summaries and brief analyses of much of Momaday's oeuvre. He includes samples of student responses to the works as well as several appendices that offer sample assignments, a syllabus for a course devoted exclusively to Momaday, and study guides to [End Page 201] selected works. A resources section includes a bibliography of primary and secondary sources as well as a list of readings to provide a cultural context for Pueblo, Navajo, and Kiowa cultures. As such, the book updates and expands on other, similar studies, such as Kenneth Roemer's volume Approaches to Teaching Momaday's "The Way to Rainy Mountain" (1988), specific sections of Paula Gunn Allen's collection of approaches to teaching Studies in American Indian Literature (1983), and my own study N. Scott Momaday (2001).
Charles provides brief analyses of the novels and poems and devotes some important space to discussions of Momaday's work in mixed genre: "The degree to which Momaday's work in mixed genres edifies and extends the subjects, structures, and thematic concerns of his other written work is significant and therefore invites teachers' and students' attention" (85). Charles's phrasing here suggests that some of Momaday's work is subservient to a core set of more important works, especially House Made of Dawn (1968), The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969), and his poetry. In another instance, Charles refers to Momaday's memoir, The Names (1976), only as a means to talk about the author's biography, offering no analysis of the book itself. Unfortunately, there is no index, nor is there mention of his 1972 screenplay for the film version of House Made of Dawn or any of the recent plays.
In the sense that the book is intended for teachers, it offers a fine introduction to and general overview of the works of a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist and critically acclaimed poet, who has earned the sobriquet of the "Dean of American Indian writers" (47). The exercises and works cited lists at the end of each chapter definitely serve as useful tools for helping teachers and students get started with ways to approach the literature.
Nine years after the publication of House Made of Dawn, Leslie Marmon Silko published her first novel, Ceremony (1977), and like Momaday's, Silko's novel is a complex fusion of Western and Native traditional ways of storytelling. In Leslie Marmon Silko's "Ceremony": Recovery and Tradition, Robert M. Nelson provides a masterful and comprehensive study of Silko's "Pueblo and Navajo sources" (1). Nelson locates "Silko's novel and creative vision with respect to the other print texts," and he maps and explicates what he calls "one of the most intriguing things about Ceremony … the recurrent presence of embedded text" (2, 13). The book includes significant bibliographical references and an index.
Nelson addresses Paula Gunn Allen's long-standing criticism of the novel and novelist by arguing that Silko worked from previously printed ethnographic texts and has thus not transgressed any social taboos or inappropriately dispersed any...