Silko wrote the story ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds’’ in 1967 for a creative writing class, basing it upon a real-life incident in Laguna, New Mexico. In the late 1960s there was an interest in indigenous cultures in America. Many Indians moved off the reservations and into mainstream American culture, becoming more visible as a result. Peter Farb's Man's Rise to Civilization (1968) generated interest in Native Americans, while Scott Momaday, a Native American, won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for fiction with his novel House Made of Dawn. Silko asserts, ‘‘It was a kind of renaissance, I suppose ... It is difficult to pinpoint why but, perhaps, in the 1960s, around the time when Momaday's books got published, there was this new interest, maybe it was not new, but people became more aware of indigenous cultures. It was an opening up worldwide.’’ Native Americans were suddenly publishing books and Silko was one of the first published Pueblo women writers.
The story reflects life on the Laguna Indian Reservation in the 1960s. For more than 12,000 years the Pueblo had lived in the region and traditional religious beliefs permeated every aspect of life. Even when Christianity was introduced, it was incorporated into older Pueblo rites. Scholar A. LaVonne Ruoff maintains: ‘‘Silko emphasizes that these Pueblo Indians have not abandoned their old ways for Catholicism; instead, they have taken one part of Catholic ritual compatible...
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Point of View
The story is told through an objective, third-person narrative, and unfolds in a rigidly objective tone. There is no hint of the narrator's personal voice as each character is presented. With the exception of the graveyard scene that concludes the story, the narrator does not explain the character's thoughts, but presents only the action of the story.
The story is set on the Laguna Indian Reservation in New Mexico. The landscape of the story with its arroyos and mesas is an integral part of the story. Silko captures the landscape very effectively in her narrative. For instance, ‘‘The big cotton wood tree stood apart from a small grove of winter-bare cottonweeds which grew in the wide, sandy arroyo ... Leon waited under the tree while Ken drove the truck through the deep sand to the edge of the arroyo ... But high and northwest the blue mountains were still in snow ... It was getting colder, and the wind pushed gray dust down the narrow pueblo road. The sun was approaching the long mesa where it disappeared during the winter.''
The title ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds’’ alludes to the Pueblo belief that the dead are associated with rain clouds. The narrator makes several references to the Indian burial ceremony and the history of the Pueblo people. The story's title is taken from a traditional prayer in which the Indians pray for the spirit of the deceased to send rain clouds so crops will grow and the community will not starve. To the Pueblo, death is not the end of existence, but part of a cycle in which the human spirit returns to its source and then helps the community by returning with rain clouds. The Pueblo paint the face of the deceased so that he will be...
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Compare and Contrast
1960s: Minorities, such as African Americans, Native Americans, and the Gay community, organize and fight the established system to gain equal rights in the United States. Women also struggle to obtain equal opportunity under the law. In several instances, violence erupts between groups; a national debate rages over the implications of racial and sexual discrimination.
1990s: Affirmative action for many minority groups has been overturned in some parts of the country. Other legislation is under attack and congress refuses to pass a Federal hate crimes statute.
1960s: Native-American voices emerge to tell the Native-American experience. Writers such as Leslie Marmon Silko are published to critical and commercial acclaim and become an important part of the American literary scene.
1990s: Native-American writers continue to offer insightful perspectives on American life. In many universities, the study of Native-American literature and culture is an important part of the curriculum.
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Topics for Further Study
Research the historical experiences of Native Americans by reading the introduction to Geary Hobson's anthology The Remembered Earth or portions of Major Problems in American Indian History, edited by Albert Hurtacto and Peter Iverson. Relate what you have learned to Leon's story.
Study ''The Man to Send Rain Clouds'' within a larger context, specifically the spread of Christianity among other nations and cultures. For example, compare Father Paul's experience on the Pueblo reservation with the missionary's experience in India in Robin White's novel House of Many Rooms.
Was Silko successful in creating the landscape of New Mexico in ''The Man to Send Rain Clouds?'' Discuss the importance of the story's geographical location and physical features and relate these features to the main themes of the story.
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Although ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds’’ has not been adapted to a multimedia version, the videotape Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems (1979) offers readings from Silko's works and the author's commentary on Pueblo culture in Laguna, New Mexico.
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What Do I Read Next?
Storyteller (1981) is a collection of Silko's short stories, anecdotes, historical and autobiographical notes, poems, and folk tales.
Yellow Woman and the Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today (1996) is a collection of Silko's essays.
The Pueblo Indians, Joe S. Sando's 1976 book on the history of the Pueblo, enhances the reader's understanding of the Pueblo community.
Redefining American Literary History (1990), edited by A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff and Jerry W. Ward, Jr., provides a context for the study of Native-American literature in the United States.
House of Many Rooms, Robin White's 1958 novel, chronicles the story of an...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Danielson, Linda L., ‘‘Storyteller: Grandmother Spider's Web,’’ in Journal of the Southwest, Vol. 30, No. 3, Autumn, 1988, pp. 325-55.
Krupet, Arnold, ‘‘The Dialogic of Silko's Storyteller,’’ in Narrative Chance, edited by Gerald Vizenor, University of New Mexico, 1989, pp. 55-68.
Ruoff, A. LaVonne, ‘‘Ritual and Renewal: Keres Traditions in the Short Fiction of Leslie Silko,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 5, No. 4, Winter, 1978, pp. 2-17.
Seyersted, Per, Leslie Marmon Silko, Boise State University, 1980.
Silko, Leslie Marmon, Ceremony,/i>, New York: Viking Press, 1977.
----Yellow Woman and a Beauty of...
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