The Man to Send Rain Clouds

by Leslie Marmon Silko

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What is the conflict in "The Man to Send Rain Clouds" by Leslie Silko?

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"The Man to Send Rain Clouds" by Leslie Marmon Silko has both external and internal conflicts. Externally, there is the clash between Native American and Catholic burial traditions. Internally, Father Paul wrestles with his conscience about whether to bring holy water to sprinkle on Teofilo's body. Both forms of conflict showcase the differences in the beliefs of the two respective cultures.

After Leon and Ken discover Teofilo's dead body by the big cottonwood tree, they withhold the news of his death from Father Paul:

"Did you find old Teofilo?" he asked loudly.
Leon stopped the truck. "Good morning, Father. We were just out to the sheep camp. Everything is O.K. now."
"Thank God for that. Teofilo is a very old man. You really shouldn't allow him to stay at the sheep camp alone."
"No, he won't do that any more now."
"Well, I'm glad you understand. I hope I'll be seeing you at Mass this week—we missed you last Sunday. See if you can get old Teofilo to come with you." The priest smiled and waved at them as they drove away.

This passage shows the relationship between the Native Americans, Leon and Ken, and the Catholic priest, Father Paul. They have a reciprocally respectful relationship, but at the same time, the reader can sense the Catholic grip that the culture has on Leon and Ken. Their only method of 'escape' is to withhold the truth of Teofilo's death so that they can perform burial rites appropriate to their own culture's beliefs. The priest also presumes to know what they should and "shouldn't" do, and he also uses passive aggression to shame them (as well as Teofilo) into attending Mass the following Sunday.

You can also see the conflicting beliefs in Leon's request to have holy water sprinkled on Teofilo's body:

"Why didn't you tell me he was dead? I could have brought the Last Rites anyway."
Leon smiled. "It wasn't necessary, Father."
The priest stared down at his scuffed brown loafers and the worn hem of his cassock. "For a Christian burial it was necessary."
His voice was distant, and Leon thought that his blue eyes looked tired.
"It's O.K. Father, we just want him to have plenty of water."

Though Leon asks for the holy water, he does not do so for the benefit of Catholicism. Rather, in line with his own cultural beliefs, he asks for it so that Teofilo can send rain clouds from the heavens. In a sense, the holy water acts as the intermediary between the two cultures. When he sprinkles the water on Teofilo's body, "it reminded him of something—he tried to remember what it was, because he thought if he could remember he might understand this." In sprinkling the water—which for the Native Americans in this story means that Teofilo will be able to send rain clouds from the heavens—Father Paul participates in a portion of the Native American burial ritual. In doing so, he seems to come close to understanding the act, though his lack of investment into their culture keeps him from that knowledge.

Speaking of the holy water, Father Paul struggles internally with the prospect of applying Catholic beliefs to a non-Catholic burial. He initially appears frustrated that he was not allowed to perform "the Last Rites" on Teofilo, but, as Leon observes, the priest's "blue eyes looked tired." This is one of the signs that Father Paul may be struggling with the forced conversion of Native Americans. Another sign comes from his decision to sprinkle the holy water on Teofilo's corpse, despite his previous claim that he "can't do that." Another possibility, however, is that Father Paul simply wanted to do whatever he could to instill Catholic values into Native American life. Either way, there is a clear internal conflict going on with the priest.

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The primary conflict in "The Man to Send Rain Clouds" is that of man against society. This conflict would be better stated as humankind against society. This is a common conflict type in contemporary literature as society is more often seen as a restricting barrier rather than a civilizing culture.

The defining point in this conflict is that the central character or characters challenge, or are challenged by, the society in which they live because the values and customs of society are in one way or another outside the system of moral conviction or unexamined behavior of the character or characters. One instance of this conflict is embodied in the priest's grave uneasiness about using Catholic Holy Water in a Pueblo Indian society's religious death ceremony.

A secondary conflict in this story is that of man (humankind) against nature. This conflict pits humankind's desires and will against the forces and affects of nature. This conflict appears prominently in connection with Teofilo's death and his new duty and role as the bringer of rain clouds.

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