The Man to Send Rainclouds

by Leslie Marmon Silko

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What is the moral of the story, "The Man to Send Rainclouds"?

"The Man to Send Rainclouds" is a story about the conflict between native American rituals and the traditions of European Christianity. The story takes place in Arizona, where people from many cultures have come together to live. A young priest from the Catholic Church tries to convert a Native American tribe by sprinkling holy water on a recently deceased tribal elder.

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The moral of the short story is one of compromise. When Ken and Leon discover that the old man, Teofilo, has died, they prepare the body in a way that is traditional to them. They tie a feather in the old man's hair, wrap him in a blanket, paint his face, and sprinkle cornmeal over the body. As they head back to the pueblo with the body in the back of the truck, they encounter the young priest. They do not share the news of Teofilo's death, perhaps because they want to follow their own traditions in the burial. However, Leon's wife, Louise, suggests that they ask the priest to sprinkle holy water on the body. Her reason for this is not to honor the Christian tradition but to ensure that Teofilo will not be thirsty. The priest at first declines the request. He explains to Leon that he should have been allowed to perform a proper Christian burial. As Leon starts to leave, the priest reconsiders. He sprinkles the holy water on the body as the people requested. Although he knows they do not understand the intent behind the holy water, he compromises with those he hopes to influence.

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The moral of the story, if it can be called such, is that the key to harmony is tolerance of others' customs and beliefs.  Although the Catholic missionary and the Pueblo Indians have a very different perspective on death, their mutual willingness to respect each others' positions allows them to live peacefully together, and perhaps learn from each other.  When old Teofilo dies, the Indians turn to their carefully prescribed traditions to prepare him for his journey after life.  There is no anxiety about Teofilo's passing, because it is just part of the natural order of things.  The Indians wrap his body, paint his face with the colors of the earth, and offer cornmeal so he will not get hungry on his way.  The people then ask the priest to bring holy water, in recognition that his teachings have touched them in some way with their power, but in their literal interpretation, the water is to keep Teofilo from being thirsty, rather than to sanctify his soul.  The priest, knowing that the Indians do not ascribe the same sacred meaning that the Church does to the holy water and its rites, at first refuses.  He then reconsiders, and in a gesture of respect and mutual acceptance, sprinkles the water on the body of Teofilo as he is lowered into the ground.

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