Explain the story "The Man to Send Rain Clouds" by Leslie Marmon Silko. 

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story “The Man to Send Rain Clouds” by Leslie Marmon Silko brings to life some of the rituals of the Laguna Pueblo Native Americans.  The story is based on an actual event in a New Mexico Indian reservation.

The narration is third person point of view with an omniscient narrator. The Indians' understanding of death and the serenity and objectivity with which they face it is explained in the story. The story goes that an old man was found dead in a sheep camp and was given a traditional Indian burial.

Part One

When the grandsons, Ken and Leon, find their grandfather Teofilo, they prepare his body in a ceremonial style to take to the family. One ties a feather in the old man’s long white hair. Leon paints the face with white and blue paint.  Ken throws pinches of corn meal and pollen into the wind.  Under the eyes of the old man, Leon draws yellow stripes and on his nose green down to his chin.  After the preparation, they then wrap him in a blanket. 

As they return with the body of the old man, they pass the Catholic priest who asks if they have found him. Rather than answer him directly, Leon tells him that everything is okay.  Despite having a conversation with the priest about the grandfather as though he were alive, the grandsons do not share anything truthful with him.

Part Two

The women are waiting for the grandsons.  They tell about how they found him.  The grandsons dress him in new clothes ready for burial.  They eat their breakfast without speaking.  Ken goes to prepare the grave since the ground is frozen.

Part Three

Louise, one of the wives, speaks to Leon and tells him that she believes that the priest should come.  The grandfather needs the holy water because he may be thirsty on his trip.  Leon thinks about it for a few minutes.  Realizing that it is getting late and colder, he tells her he will see about the priest.

Part Four

The priest is hurt because he was not included in the ceremonies for the old man.  Leon tells him that he would like for him to put the holy water on Teofilo. The priest at first says that he cannot because he did not give the old man last rites.  Finally, he agrees to spread some water on the grave.

When they arrive, everyone is waiting huddled around the grave.  He sprinkles the water on the blanket covering the body and the grave.  He shook the bottle until it was empty.  The men lowered the body into the grave.

He sprinkled the grave and the water disappeared almost before it touched the dim, cold sand; it reminded him of something--he tried to remember what it was because he thought if he could remember he might understand this.  

The priest walked away slowly with Leon watching him. Now, Leon was glad that the priest had brought the holy water.  Because of it,  the grandfather could send lots of rainclouds to them.

The story’s major theme is death.  The cultural differences in the Native American handling of death and the rites that they use to bury their dead are obvious.  The cultural clashes become evident in the reaction to the church and the Indian style of burial ceremonies.   

Obviously, the younger men have not accepted the need for the Catholic religious rites.  Although their burial rites did not follow the rules exactly, the priest joining in the ceremony may have bridged the gap between the two societies. 

Read the study guide:
The Man to Send Rain Clouds

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