Style and Technique
As Leon manipulates Father Paul’s ministry to serve the Pueblos’ purpose, Silko alters the short story’s conventions to accommodate the process of cultural assertion and adaptation. The simplicity of her style seems a strange, unconventional way of storytelling. Silko does not describe her characters physically or psychologically, or develop much sense of individual personality. Characters say little to each other and almost nothing about themselves. Ken and Leon say nothing when they find Teofilo dead, in spite of the momentousness of the event. The first spoken words are not attributed to either man, but whoever says “Send us rain clouds, Grandfather” speaks for both. Among the Pueblo characters, there is only one short exchange, in which Louise tells Ken that she had been thinking about having the priest sprinkle holy water for her grandpa so he will not be thirsty. Moments later, Leon says he will see where he is. They do not consider the implications of asking for the priest’s participation in their burial ceremony, which has already concluded. The Indians’ interactions are determined not by negotiations of the individual, conflicting will or by self-expression, but by a ritual that is set in motion by the discovery of Teofilo and that is quietly under way at all times.
The story declines to represent the ritual, as if to avoid any anthropological or ethnographic interest. The mourning period and funeral ceremony are conducted outside the narrative and, after Louise’s casual remark to Leon, the story centers increasingly and climactically on Father Paul, as he becomes instrumental in making Teofilo the man to send rain clouds. Nearly all dialogue and narration are conducted across the white/Indian cultural divide, where negotiation is necessary to assert and assure identity. The sole moment of interior speech belongs to the priest, who as he sprinkles holy water wonders if the Indians are tricking him by having him bury a blanket, not a man, and by the way the water disappears. Father Paul’s uncertainty is fruitless; he enjoys no epiphany or enlargement of his understanding. The moment of epiphany in the modern short story is frustrated, for even though the people accord the priest power in their ceremony and that power has the effect that the people desired, it brings the priest no closer to his parishioners or to an understanding of the cultural processes in which he participates. Father Paul’s moment is a false climax and an anti-epiphany, and he returns to the mission unenlightened.
The Pueblo perspective is quietly reasserted at the end of the story, with the success of the ceremony and Leon’s pleasure in having added the sprinkling, for now he was sure the old man could send them big thunderclouds.
(The entire section is 667 words.)