The Man to Send Rain Clouds

by Leslie Marmon Silko

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Discussion Topic

The conflict and resolution in "The Man to Send Rainclouds."


The conflict in "The Man to Send Rainclouds" arises from the differing cultural and religious beliefs between the Native American community and the Catholic priest. The resolution occurs when the priest reluctantly agrees to sprinkle holy water on Teofilo's grave, blending the two traditions and symbolizing a tentative acceptance and respect for each other's practices.

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In "The Man to Send Rainclouds," what is the conflict and how is it resolved?

The conflict in "The Man to Send Rain Clouds" is an unusual one not typically found in short story literature, which, incidentally sheds some light on--or perhaps deepens--the ambiguity of the title. Teofilo's peaceful death while tending his sheep (a Biblical and pastoral allusion) is the occasion for the conflict of the story. The Pueblo people want a traditional Pueblo religion burial service and to that end they paint Teofilo's face and wrap him in a red blanket. They attend to Teofilo's preparation and ceremony in a secretive fashion so as to not awaken the suspicions of the Catholic priest who would want to give Teofilo a Catholic burial that would not include face paint and red blankets. This is the major physical conflict: arranging Teofilo's burial according to Pueblo ways without interference from the white and Catholic world.

The metaphysical, or spiritual, conflict that goes along with this is the battle for the continued existence of Pueblo beliefs in an encroaching white society. Silko actually offers a suggested means by which the battle can be put to rest with each side standing victorious at the end. Through the character of Louise, Leon's wife, it is suggested that both cultures and both religions can co-exist and can contribute to each other. Specifically, Louise suggests that it would be good to have the priest sprinkle Teofilo's body at the time of burial with holy water so as to quench Teofilo's thirst. The Pueblo religion teaches that the living give help in relieving the dead person's need for food and drink, this is why Louise thinks of quenching the old man's thirst. The Pueblo religion also teaches that the dead bring rainclouds and rain back to the village to quench the thirst of the land. Therefore, it stands to reason that if Teofilo's own thirst is quenched with holy water, then he will be able to bring really "big thunderclouds for sure."

The resolution comes when Father Paul stands at Teofilo's grave side with the holy water and sprinkles it on Teofilo's red-wrapped body. He originally didn't want to participate in what he views as a pagan ceremony to false gods but reconsiders although he is still confused and somewhat suspicious of a prank being played upon him. When he see what the Pueblo perceive as signs of a successful offering, he is puzzled and thinks that if he could recall something he might be able to understand the near-miraculous and -supernatural results of the sprinkling of the holy water. Father Paul leaves the burial muddled and deep in thought but the villagers are content that they have found a pragmatic use for Father Paul's blessings and that the two religions and cultures have been joined as one in order to attain "big thunderclouds for sure." This pertains to the title: Who is the man who sends water? In one sense, it is Teofilo who will bring thunderclouds but, in another sense, it is the Catholic priest Father Paul who is the man who brings rainclouds because it is his holy water that is seen as adding materially to Teofilo's future success as a bringer of big rainclouds.

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What is the external conflict in "The Man to Send Rain Clouds"?

The Man to Send Rain Clouds, written by Leslie Marmon Silko, is the title story in a fourteen-story anthology assembled by anthropologist Kenneth Rosen. At its core, the central conflict in Clouds revolves around the clash between traditional Christian and Native American cultures, ultimately attempting to comment on both the significance and silliness of religious rituals.

The story, which takes place on a reservation in the Southwestern US, begins when two Pueblos—Ken and Leon—stumble upon the dead body of Leon's grandpa, Teofilo. They engage in a ritualistic ceremony that includes painting Teofilo's face, then sprinkling water and corn on the ground to supposedly provide nourishment for his spirit as it begins its adventure on the other side.

The clash of cultures manifests when Leon's wife asks a young Catholic priest named Father Paul to throw holy water on the grave. The priest initially declines to provide this service unless the whole burial is Christian; however, he eventually relents despite being suspicious of the motives.

Ultimately, Leon explains that he believes sprinkling holy water will bring about rain clouds despite its practice as a Christian custom. The irony is that the melding of two different belief systems causes tension and conflict despite the fact that they're both purporting to achieve similar ends—that is, benefiting Teofilo's spirit in the afterlife.

Moreover, it blurs the line between religious rituals by making it obscure who exactly the man to bring the rain clouds really is, the dead Indian grandfather or the Catholic priest.

The silliness of the rituals is exaggerated by the fact that the result is expected to be the same no matter who performs it, rendering the system that encompasses the ritual itself (native or Christian) essentially meaningless, while simultaneously demonstrating how important the ritual is to the adherents of that system.

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What is the external conflict in "The Man to Send Rain Clouds"?

An external conflict is defined as a struggle that must be overcome between a character and something outside themselves. This is opposed to an internal conflict, where the character is struggling within themselves. In this story, Leon and Ken are conflicted about asking a local priest to sprinkle holy water on the body of the beloved patriarch Teofilo. This conflict revolves around Christian intrusion on the Native American traditions. Laguna Pueblo teachings dictate that rain will hydrate the community if the deceased are properly handled. When the wife of Leon explains that Father Paul should sprinkle holy water on Teofilo so that he will not be thirsty in the afterlife, the family compromises and decides to seek out the help of the priest. At first reluctant, Father Paul also relents and does as he was asked, sprinkling water without Christian ritual.

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What is the external conflict in "The Man to Send Rain Clouds"?

The external conflict in Leslie Marmon Silko’s “The Man to Send Rainclouds” is between the Native American characters and the Catholic priest Father Paul, specifically with regard to religion. As the above post noted, we see this conflict in terms of the different burial rites observed by the two religions.

We also see evidence of the conflict earlier in the story. Leon and Ken find Teofilo’s body in the story’s very first sentence. However, when they encounter Father Paul shortly afterwards, they do not tell him that Teofilo is deceased. In fact, they intentionally let him go on believing that Teofilo is still alive.

Later, when Father Paul asks why they didn’t tell him that Teofilo had died, Leon says,

It wasn’t necessary, Father.

This is a key line from the story. As far as the Native Americans in the story are concerned, it is probably safe to say that the white man’s religion itself is just as unnecessary. Although the white religious establishment feels that it is necessary to convert the Native Americans to Christianity, the Native Americans, as demonstrated in this story, do not share this belief.

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What is the external conflict in "The Man to Send Rain Clouds"?

The main external conflict is character vs. society as the native’s traditions and those of the Roman Catholic Church collide in the burial ceremony.

The story is about Native Americans who have try to have a traditional burial without the intervention of the Roman Catholic Church.  At this time, the Church is trying to convert the natives.  Yet the natives still have their own religion, and want to honor their people in their own way.

“What did you say?  I didn’t here you.”

“I said that I had been thinking about something.”

“About what?”

“About the priest sprinkling holy water for Grandpa.  So he won’t be thirsty.”

This demonstrates that the conflict is both an external and internal struggle.  Externally, the native religion and the Church are at odds.  Internally, the natives are trying to make sense of internalizing both religions, and the Priest is trying to explain Catholic rituals in terms that the natives will understand.

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