The Man to Send Rain Clouds

by Leslie Marmon Silko

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

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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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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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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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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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