The Man to Send Rain Clouds

by Leslie Marmon Silko

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What is Father Paul trying to understand in "The Man to Send Rain Clouds" by Leslie Marmon Silko?

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Leslie Marmon Silko's story, "A Man to Send Rain Clouds," is a window into the juxtaposition of worldviews and traditions that are a common experience among Native American communities. In this instance, the reader is able to see the different reactions from the family of Teofilio, an old man who has died, and a young priest who has a small parish in the community. The family members readily accept that a combination of traditional beliefs and catholic practices are appropriate at Teofilio’s funeral, but the entire situation is one which Father Paul, the young priest, must struggle to understand.

The first thing that the young Priest does not understand is Teofilio’s condition. Father Paul is worried about the old man, as he has not seen him in several days. He asks the family about him when he sees them, and they tell him that they found the old man and that everything is okay now. Father Paul takes that to mean that Teofilio is safe, but the family means that they will take care of his funeral.

The misunderstanding between the young priest and Teofilio’s family concerning the fate of the old man leads to a greater misunderstanding when Ken, a member of Teofilio’s family, approaches the priest about sprinkling holy water on Teofilio when they bury him. The family wants the holy water sprinkled so that the old man will not be thirsty. It appears that this is not a tradition, but something from catholic rites that the family wants to incorporate into the burial. The young priest at first refuses. He is upset that he was not told that Teofilio was dead, and he is also upset that he was not able to perform last rites and hold a funeral mass for the old man, whom he regards as a member of his parish and thus Christian. Father Paul does not understand that the family wants to incorporate an aspect of the catholic funeral rite that makes sense to them.

The young priest acquiesces, however, and attends the funeral, perhaps due to his respect for Teofilio, but perhaps also so that he can perform at least some part of the rite he considers most important. He sprinkles his entire container of holy water on the old man’s body, and he is fascinated by the way that the blanket over the body and the sandy ground soak up the water as soon as it touches them. It reminds him of something, but he cannot think of what. Then the narrator puts it in the context of August rain, and the readers may take this to mean that the young priest then understands that the holy water is like rain, a scarce and revered resource in the lives of the Puebloan people.

The reader may further infer that Father Paul may now have some greater understanding of the mixture of traditions and beliefs that coexists among the people of the community. However, it may also be that the young priest will never fully understand the less structured and more adaptable people whom he is trying to serve in the only way he does truly understand.      

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

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. 

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Discuss the climax and resolution of the the story "The Man to Send Rain Clouds" by Leslie Marmon Silko.

Leslie Marmon Silko writes about her people: the Laguna Pueblo people of New Mexico.  Many of her stories are based on the oral tradition of passing the folklore from generation to generation through story telling.

This story "The Man to Send Rain Clouds" evolves through the death of an old Indian shepherd, Teofilo. The narrator tells the story through third person with little emotion.

Thematically, the story results in a clash of cultures: the Catholic Church and the Native American traditions of burial.  When the men find their grandfather, they lay him on a red blanket and prepare him for burial.  Each grandson paints a different color stripe on his face.  They attach a feather to his gray hair. 

Then Leon painted with yellow under the old man's broad nose, and finally, when he had painted green across the chin, he smiled.  'Send us rain clouds, Grandfather.'

To complete the body's preparation, they throw pinches of corn meal and pollen into the wind.

On the way back with the grandfather's body, the grandsons encounter the Catholic priest.  Knowing that the old man had been missing, the priest asks if they had located him.  Without really answering the question, ironically Leon tells the priest that everything is okay at the sheep camp.  The priest admonishes the men for allowing their elderly grandfather to go out and stay at the sheep camp.

'Teofilo is a very old man.  You really shouldn't allow him to stay at the sheep camp alone.'

"No, he won't do that any more now.'

The grandsons did not want to involve outsiders in the burial of the grandfather.

The wives of the grandsons are waiting for the news.  It was assumed that the old man had died, so they had prepared his clothing.  The grandfather looked so small and shrunked in his new clothes.

Leon worried about digging the grave. However, it was New Mexico and the top of the ground is all that freezes.  One of the wives decides that the old man should be sprinkled with Holy water to  quench his thirst in the after world.  Leon decides this may be a good thing and goes to see the priest.

As Leon enters the church, the narrator points out that there is a carved lamb on the door representing Jesus.  Silko may also be pointing out the old man was a shepherd as well. 

At first, the priest is surprised at the news of the old man's death. He asks why the grandson had not told him. Leon answers that "It was not necessary, Father." 

A clash between cultures arouses when the priest tells Leon that he needed to give the grandfather last rites.  Leon knows that it is getting late and the burial must take place. The priest succumbs to the pressure and goes with Leon. Hopefully, the priest will realize that Leon has crossed the barrier between the Indians and whites by asking the priest to take part in the burial ceremony. 

The climax of the story comes from the blending of the two ceremonies.  The priest faces the parishioners, and then sprinkles the grave and the red blanket with the water. He shook the container until it was empty. Confused about his part of the ceremony, the sharing of the water to the observers has an almost mystical effect.  Leon watches as the priest walks back to the parish.

The resolution of the story comes as the men lower the old man's body  into the grave.  Leon looks up into the blue mountains and feels that they have provided a good burial for their grandfather, speaks to him: now the old man could send them big thunderclouds for sure.

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