Themes and Meanings
The title “The Man to Send Rain Clouds” demarcates the cultural divide between its Native American protagonists and Father Paul; in the priest’s Christian world, only God can send rain clouds, but in the Pueblo world, it is every man’s task hereafter to speak to the cloud people and ask them to make rain for the living. From their positions on either side of this cultural divide, the characters enact an episode in the power struggle between the Pueblo and the white world. The struggle has evolved into a ritual not of confrontation, but of assertion of dominance met by strategies of subversion, evasion, and adaptation that not only maintain the Pueblo way but also warrant analogous subversion and adaptation of form by the writer, in order to make the short story accommodate her cultural stance.
In this brief tale of Teofilo’s burial and transformation to the man to send rain clouds, Leslie Marmon Silko has rewritten one of the dominant narratives of the Encounter—the conversion of native people to Christianity—to demonstrate the means by which Native American religions (and the cultures from which they are inseparable) have survived. Silko has made the story a parable of cultural endurance, not by rendering belief and ritual in ethnographic or archival detail but by tracing the growth and renewal of the traditional ceremony by incorporating new and useful elements from the Roman Catholic ritual. The story anticipates the principle in Silko’s novel Ceremony (1977), where the ceremony that leads to the cure for the main character is a hybrid of an ancient Scalp Ceremony that incorporates new elements.
Ironically, Father Paul is the agent of innovation in the Pueblo ceremony, in spite of his unwillingness and his failure to understand the success and significance of his own actions. The cultural distance between the priest and the Pueblo is skillfully defined and manipulated in the first conversation between Father Paul and Leon, who turns aside his inquiry about Teofilo (and his pastoral care) with the assurance that everything is all right. Believing Teofilo to be alive, the priest tries to manage Leon and his supposed authority over Teofilo by telling him that an old man like Teofilo should not be left at the sheep camp alone. He misconstrues the status of the elder among his clan members and misunderstands their attitude toward death, which the Pueblo characters find (as their response to Teofilo’s death implies) welcome, natural, and not to be feared or avoided.
Leon replies, in truth, that he will not do that any more. The priest does not pick up the strong suggestion that Teofilo is dead, much less appreciate the humor in being deceived by the truth. Father Paul assumes that Leon can assume an authority over Teofilo that he does not have, warranted in part by the authority that Father Paul assumes he has over Leon. Father Paul, assuming he has made himself clear, congratulates Leon and encourages him to come to Mass on Sunday and to bring Teofilo. The ironies continue to build; Leon understands not what Father Paul wants him to, but what Father Paul does not understand, that Teofilo is dead,...
(The entire section is 808 words.)