Overview of "The Man to Send Rain Clouds"
Her work widely anthologized, Leslie Marmon Silko is considered the preeminent Native-American woman novelist, a legend in her achievements in the field of Native-American literature. Her writings are included in the syllabus of various American literature courses in high schools and colleges. Raised on the Indian reservation in Laguna, New Mexico, she incorporates into her writing the stories, myths, and legends she heard as she grew up. Of Pueblo, Mexican, and white descent, she was both an insider and outsider in Laguna, and this makes her an interesting chronicler of stories about modern-day life on the reservation. In an interview she has stated: ‘‘Oral literatures of the indigenous populations worldwide contain (these) kind of valuable insights ... You can look at the old stories that were told among the tribal people here in a north country and see that within them is the same kind of valuable lessons about human behavior and that we need them still.’’ In the Pueblo community, all education is achieved in a verbal, narrative form, and when Silko began writing at the University of Mexico, stories came naturally to her. She has said, ‘‘[The] professor would say, now you write your poetry or write a story; write the way you know, they always tell us. All I knew was my growing up at Laguna, recalling some other stories that I had been told as a child.''
It was at the University of New Mexico that she wrote her first story, ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds,'' which won her a Discovery grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The story is based on an incident she had heard of in Laguna, that an old man had been found dead in a sheep camp and had been given a traditional Indian burial, and that the local Catholic priest had resented the fact that he had not been called in. Having based her first work of short fiction on this incident, ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds’’ brought Silko recognition and established her as a promising Native-American author.
Silko claims that Pueblo narratives are lean and spare because so much of what constitute the stories is shared knowledge. Although the larger audience for ''The Man to Send Rain Clouds'' has no shared knowledge of the landscape or rituals, Silko still chooses to use the lean narrative mode, as the themes are universal and can be understood by any audience. But an understanding of the Pueblo burial customs gives an added dimension to an understanding of the story. In Pueblo culture, it is believed that neglect of tribal rituals can result in death and sickness, because the ghost returns without blessings, having been unable to enter the other world. To avoid this unhappy prospect, a prayer feather is attached to the hair of the deceased, and his face is painted so that the he will be recognized in the next world. These tasks are ordinarily performed by the village Shaman (religious priest), while corn meal is offered to the wind and water is sprinkled on the grave so that the spirit has nourishment on its journey to the other world. The ceremony concludes with the prayer, ''Send us rain clouds.’’ Familiarization with the landscape inhabited by the Pueblo Indians further enhances the reader's understanding of ''The Man to Send Rain Clouds,’’ for as Silko has written elsewhere, the landscape sits in the center of Pueblo belief and identity.
A character in Silko's later novel, Ceremony , says, ''At one time, the ceremonies as they had been performed were enough for the way the world was then. But after the white people came, elements in this world began to shift; and it became necessary to create new ceremonies. I have made changes in the rituals. The people mistrust this greatly, but only this growth keeps the ceremonies strong....’’ Scholar A. LaVonne Ruoff sees this theme as central to ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds.’’ Leon's strength lies in his creative combination of traditional Indian rituals with Catholic ritual. He does not strictly...
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