The Man to Send Rainclouds

by Leslie Marmon Silko

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Historical Context

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Silko wrote the story ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds’’ in 1967 for a creative writing class, basing it upon a real-life incident in Laguna, New Mexico. In the late 1960s there was an interest in indigenous cultures in America. Many Indians moved off the reservations and into mainstream American culture, becoming more visible as a result. Peter Farb's Man's Rise to Civilization (1968) generated interest in Native Americans, while Scott Momaday, a Native American, won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for fiction with his novel House Made of Dawn. Silko asserts, ‘‘It was a kind of renaissance, I suppose ... It is difficult to pinpoint why but, perhaps, in the 1960s, around the time when Momaday's books got published, there was this new interest, maybe it was not new, but people became more aware of indigenous cultures. It was an opening up worldwide.’’ Native Americans were suddenly publishing books and Silko was one of the first published Pueblo women writers.

The story reflects life on the Laguna Indian Reservation in the 1960s. For more than 12,000 years the Pueblo had lived in the region and traditional religious beliefs permeated every aspect of life. Even when Christianity was introduced, it was incorporated into older Pueblo rites. Scholar A. LaVonne Ruoff maintains: ‘‘Silko emphasizes that these Pueblo Indians have not abandoned their old ways for Catholicism; instead, they have taken one part of Catholic ritual compatible with their beliefs and made it an essential part of their ceremony.’’ The essence of the story lies in the ‘‘instance of cultural clash with the feelings and ideas involved.’’

The rituals in the story underscore the Pueblo concept of death. According to Per Seyersted, for the Indians, ''man is a minute part of an immense natural cycle, and his death has nothing threatening in it because, after a life which contained both the good and the bad he goes back to where he came from, and in line with the communal thinking, it is hoped that his spirit will help the group he leaves behind by returning with the rain clouds.’’

Literary Style

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Point of View
The story is told through an objective, third-person narrative, and unfolds in a rigidly objective tone. There is no hint of the narrator's personal voice as each character is presented. With the exception of the graveyard scene that concludes the story, the narrator does not explain the character's thoughts, but presents only the action of the story.

The story is set on the Laguna Indian Reservation in New Mexico. The landscape of the story with its arroyos and mesas is an integral part of the story. Silko captures the landscape very effectively in her narrative. For instance, ‘‘The big cotton wood tree stood apart from a small grove of winter-bare cottonweeds which grew in the wide, sandy arroyo ... Leon waited under the tree while Ken drove the truck through the deep sand to the edge of the arroyo ... But high and northwest the blue mountains were still in snow ... It was getting colder, and the wind pushed gray dust down the narrow pueblo road. The sun was approaching the long mesa where it disappeared during the winter.''

The title ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds’’ alludes to the Pueblo belief that the dead are associated with rain clouds. The narrator makes several references to the Indian burial ceremony and the history of the Pueblo people. The story's title is taken from a traditional prayer in which the Indians pray for the spirit of the deceased to send rain clouds so crops will grow and the community will not starve. To the...

(This entire section contains 726 words.)

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Pueblo, death is not the end of existence, but part of a cycle in which the human spirit returns to its source and then helps the community by returning with rain clouds. The Pueblo paint the face of the deceased so that he will be recognized in the next world. They also scatter corn and sprinkle water to provide food and water for the spirit on its journey to the other world. The reference to the Catholic church's ‘‘twin bells from the King of Spain’’ is important as it points to the history of the Pueblo's initial encounter with Christianity. In 1598, when the Pueblo swore allegiance to the king of Spain, Catholic missionaries arrived to convert Native Americans to Catholicism. Although Christianity was forced on them, the Indians continued to observe their traditional religious practices.

In this story, Silko uses humor as a double-edged tool. The encounter between the young priest, who is denied the opportunity to perform Catholic rites, and Leon, who insists that such rites are not necessary, is humorous. The exchange also provokes an awareness of intercultural conflict. One illustration of this is the following passage: ''The priest approached the grave slowly ... He looked at the red blanket, not sure that Teofilo was so small, wondering if it wasn't some perverse Indian trick—something they did in March to ensure a good harvest—wondering if maybe old Teofilo was actually at the sheep camp corralling the sheep for the night. But there he was, facing into a cold dry wind and squinting at the last sunlight, ready to bury a red wool blanket while the faces of his parishioners were in shadow with the last warmth of the sun on their backs.’’

Skillful use of adjectives and attention to detail are the hallmarks of Silko's descriptions. For instance, in ''The Man to Send Rain Clouds'' she uses such expressions as ‘‘wide, sandy arroyo," "low, crumbling wall,’' ‘'brown, wrinkled forehead'' and ''He squinted up at the sun and unzipped his jacket'' to enhance the beauty of her narrative.

Irony is a literary device used to convey meaning to a phrase quite different than—in fact, often the direct opposite of—the literal one. Irony can be verbal or situational. Silko demonstrates a skillful use of irony in the story, notably in her depiction of the young priest, an authority figure who wants the Indians to follow Catholic ways but, in the end, himself uses holy water as part of a traditional Indian ceremony, participating in a non-Christian ceremony.

Silko employs an interesting mixture of narration and dialogue. The dialogues between Leon and Father Paul, and between Leon and Louise, present the characters to the readers directly. Readers are able to draw their own conclusions as to the characters' respective natures and motivations.

Compare and Contrast

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1960s: Minorities, such as African Americans, Native Americans, and the Gay community, organize and fight the established system to gain equal rights in the United States. Women also struggle to obtain equal opportunity under the law. In several instances, violence erupts between groups; a national debate rages over the implications of racial and sexual discrimination.

1990s: Affirmative action for many minority groups has been overturned in some parts of the country. Other legislation is under attack and congress refuses to pass a Federal hate crimes statute.

1960s: Native-American voices emerge to tell the Native-American experience. Writers such as Leslie Marmon Silko are published to critical and commercial acclaim and become an important part of the American literary scene.

1990s: Native-American writers continue to offer insightful perspectives on American life. In many universities, the study of Native-American literature and culture is an important part of the curriculum.

Media Adaptations

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Although ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds’’ has not been adapted to a multimedia version, the videotape Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems (1979) offers readings from Silko's works and the author's commentary on Pueblo culture in Laguna, New Mexico.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Danielson, Linda L., ‘‘Storyteller: Grandmother Spider's Web,’’ in Journal of the Southwest, Vol. 30, No. 3, Autumn, 1988, pp. 325-55.

Krupet, Arnold, ‘‘The Dialogic of Silko's Storyteller,’’ in Narrative Chance, edited by Gerald Vizenor, University of New Mexico, 1989, pp. 55-68.

Ruoff, A. LaVonne, ‘‘Ritual and Renewal: Keres Traditions in the Short Fiction of Leslie Silko,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 5, No. 4, Winter, 1978, pp. 2-17.

Seyersted, Per, Leslie Marmon Silko, Boise State University, 1980.

Silko, Leslie Marmon, Ceremony,/i>, New York: Viking Press, 1977.

----Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Further Reading
Danielson, Linda L., ‘‘Storyteller: Grandmother Spider's Web,’’ in Journal of the Southwest, Vol. 30, No. 3, Autumn, 1988, pp. 325-55.
An interpretation of Silko's ‘‘The Man to Send Rainclouds,’’ particularly with regard to themes of creativity and community, analyzed from a feminist perspective.

Ruoff, A. LaVonne, ‘‘Ritual and Renewal: Keres Traditions in the Short Fiction of Leslie Silko,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 5, No. 4, Winter, 1978, pp. 2-17.
An analysis of the traditions at work in Silko's work, suggesting on pp. 2-5 that the story provides an example of the strength of tribal traditions through adaptability.

Seyersted, Per, Leslie Marmon Silko, Boise State University, 1980.
Addresses Silko's biography, and provides a brief history of the Pueblo people and an analysis of Silko's works, in particular a study of the theme of culture clash in ‘‘The Man to Send Rain Clouds’’ on pp. 15-18.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide