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.’’
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 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...
(The entire section is 1,484 words.)