Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In 1969, Leslie Marmon Silko’s first story, “The Man to Send Rain Clouds,” appeared in New Mexico Quarterly, and it was used as the title story of an anthology of Indian poetry edited by Kenneth Rosen in 1974. Silko is half Laguna Indian, and this piece signaled the beginning of her efforts (through her poetry and stories) to put Old Laguna on the map as a source of age-old materials. “This place I am from is everything I am as a writer and human being,” she says. Laguna represents a life, a history, a liturgical culture that in her mind America should not ignore— even though it has been Christianized and many of the old ways forgotten or changed.

The Lagunas are Pueblo Indians for whom space and cyclic time are much more important than linear time and the progressive conquering of place. Such perspectives are evident in Silko’s first book of poetry, Laguna Woman (1974). Here she expresses in meditative as well as humorous ways her reverence for the land and all things living on it. For her the earth is the mother of all, a “sister spirit” that permeates all life—plant, animal, and human. “There was a time,” she says, “long long ago, when animals and humans talked to each other. . . .” This collection also includes reflections on the ways men have abused women, just as they have often mistreated the land.

In connection with America’s bicentennial in 1976, Silko published her first novel, Ceremony (1977), which draws on a great body of Laguna myth on “the relationship of man’s health and behavior to the fertility of his land.” Though about a man, Tayo, returning from World War II to his native New Mexico, the novel really depicts a person who has lost his center of being because he is separated...

(The entire section is 728 words.)

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Although it includes materials from many different literary genres—poetry, short story, myth, memoir, and biography—Storyteller viewed in its entirety is essentially an autobiography, a portrait, as its title makes explicit, of the artist as a young storyteller. In addition to the literary materials, interspersed throughout are photographs of Leslie Marmon Silko and her family and of various scenes in and around her childhood home, Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico. What unifies these diverse materials is the pervasive focus on Silko’s development as an artist, on the familial and cultural factors that shaped her conception of herself as a writer—or, as she prefers to think of herself, a storyteller—working in the tradition of oral storytelling as it was practiced from the earliest times among the Laguna people and concentrating, though not exclusively, on female experience in both the autobiographical and the fictional parts of the book.

The biographical sections, mostly concerning relatives who told Silko stories when she was a child, and the autobiographical sections, mostly concerning experiences related to the stories, are scattered throughout the book and function as introductions to and links between the stories, poems, and Laguna myths that make up the bulk of the book. Some critics have been troubled by what they have seen as a lack of originality in Storyteller since much of this latter material had already been published elsewhere: many of the poems in Laguna Woman (1974), many of the short stories in a collection edited by Kenneth Rosen entitled The Man to Send Rain Clouds (1974), and many of the Laguna myths in Silko’s novel Ceremony (1977). Silko’s defenders have pointed out, however, that this “retelling” is perfectly consistent with and indeed necessary to Silko’s concept of storytelling. In the oral tradition, which Silko is attempting to adapt to the circumstances of a literate culture, storytellers have a repertoire of tales that they tell over and over again. Indeed, Silko believes that one of the beauties of the oral tradition is that every time a story is retold, even if repeated word for word by the...

(The entire section is 895 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Silko is one of the best-known and most highly acclaimed American Indian writers. She has received many awards for her work, including the so-called genius prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, in 1981. One of her greatest strengths as a writer is her ability to portray not only female but also male experience realistically and convincingly. She believes that at the deepest levels of human consciousness, men and women are the same, and she has attributed her success in portraying male experience to the fact that in the Laguna culture boys and girls are not segregated as they are in white American society. Consequently, when growing up she was able to observe both male and female experience equally.

As Silko has also pointed out, however, traditional Laguna society is matriarchal, and she grew up in the midst of a group of strong-minded, intelligent, and hard-working women—such as her Aunt Susie, her Grandma A’mooh (Marie Anaya Marmon), and her Grandma Lillie (Francesca Stagner)—and in a community in which the homes are considered the property of the women and in which the women do much of what white American society would consider man’s work. The matriarchal nature of Laguna culture is reflected in its concept of the deities, the most important of which are female. Corn Woman and Spider Woman figure prominently in the traditional stories that are incorporated in Storyteller. Thus, Silko is important in the history of women’s literature not only because she is the first American Indian woman to achieve considerable recognition as a writer but also because her work embodies the matriarchal consciousness of Laguna culture and presents with great accuracy, realism, and psychological insight the experiences of both genders within that culture.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Native American Rights Movements
It is difficult to conceive of this country's society and culture before the 1960s, yet the...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

The most prevalent image in this story is that of landscape losing its boundaries. The girl and the old man await,...

(The entire section is 650 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1970s: Affirmative action programs, designed to enhance the employment and educational opportunities of ethnic minorities and women,...

(The entire section is 247 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

There are, occasionally, unrealistic details in this short story (for example, at the story's beginning, the young woman is certain that the...

(The entire section is 181 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

The Man to Send Rain Clouds: Contemporary Stories by American Indians (1974), is an early short story collection of the Native...

(The entire section is 211 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Jaskoski, Helen, "To Tell a Good Story,'' an essay in Leslie Marmon Silko: A Collection of Critical Essays,...

(The entire section is 318 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Booklist. LXXVII, July 15, 1981, p. 1431.

Graulich, Melody, ed. “Yellow Woman”: Leslie Marmon Silko. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1993. Includes an excellent introduction by Graulich setting Storyteller in its cultural, biographical, and critical contexts. Also includes essays dealing with Storyteller by Linda Danielson, Patricia Jones, Bernard A. Hirsch, and Arnold Krupat.

Library Journal. CVI, May 1, 1981, p. 987.

Ms. X, July, 1981, p. 89.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI, May 24, 1981,...

(The entire section is 318 words.)