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.”
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, Leslie Marmon Silko, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.