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 . . . Read More
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 cottonwood tree stood apart from a small grove of winterbare 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 . . . Read More
In her short story “The Man to Send Rain Clouds,” Silko perceives creativity as a source of strength for Native Americans, a theme that recurs in her later works. In particular, Leon’s strength lies in his ability to creatively combine Indian rituals with Catholic rituals. He does not strictly follow the Indian ways, but adds a new element by asking the Catholic priest to sprinkle holy water on Teofilo’s grave. Throughout the story, Silko emphasizes that the strength of Pueblo traditions lies in their ability to incorporate alien elements into their own way of life.
Custom and Tradition
Silko’s story is concerned with the strength of the customs and traditions of the Native Americans, and how to resolve a conflict between Native American customs and Christian customs. Leon asks the Catholic priest to participate in the community’s Indian rites. . . . Read More
Ken is the brother-in-law of Leon and a minor character in the story. Like old Teofilo and Leon, he also believes in following Indian ways, and he helps his brother-in-law any way he can.
Leon is Teofilo’s grandson. He manages to integrate American Indian ways and Christian ways; he is a Christian who still respects his roots and cultural heritage. He smiles as he paints his dead grandfather’s face according to the Native American custom and believes that the old man’s spirit will bring rain. He is a man of few words and has a calm, strong sense of dignity. After finding Teofilo’s body, Leon does not talk about it. At home, Leon informs his family of Teofilo’s death with few words. The fact that he is able to persuade the priest to sprinkle holy water at the grave site with a few well-chosen words—without . . . Read More
‘’The Man to Send Rain Clouds” is set on an Indian reservation in the American Southwest, with its wide mesas (plateaus) and arroyos (ravines). As the story opens, Leon and his brother-in-law, Ken, find an old man, Teofilo, dead under a cottonwood tree. They ritually paint his face and take his body, wrapped in a red blanket, to their home for a traditional Pueblo funeral ceremony. (The Pueblo people paint the faces of the dead so that they 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. To the Pueblo, death is not the end of existence, but part of a cycle in which the spirit of the deceased returns to its source and then helps the community of the living by returning with rain clouds for the nourishment of the earth.)
On their way home, Leon and Ken encounter Father Paul, a young Catholic priest who expresses his sorrow that the old man had died . . . Read More
Publishing “The Magic Barrel” in 1954, Bernard Malamud was at the beginning of his career, and near the beginning of a brief and remarkable period in the history of Jewish-American writing. For perhaps a decade, from the mid-1950s to the mid1960s, the American literary imagination seemed to have been captured by a series of books by and about Jews. In 1953 Saul Bellow published The Adventures of Augie March, a story of tragicomic misadventures set in Chicago’s Jewish immigrant milieu. In 1957 Malamud brought out his second novel, The Assistant, the tale of an impoverished Brooklyn grocer who becomes a kind of Jewish every man. 1959 saw the literary debut of Philip Roth, whose Goodbye, Columbus was the account of a doomed love affair between two Jewish young people divided by social class.
Goodbye Columbus won the prestigious National Book Award for fiction in 1960, as Bellow’s Augie March had done in 1954, and as Malamud’s collection of . . . Read More
Malamud’s “The Magic Barrel” was first published by the Partisan Review in 1954 and reprinted as the title story in Malamud’s first volume of short fiction in 1958. The period between those two dates was an eventful time in American history. In 1954 the United States Supreme Court unanimously rejected the concept of segregation in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, which found that the practice of maintaining separate classrooms or separate schools for black and white students was unconstitutional.
In the same year Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured by the Senate for having unjustly accused hundreds of Americans of being communists. In 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite to successfully orbit the earth, sparking concern that the Soviets would take control of space.
While the text of ”The Magic Barrel” is almost entirely free of topical or historical references that might allow readers to . . . Read More
Point of View
Point of view is a term that describes who tells a story, or through whose eyes we see the events of a narrative. The point of view in Malamud’s “The Magic Barrel” is third person limited. In the third person limited point of view, the narrator is not a character in the story, but someone outside of it who refers to the characters as “he,” “she,” and “they.” This outside narrator, however, is not omniscient, but is limited to the perceptions of one of the characters in the story. The narrator of the story views the events of the story through the eyes of Leo Finkle even though it is not Leo telling the story.
Symbolism is a literary device that uses an action, a person, a thing, or an image to stand for something else. In Malamud’s ”The Magic Barrel” the coming of spring plays an important symbolic . . . Read More
Malamud’s Leo Finkle is a character trying to figure out who he really is. Having spent the last six years of his life deep in study for ordination as a rabbi, he is an isolated and passionless man, disconnected from human emotion. When Lily Hirschorn asks him how he came to discover his calling as a rabbi, Leo responds with embarrassment: ”I am not a talented religious person…. I think … that I came to God, not because I loved him, but because I did not.” In other words, Leo hopes that by becoming a rabbi he might learn to love himself and the people around him. Leo is in despair after his conversation with Lily because “.. .he saw himself for the first time as he truly was—unloved and loveless.”
As he realizes the truth about himself, he becomes desperate to change. Leo determines to reform himself and renew his life. Leo continues to search for a bride, but without the . . . Read More
Leo Finkle has spent the last six years studying to become a rabbi at New York’s Yeshivah University. Because he believes that he will have a better chance of getting employment with a congregation if he is married, Leo consults a professional matchmaker. Leo is a cold person; he comes to realize that ”he did not love God so well as he might, because he had not loved man.” When Finkle falls in love with Salzman’s daughter, Stella, the rabbinical student must confront his own emotional failings.
Lily Hirschorn is introduced to Leo Finkle, the rabbinical student, by Pinye Salzman, the matchmaker. She is a schoolteacher, comes from a good family, converses on many topics, and Leo considers her “not unpretty.” It soon becomes clear, however, that the match between them will not work.
Leo consults . . . Read More