Over the last twenty years, the general development of scholarship about women’ s lives and art parallels an unprecedented flowering of creative writing by American Indian women. But in view of these parallel developments, American Indian women have shown little interest in the feminist movement, and conversely mainstream feminist scholarship has paid strikingly little attention to the writing of American Indian women.
Leslie Silko’s Storyteller (1981), a product of this literary florescence, has remained virtually undiscussed as a whole by critics of any stamp. With its emphasis on women tradition bearers, female deities, and its woman author’s personal perspective, Storyteller seems to ask for a feminist critical treatment….
Particularly applicable to Silko’s Storyteller are feminist critical strategies to reclaim as legitimate literary subjects, women’s experience and female mythic power. Sandra M. Gilbert sees this strategy as a matter of re-vision, seeing anew: ”When I say we must redo our history, therefore, I mean we must review, reimagine, rethink, rewrite, revise, and reinterpret the events and documents that constitute it.” [Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory, edited by Elaine Showalter, 1985].
Silko’s Storyteller represents just such a revision of the world from her vantage point as a Laguna Indian woman. In fact, understanding her re-vision and reinterpretation of personal and tribal memory leads us past the easy impulse to call Storyteller a collage, a family album, or pastiche, on into a conception of its unity and significance as a literary work. In seeing anew, Silko expresses a deeply unified view of the world, reclaiming as central to her craft the tribe, the significance of ordinary women’s and men’s lives, and the set of values arising from the female power of the primary Keresan deities….
Silko presents a highly personal view of tribal ways and at the same time a tribal slant on her personal memories, richly fed by the foremothers and forefathers whose words inspire Storyteller. Through the book she reclaims both personal and tribal traditions about men and women, animals and holy people, community and creativity….
“The Man to Send Rain Clouds” returns to themes of creativity and community. In accordance with Keres tradition, Old Teofilo, even in death, is still a valued member of the community, for the people are looking to him to send them big thunderclouds. There is seriousness and ceremony, but no sorrow at his death. He is not lost, just redefined within the community as a Kat’sina spirit associated with the cloud beings who bring rain.
[A. La Vonne] Ruoff observes that the strength of Indian tradition for Silko is not in rigid adherence to old ways, but in creative incorporation of new elements [MELUS, 5, 4, Winter, 1978]. In “The Man to Send Rainclouds,” modern Indian people not only create new ritual, but offer community to an outsider. The gift of water for the old man’ s spirit comes from the Catholic priest whom Leon induces to participate in the funeral, on Indian terms. But the priest remains an outsider, suspicious of “some perverse Indian trick—something they did in March to insure a good harvest”. Nonetheless, his action brings him to the edge of the community: “He sprinkled the grave and the water disappeared almost before it touched the dim, cold sand; it reminded him of something—he tried to remember what it was, because he thought if he could remember he might understand this.” The flexibility that can find needed ritual power and extend the hand of community to the outsider assures the continuance of life, like water and thunderclouds.
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.
Linda L. Danielson, “Storyteller: Grandmother Spider’s Web,” in Journal of the Southwest, Vol. 30, No. 3, Autumn, 1988, pp. 325-55.