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 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 church’s “twin bells from the King of Spain” is important as it points to the history of the Pueblo’s initial encounter with Christianity. In 1598, when the Pueblo swore allegiance to the king of Spain, Catholic missionaries arrived to convert Native Americans to Catholicism. Although Christianity was forced on them, the Indians continued to observe their traditional religious practices.
In this story, Silko uses humor as a double-edged tool. The encounter between the young priest, who is denied the opportunity to perform Catholic rites, and Leon, who insists that such rites are not necessary, is humorous. The exchange also provokes an awareness of intercultural conflict. One illustration of this is the following passage: “The priest approached the grave slowly…. He looked at the red blanket, not sure that Teofilo was so small, wondering if it wasn’t some perverse Indian trick— something they did in March to ensure a good harvest—wondering if maybe old Teofilo was actually at the sheep camp corralling the sheep for the night. But there he was, facing into a cold dry wind and squinting at the last sunlight, ready to bury a red wool blanket while the faces of his parishioners were in shadow with the last warmth of the sun on their backs.”
Irony is a literary device used to convey meaning to a phrase quite different than—in fact, often the direct opposite of—the literal one. Irony can be verbal or situational. Silko demonstrates a skillful use of irony in the story, notably in her depiction of the young priest, an authority figure who wants the Indians to follow Catholic ways but, in the end, himself uses holy water as part of a traditional Indian ceremony, participating in a non-Christian ceremony.
Skillful use of adjectives and attention to detail are the hallmarks of Silko’s descriptions. For instance, in ”The Man to Send Rain Clouds” she uses such expressions as “wide, sandy arroyo,” “low, crumbling wall,” “brown, wrinkled forehead” and ”He squinted up at the sun and unzipped his jacket” to enhance the beauty of her narrative.
Silko employs an interesting mixture of narration and dialogue. The dialogues between Leon and Father Paul, and between Leon and Louise, present the characters to the readers directly. Readers are able to draw their own conclusions as to the characters’ respective natures and motivations.
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.