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. Father Paul refuses at first, but later decides to sprinkle holy water on the grave, honoring the Native American belief that the spirit must have plenty of water in its journey to the other world. The story reveals how clashes over differences in customs and tradition can be avoided through a combination of customs.
Appearances and Reality
”The Man to Send Rain Clouds” addresses the theme of appearances versus reality through the character of Father Paul. At one point excited and full of plans for his Native American parish, Father Paul finds the reality of working in an Indian parish very different from what he had expected. When Leon asks the priest to participate in the burial ceremony, Father Paul looks with tired, unseeing eyes at the “glossy missionary magazine. .. full of lepers and pagans” and refuses, but after a moment’s reflection he decides to go with Leon.
In “The Man to Send Rain Clouds,” Leon and Father Paul belong to different cultures, and there is the moment of confrontation when, at Teofilo’s burial service, Father Paul asks, “Why didn’t you tell me he [Teofilo] was dead? I could have brought the Last Rites anyway.” Leon replies, “It wasn’t necessary, Father.” The conflict is resolved with Father Paul agreeing to participate in an Indian ritual. Although it is not strictly a Christian burial, the dead man receives the blessings of both traditional and Christian cultures.
Related to the theme of custom and tradition in “The Man to Send Rain Clouds” is the theme of death, which is presented from a Native American perspective. Death is not an end, but part of a cycle wherein the spirit departs to return in time with rainstorms. As he finishes painting the dead face of Teofilo, Leon is not sad; instead he smiles and offers the conventional Pueblo prayer asking the dead man to send rain clouds.
Individual versus Community
Another theme in “The Man to Send Rain Clouds” is the struggle of the individual versus community. As the priest of a Native American parish, Father Paul must oversee the Catholics in his region. Yet after the old man dies, Leon does not inform the priest, though the rest of his parishioners have been informed. Father Paul is the last person to join his parishioners in the graveyard, and as he empties ajar of holy water on Teofilo’s grave he, in a small way, joins the Native American community.
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.