21 January 2010
Critical Analysis of The Man to Send Rain Clouds
In the short story The Man to Send Rain Clouds by Leslie Marmon Silko, the traditional Laguna Native American burial ritual is questioned by the meddling Catholic Church when an older man in the village, Teofilo, passes away. As part of the traditional ritual, the deceased have a feather tied in their hair, have their face painted with four colors, are wrapped in a red blanket, and are buried with corn meal and water sprinkled around their grave. All of these parts of the traditional ritual, including the specific colors used to paint the face, are symbolic of certain beliefs in the Laguna culture.
First of all, feathers are a very symbolic item in many Native American cultures and are particularly symbolic of the spirit world according to Ava Venefica. Ms. Venefica also states that they symbolize ascension and strength and are worn by chiefs to show their ability to communicate with the spirit and their celestial wisdom. In the story, old Teofilo has a feather tied in his hair so that he is able to have flight within the spirit world (“Native American Symbols”), and be able to travel to his destination- the clouds.
The placement of the feather is also important. The feather is tied into his hair, which is the most freely flowing part of the human body. The hair could very well be representing his spirit because of its ability to flow freely in the wind just like the human spirit.
The four colors that are painted on his face and where they are painted on are all symbolic in the Laguna culture as well. His face is painted so that he can be recognized once he reaches the spirit world. Each color represents an aspect in nature and shows the Laguna culture’s closeness to the natural world (dymatsuoka). The colors themselves also have meaning behind them and are symbolic of various traits. There is even symbolism behind the placement of the color on his face.
The first color that is painted on his face is white. White to the Laguna people symbolizes the snow on the tops of the mountains (dymatsuoka). In nature, white is also the color of clouds, which to the Laguna culture are very important. White is also a representative color of birth (Sutton). If birth is the true meaning behind the color, it would not necessarily refer to a literal birth, but rather a figurative rebirth into the spirit world.
The color white symbolically is the color of light, goodness and purity (“Color Meaning”), three traits that would show the goodness of a person when they reach the spirit world. Having his color on their face may show the gods what traits they possess when they arrive in the spirit realm. Light, goodness and purity are three traits that can be associated with birth as well. When a child is born, they are not corrupted or tempted by sin right away and are “pure”. This association also supports the fact that white represents the rebirth into the spirit world.
The color white is placed on Teofilo’s forehead which may also be symbolic. The symbolism in this could be the fact that the forehead is the highest point on the head and the color is playing off that fact. With white representing either clouds or snow, it supports this argument because clouds are high in the sky and snow is on the tops of the mountains. This may also be why it is placed on the top of the head as well as why it is painted above the blue. Also, the white being on the highest point on the face is the closest color to the sky. It could also be representing the fact that rebirth is of higher value than all other attributes of the death ritual because the white paint is placed higher than any other color. The next color, blue, represents the high blue mountains in the Lagunas’ natural world (dymatsuoka). According to Richard Sutton, blue can represent the color of the winter sky or the North, the direction from which the cold comes. With the...