584: Weekly Position Paper #7: Cosmopolitanism in “The Man to Send Rain Clouds”

Leslie Marmon Silko’s “The Man to Send Rain Clouds” (182-186) is the story of how Leon and Ken found Teofilo dead under a cottonwood tree and Teofilo’s subsequent burial. When Leon and Ken first encounter Father Paul in the story, they do not tell him of Teofilo’s death, but later Leon goes to the priest to ask for holy water so that Teofilo is not thirsty in death and could bring them rain. The priest is disappointed they hadn’t told him Teofilo was dead and at first refuses them the holy water, because he wanted to give Teofilo his Last Rites and hold a funeral Mass. However, the priest acquiesces and sprinkles holy water on the body. Leon is happy for this, because now Teofilo, in death, can bring them thunderstorms.

This particular story exemplifies, I believe, Appiah’s ideal of cosmopolitan agreement on particulars. In our reading last week, Appiah claims that “we often don’t need robust theoretical agreement in order to secure shared practices” (256), but instead find common ground through narratives and particulars (257). Appiah writes that principles or theories aren’t what bring a missionary doctor and a distressed mother together at the bedside of a sick child; instead, they are both brought there by their common care or concern for this particular child (256). I believe we see a similar situation in “The Man to Send Rain Clouds.” Leon’s family and Father Paul have quite different principles in regards to death. Paul believes that one must be given Last Rites and a proper Mass in order to ascend to Heaven as a Christian. Leon and his family, however, believe that Teofilo’s face should be painted and he should be buried with water in order to bring them rain. Unlike Leon, Father Paul would probably never agree that these rites would bring them rain. At the level of principle, these two parties are in complete disagreement.

However, they are brought to common ground by the particulars of the situation. It is apparent in the story that Father Paul cares for Teofilo—he asks for Leon to bring him to church on Sunday. While Paul’s motivations for attending to Teofilo’s body with the holy water aren’t made apparent in the story, I speculate that he does so not necessarily because he believes it is the proper Christian thing to do, but because he cares for and respects Teofilo. The use of holy water in this instance has two vastly different significations and values in the story, yet it is the particulars that bring Leon’s family and the priest together.

Where else in Silko’s text do we see this sort of potential for connections across difference?

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