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Friday, April 13, 2012

THE RAIN gOD

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Intertwining of Life and Death


The Rain God is the story of families, friendships, and betrayal along the El Paso/Juárez border. Set in a fictional small town on the Texas-Mexico border, it tells the funny, sad and quietly outrageous saga of the children and grandchildren of Mama Chona the strong matriarch of the Angel clan who fled the revolution for a gringo land of promise. In The Rain God, the idea of love and death are intertwined and give a dark yet accurate description of the tones of the novel. Each main character is faced with death at some point in their lives and in a specific way, but the desert always seems to dominate as the symbol of death. Miguel Chico is taught early on that death and love are inseparable, Felix dies for love, and Mama Chona is the symbol of life and death.


Miguel Chico is from a border town and unlike the others in the family, he excels in school despite various obstacles including his own family. Early on, Miguel Chico is confronted with the issues of religion. He moves away from the desert which is symbolic of his moving away from Christianity, in the same way that Maria moved away after she renounced Christianity. The semi-autobiographical character is also haunted by his own mortality and the death that surrounds him. After many years of dealing with the dead, and trying to leave the desert to escape the death and his culture that surrounds him, Miguel Chico has learned to face it when he comes to terms with his own mortality. He has had a circle of traumatic events of his childhood and it begins from Miguel Chico’s near-death experience with his sickness and with the loss of innocence close together at the beginning of the novel. The first chapter of The Rain God contains much desert imagery that signifies Miguel Chicos first taste of death. The title Judgment Day indicates immediately the importance of death in this chapter and sets the scene for the novel as a whole. The symbolism of the desert is obvious here when Miguel Chico visits the cemetery to see the graves of loved ones. He is afraid of what will happen to the loved ones that were with him then, he did not want them to die if it meant they would become stones in the desert (Islas 10). He is also told by adults that “who loved him” was in this cemetery. Then, he realizes that many people loved him “living and dead”. This is the example of the entangled relationship of Miguel Chico with death and life. It is also at that point that he begins to associate the desert with death, his childish mind not fully understanding the complexity and the significance of either one. He also understands the power his grandmother Mama Chona has had over him and how she has taught him to suffer and. if necessary, to die (Islas 7).


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Mama Chona is a powerful and uniting figure in the novel. She teaches Miguel Chico how to behave and many other things as well. Her death at the end of the novel is especially significant because she is the giver of life to nearly all of the people in the novel. She may be in a way, the Rain God itself, and she may realize her godlike state when she sees the dead family members at her bedside, and the power she has had over all of them. Her last moment are spent in between life (with JoEl, Miguel Chico, Mema,..) and death (with Felix and her husband). Mama Chona even claims that her children were immaculately conceived children of Jesus. The irony of Mama Chonas conscious identification with Christian gods and unconscious identification with Indian gods tears at her until her death and delirium. Her death is interesting as she seemingly tries to take away life by holding tight to Miguel Chico’s hadn. Maybe she wished to take away the life she has given. She may have also realized what power she has the power to create life, to shape the lives of her grandchildren and to lead the lives of her children. Once again the rain and desert are united at the death of Mama Chona, she describes Felix as “He smelled like the desert after a rainstorm”. She is finally reunited with the loved ones that the desert has taken away from her. She will be reunited through her own death with her beloved son, the first Miguel Angel. This shows how death can bring loved ones together as well as tear them apart. The desert is a place to long for. She also will be with her son Felix, who is another powerful image in the novel.


Felix is one of the most important characters in the novel. He is the kindest, gentlest, and most loving, but he is brutally murdered in the desert. During Felixs horrific death, he is in the desert and when he dies, “The desert exhaled as he sank into the water” (Islas 18). Once again, we cannot separate love and death. When Felix was younger, he danced on the roof of their house during storms as a young boy, while everyone else in the house feared the rain. He was warned that he would be struck by lightning when dancing in the rain and to this he replied, Good. I’ll die dancing.(p. 114) The following line “Felix and the young soldier had met in a bar..” hints at the symbolism used by Islas as he describes Felix dancing as representing Felix’s sexual advances toward the young men at the bar. In other words, he acknowledged death as he picked up the soldier and took him into the desert, showing again how love and death were one and the same. Even as Felix was being beaten, he was not angry with the youth and still thought of him as beautiful.


The symbol of the desert is the most powerful and prominent in the novel. It is paired with the rain, to create an atmosphere of balance. Water is also present with its twin the desert during the death of young Antony, who drowns himself. Through his experience with death, love, the desert, and rain, Miguel Chico is able to come to terms with his own life and death and the lives and deaths of the people that surround him. He is tormented throughout his life by death, but deals with it as everyone must do eventually.





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