Contemporary Literary Criticism



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Title: Rulfo's Aesthetic Nihilism: Narrative Antecedents of Pedro Ṕramo

Author(s): Lanin A. Gyurko

Publication Details: Hispanic Review 40.4 (Autumn 1972): p451-466.

Source: Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. James P. Draper and Jennifer Allison Brostrom. Vol. 80. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994. From Literature Resource Center.

Document Type: Critical essay

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1994 Gale Research, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning

[In the following essay, Gyurko examines ways in which the structure and themes of Pedro Páramowere prefigured by Rulfo's earlier stories, later collected in El llano en llamas.]

The fictional world of the contemporary Mexican author Juan Rulfo is one of reduction and denial. Character is stripped of external appearance and splintered into existential shards; plot is inconsequential or nonexistent; action decelerates into stasis. Narrative continuity is fragmented into bits of dialogue and truncated memories. Structural disintegration reflects the physical and moral dissolution of the universe. Man is reduced to a voice and sometimes to a mere echo.

The most profound expression of Rulfo's nihilism is his first and only novel to date, Pedro Páramo, which depicts a nightmare of suffering founded upon the violent existence of a Mexican cacique. The somber vision of the novel is prefigured in the author's collection of short stories, El llano en llamas. Three stories in particular presage the hellworld of Comala: “Macario,” “El hombre,” and “Luvina.” The pathetic idiot boy Macario creates within his conscience a psychic purgatory that adumbrates the world of lost souls in Pedro Páramo. Narrative devices in “El hombre,” including the rupture of chronological sequence through flashbacks and premonitions, rapid alternations in point of view, and the juxtaposition of strips of interior monologue from various consciousnesses, prefigure the intricate structural techniques of the novel. The town of Luvina with its muted, stagnant life anticipates the ghost town of Comala. In both short stories and novel the frequent use of first-person narrative underscores the solipsistic nature of Rulfo's universe. Characters are unable to sustain meaningful relationships with one another; they retreat into private worlds of revery and fantasy.

In “Macario,” the reader is plunged into the disturbed mind of the protagonist, who is stationed near a drainpipe waiting to kill the frogs whose crossing disturbs the sleep of his godmother. Throughout the story there is no external action. Macario remains silent and inert, seemingly suspended in time. The entire drama is played out on the stage of his psyche. The object of the narrative is to evoke a mood of helplessness and fear, as the idiot sits trapped within his stricken consequence. His thinking is graphic, simplistic, and reiterative. Mental life is expressed in short spurts of thought, often cevora of logic. The result is weird and startling:

Las ranas son verdes de todo a todo, menos en lapanza Los sapos son negros. También los ojos de mi mednza son negros.

Macario's primitive mind blends the animal with the human. The effect is to cast the shadow of grotesqueness on his exploitative grandmother, who is dehumanized by being juxtaposed with a road. The old woman implants within the idiot's conscience the spectre of condemnation to hell for crimes he is not even sure he has committee. In order to bind Macario in a servile relationship, the god-mother plays upon his superstitious simplemindedness, which blows up her threats into an obsessive vision of suffering:

Y entonces le pedirá, a alguno de toda la huera cesantos que tiene en su cuarto, que mande a los enables por mí, para que me lleven a rastras a la condemacica eterna ...

Like most of Rulfo's characters, Macario is conscious of the futility of his efforts to satisfy has dresses. The sole figure to provide him with comfort and consolation is Felipa, the servant girl, who shares her food with him and even gives him the milk of her breast:

Por eso quiero yo a Felipa, porque yo siempre tengo hambrey no me lleno nunca, ni aun comiéndome la comida de ella. Aunque diga uno que se llena comiendo, yo sé bien que no me lleno por más que coma todo lo que me den.

Through his insatiable consumption of food Macario attempts to alleviate not only a physical hunger but a spiritual one as well. Afflicted by a gnawing sense of guilt, he looks to the prayers of Felipa as his only means of salvation. But the relief that the memory of the girl affords him is soon replaced by a feeling of dread based on the certainty of his damnation.

Like Macario, the characters of Pedro Páramo cling to the fragile illusion of redemption. Throughout their lives the inhabitants of Comala are condemned to a purgatorial existence in a land that has been poisoned by Páramo's greed and hate. Death does not bring an end to their suffering but only an extension of it. From beyond the grave they continue to be afflicted by the tantalizing vision of a paradise from which they are forever excluded.

The inferno of Comala with its swarm of guilt-ridden consciousness is foreshadowed by the bizarre, ominous world of Macario, who refuses to light a torch for fear that his sins will discover him. The death-in-life anguish of the idiot boy presages the life-in-death agony of the souls in Comala. Like the bodies confined to their tombs, Macario is forced to dwell in a fixed space. His survival is constantly threatened by the stonings and beatings of the villagers, who drove him from the street into his darkened hovel. But solitude, instead of providing a refuge, only exacerbates his torment. External persecution is replaced by mental self-torture.

The idiot's life of quiet desperation, his helplessness before forces that he can neither comprehend nor subdue, and his almost total estrangement from the outside world, are intensified through the form of his narrative, a first-person direct interior monologue that focuses on the inner self. Macario struggles vainly to ward off a fate that pursues him through an assault on his conscience. Ironically, the destiny he fears so much is self-exacerbated. The idiot boy creates within himself the hell of existence that he fervently hopes to avoid. His character has become his fate. The same self-perpetuated psychic hellworld characterizes Pedro Páramo and Susana San Juan, both victims of their own obsessive fantasies. Comala, on one level a ghost town of deserted streets and abandoned houses, is, for the spirits that are doomed to haunt it, a tortured state of mind. Hell for Rulfo is not a flaming world of external punishment but an inner world of mental anguish.

As an impotent figure—a mere congeries of psychic states—Macario foreshadows the listless form of the aged Pedro Páramo, who after the death of Susana abandons his empire, worthless to him after the person for whom he has constructed it is irrevocably lost. The once aggressive and powerful cacique now subordinates himself entirely to the memory of Susana. Oblivious to external reality, he attempts to restore his lost love through the only mode now left to him—the psychic realm of memory and imagination. In their brooding passivity and suffering, the decrepit Páramo and the idiot Macario are one. At the end of his narrative, the thoughts of the boy circle back to the lyric memory of Felipa, just as the mind of the cacique, like a needle on a broken record, obsessively reiterates the theme of Susana San Juan.

In both short story and novel, time as chronological progression dissolves into temporal nullity. Just as the boundaries between the animal and the human, the concrete and the abstract, are all blurred for Macario, so also are past and present jumbled together within his defective consciousness. Events seem to occur in an extended present. Experience is presented as isolated fragments of the past, hazily recalled, free-floating within his psyche:

Sin embargo, lo de tener la cabeza así de dura es la gran cosa. Uno da de topes contra los pilares del corredor horas enteras y la cabeza no se hace nada, aguanta sin quebrantarse. Y uno da de topes contra del suelo, primero despacito, después más recio y aquello suena como un tambor. Igual que el tambor que anda con la chirimí cuando viene la chirimía a la función del Señor. Y entonces uno está en la iglesia, amarrado a la madrina, oyendo afuera el tum tum del tambor...

The associational flux of his consciousness finds a parallel in the chaotic narrative movement of Pedro Páramo. The welter of images within the idiot's monologue becomes translated in the novel into a bewildering succession of characters and incidents. Structurally, the novel is fragmented into sixty-five segments. Temporally, there is an oscillating movement, from the eternal present of the tomb to the remote and recent past of Pedro Páramo. Time, place, narrative perspective, and style are all changed abruptly and repeatedly to portray a noncausal universe. The art of Rulfo consists of a deliberate and masterful construction of a world in chaos.

In order to make the meanderings of Macario's consciousness meaningful to the reader, Rulfo unifies the dislocated images through adherence to a single point of view. Every image serves to reveal the psychic identity of the protagonist. Even though point of view in Pedro Páramo is constantly shifting, the narrative fragments are unified through the dominant presence of the cacique. During Páramo's life his shadow falls over the whole of Comala; after his death he lives on as an indelible memory in the psychic remnants of those whom he has victimized or who suffer guilt for having collaborated with him.

Condensation, understatement, and allusion are hallmarks of Rulfo's art. Beneath the images of Macario's narrative lie worlds of unexplained sordidness and suffering. He remarks that Felipa will soon go to heaven, but the statement is left unelaborated. He later makes a single brief reference to his parents in purgatory. The image is sufficient to conjure up a universe of hereditary sin. Likewise the narrative of Juan Preciado evokes myriad histories of unredeemed sinners like the suicide Eduviges Dyada, the incestuous couple Donis and his sister, and the procuress Dorotea.

A structural and thematic prefiguration of the novel is found in “El hombre,” a story of relentless pursuit and blood vengeance in which reality is portrayed in shifting panels of objective and psychic narrative. Surface action, that depicts the tracking down and slaying of Jose Alcancía by Urquidi to avenge the murder of his family, is underlaid by another pursuit—the assault of guilt and remorse upon the consciences of both hunter and hunted. “El hombre” is related from multiple perspectives, including the first-person direct interior monologues of Alcancía and Urquidi, third-person omniscient author portrayal of setting and surface action, and the first-person narrative of the shepherd, an author-witness whose recounting before a tribunal of the death of Alcancía completes the story. All three perspectives are united thematically through their focus on the controlling incident—the treacherous slaughter in cold blood of Urquidi's innocent family.

Although the outcome of the pursuit is foreshadowed from the beginning, dramatic tension is maintained through constant shifting in time and point of view. Time oscillates between present and past. The initial paragraph describes the flight of Alcancía away from the scene of his crime. In the second paragraph, point of view shifts to the monologue of Urquidi, also in the narrative present. But in the three ensuing paragraphs time is past. The omniscient author flashes back to concentrate on the steps of Alcancía as he approaches Urquidi's house, resolved to kill the man who has slain his brother:

El hombre caminó...deteniéndose en cada horizonte para medir su fin: “No el mio, sino el de él”, dijo.

The monologue of Alcancía is italicized, to distinguish it from the thoughts of Urquidi. This technique and the use of the epithetic phrases “el hombre” for Alcancía and “el que lo seguía,” “el que lo perseguía,” and “el perseguidor” for Urquidi, are the only devices used to mark changes in point of view. Just as the name of Juan Preciado is not made known until well within his narrative, that of José Alcancía is not mentioned until halfway through the story, when he is mentally addressed by his pursuer. Urquidi's name is also revealed indirectly, through the testimony of the shepherd: “Dice usted que mató a toditita la familia de los Urquidi?” The points at which time shifts are not indicated by the omniscient author. The reader himself must piece together the temporal sequence from the antiphonal pattern of narrative structuring. From a focus on Alcancía as he steels himself for the murder, point of view shifts back to Urquidi who is tracking the fugitive. Time has changed once more; we are again in the narrative present. Chronological time is erased in order to present a simultaneity of experience. Details of Alcancía's grisly crime are evoked through flashbacks in the minds of both men. The slaughter of Urquidi's family is depicted not as an isolated and objectified part of the past, but as an everpresent reality within the conscience—a psychic wound incapable of healing.

Páramo's career of vengeance and exploitation, is also evoked in fragments of memory divorced from time as linear progression. Within the novel, several psychic narratives are projected in isolation, without introductory explanation by the omniscient author. The narrative of Preciado is interrupted by interpolations that depict the adolescence of Pedro Páramo. Dolores Preciado's impressions of Comala are presented as involuntary memories within the monologue of Juan. As in “El hombre,” italics are used to distinguish the recollections of Dolores from those of her son.

In both short story and novel, depth of character is achieved through the evocation of the principal figures from multiple points of view. The omniscient author in “El hombre” maintains a detached viewpoint that contrasts the external roles of hunter and hunted. Initial focus on the tracks made by the clambering feet of the fugitive reduces him to the status of a hunted animal. Alcancáa loses his identity; the hunter forces him to assume the role of the hunted. Causality is reversed; instead of the pursuer patterning his movements upon those of his prey, it is the victim who is inescapably bound to the will of the hunter. Alcancía himself recognizes the futility of his quest for self-preservation: “Camino camino y no ando nada.” His flight leads him into the trap that becomes his coffin.

In contrast to the objective narrative of the omniscient author is the testimony of the shepherd, who depicts the pursued man in a sympathetic light, not knowing at the time of his encounter with Alcancía that he is a murderer. The author-witness notes the emaciated appearance of the fugitive and is moved by the man's expression of concern for his family. Alcancía is also humanized through his first-person stream of consciousness narrative, that endows him with an inner dimension. Instead of a mere target of a hunter's bullet, he becomes a complex figure, with a range of feelings, from anxiety to defensive cynicism.

A similar contract between brutality and sensitivity is found in the life of Pedro Páramo. The dichotomy in the cacique's nature, like that within Alcancía, is conveyed through a variation in style, tone, and point of view. Omniscient-author narrative depicts Páramo as a ruthless despot. But interior monologue reveals an emotional sensibility of which his destructive acts and cynical speech give no inkling. The aged cacique recalls himself as a young boy imagining Susana or grieving over her absence:

El aire nos hacía reír; juntaba la mirada de nuestros ojos, mientras el hilo corría entre los dedos detrás del viento, hasta que se rompía con un leve crujido como si hubiera sido trozado por las alas de algún pájaro. Y allá arriba, el pájaro de papel caía en maromas arrastrando su cola de hilacho, perdiéndose en el verdor la tierra.

The relationship between Páramo and Susana is as tenuous as that between the kite and its string. In its flight heavenward, the kite represents the aspirations of Páramo, his striving toward the ideal. But Susana is as elusive as the fragile paper bird that slips from his grasp and is lost forever.

Within the novel psychic narrative is often suffused with a lyric quality. An intimate experience or emotion is made more intense by being converted into a poem. Through stream-of-consciousness soliloquy, Páramo's love for Susana is expressed with beauty and poignancy. In contrast to the hell of existence that he has fashioned for the inhabitants of Comala, the cacique creates a heaven around the memory of Susana.

Fue la última vez que te vi. Pasaste rozando con tu cuerpo las ramas del paráso que est´ en la vereda y te llevaste con tu aire sus últimas hojas. Luego desapareciste. Te dije, `¡Regresa, Susana!'

The interior monologue of the bereaved father Urquidi is also imbued with a lyric tone as he recalls the lost world of innocence and tranquility shared by his family on the night of their murder. Alcancía arrives at precisely the moment when the family is most trusting:

Debió llegar a eso de la una, cuando el sueño es; más pesado; cuando comienzan los sueños; después del `Descansen en paz', cuando se suelta la vida en manos de la noche y cuando el cansancio del cuerpo raspa las cuerdas de la desconfianza y las rompe.

The nocturnal blessing “Descansen en paz” acquires an ironic meaning. Instead of restful sleep it becomes the prelude to violent death.

The fatalism that marks Pedro Páramo has its dark roots in Rulfo's shorter narratives. Urquidi is endowed with an uncanny ability that enables him to predict the movements of his prey. The anonymity that Alcancía seeks is categorically denied him by the pursuer, who is converted into an instrument of implacable retribution. Although the panic-stricken fugitive remains totally absorbed within the self, the thoughts of Urquidi are calmly and calculatedly directed toward his victim. With morbid meticulousness the hunter determines the exact manner in which his quarry will die, a prediction later confirmed by the shepherd. From initial reference to Alcancía in the third person, Urquidi abruptly shifts to the second person of direct address, as he imagines the fugitive present before him. The effect is to negate time by merging present and future in dramatic anticipation of the confrontation:

Terminaré de subir por donde subió; después bajaré por donde bajó, rastreándole hasta cansarlo. Y donde yo me detenga, allí estará. Se arrodillará Y me pedirá perdón. Y yo le dejaré ir un balazo en la nuca...Eso sucederá cuando yo te encuentre.

For the hunted man, frantically seeking an escape route while it is still day, time is measured in agonizing moments. For the avenger, time is inconsequential. The destiny of his victim is irrevocable; the exact moment of retribution is unimportant. What perturbs Urquidi is the significance of his act. He does not kill in triumph or with satisfaction, but out of necessity. He must obey the rigorous code that demands the removal of the stain on his honor. But the death of Alcancía cannot compensate him for the loss of his family or mitigate his biting feelings of inadequacy. The memory of his dead son continues to afflict his conscience. The father reproaches himself for his inability to protect his family at the hour when they most need him.

Fatalism takes many forms in Rulfo's short stories. In “Nos han dado la tierra,” it is a political force against which the campesinos are powerless. Deprived of horses and rifles, their only means of defense, they are compelled to accept the wasteland that the government has given them to cultivate. In “Es que somos muy pobres” poverty and natural disasters like the flood that sweeps away the remnants of family livelihood make the young girl Tacha's recourse to prostitution inevitable. The genetic determinism found in “Macario” also is a factor in the sordid life of Urbano Gomez, the protagonist of “Acuérdate”: “Quizá entonces se volvió malo, o quizá ya era de nacimiento.” Heredity also plays a role at the end of “El llano en lamas,” when El Pichón, a revolutionary turned outlaw, is finally released from prison. He confronts the girl whom he had abducted years before and who now shames him into acknowledging the paternity of her child:

Y el muchacho se quitó el sombrero. Era igualito a mí y con algo de maldad en la mirada. Algo de eso tenia que haber sacado de su padre.

Oppressive fate weighs upon all the characters of Pedro Páramo. The impulsiveness and recalcitrance of the adolescent Pedro foreshadow his adult personality. His fate is ominously prophesied by his grandmother: “...Siento que te va a ir mal, Pedro Páramo”. The sins of the father are visited upon the cacique's off-spring. Fearful of the consequences of raising the illegitimate child who he believes carries the bad blood of the cacique, Rentería quickly relinquishes the infant after Páramo's surprising acknowledgment of paternity. The priest thereby forfeits the opportunity to exert a moral influence upon Miguel, and, ironically, fosters what he most hopes to avoid. Miguel later becomes the murderer of Rentería's brother and the seducer of his niece. Even the innocent Preciado cannot escape the consequences of his father's life. He becomes contaminated by the milasma of guilt and suffering that constitutes the cacique's only legacy to his son. The pall of fatalism hangs over Susana as well. From childhood her life is marred by misfortune. Exploited by her father, crushed by the death of her mother, she succumbs to permanent insanity upon the loss of her husband Florencio.

Together with adverse fate, the theme of unexpiated sin resounds throughout the whole of Rulfo's fictional universe. Susana San Juan, guilty of an incestuous relationship with her father, denies the possibility of salvation. She links herself with damnation and hell: ”—Y qué cress que es la vida, Justina, sino un pecado”?; “—Yo sólo creo en el infierno”. The woman who lives incestuously with her brother in Comala perceives her body as a sea of mud. Father Rentería feels guilty for truckling to the will of Páramo and for absolving the soul of Miguel not out of Christian charity but in return for the cacique's gold. The hypocritical priest later refuses absolution to the spirit of Eduviges Dyada, a suicide whose sister lacks the money to purchase her redemption. The most intense expression of guilt is found in Rulfo's short story “Talpa.” The protagonist hastens the death of his diseased brother Tanilo in order to facilitate his illicit relationship with Natalia, Tanilo's wife. Ironically, the death serves only to drive the lovers apart. Natalia feels closer to her husband after his death than during his life. Within his guilt-stricken conscience the narrator relives the pilgrimage to Talpa, the place to which Tanilo was dragged with the promise of salvation. Like Macario, the narrator's fate has become internalized. He sits alone, isolated within a past that he cannot escape.

Both Alcancía and Páramo are also haunted by the memory of their crimes. The steep, tortuous path that the hunted man follows is made still more difficult by the built that presses down upon him like an almost palpable burden. “`No debt matarlos a lodos—dijo el hombre—Al menos no a todos.'” Páramo too is troubled by the images of death, which surround him from adolescence—first that of his grandfather, then the accidental shooting of his father, and finally the myriad deaths of those upon whom he vents his desire to avenge the death of Lucas Páramo as well as his frustration over the loss of Susana. Just before the cacique receives notice of the death of his son Miguel, he has a premonitory vision. His conscience is flooded with the images of mangled corpses, all seeking vengeance. In the closing years of his life he is afraid not of dying but of the nightmares that continue to torment him. After the physical death of the cacique, his guilt-ridden conscience is externalized and perpetuated in the infernal realm of Comala.

The short story that most explicitly presages Pedro Páramo is “Luvina.” The anonymous narrator who recounts his journey to the town and his devitalization there foreshadows the figure of Juan Preciado, who from the tomb narrates the history of his descent to Comal in search of his father. Preciado's narrative seems to be a monologue. Not until it is almost concluded does I become apparent that he is engaged in a dialogue with Dorotea, one of the unredeemed souls of Comala. The narrative situation in “Luvina” is similar. Although ostensibly a dialogue between a man who has left Luvina and another unidentified person soon to make the journey there, the only voice we hear is that of the narrator whose compulsive monologue terminates only when he falls into a drunken stupor. The fate of the protagonist and most likely that of his listener as well is symbolized by that of the flying ants, which are attracted to the flame of the oil lamp that cripples them by scorching their wings.

The narrator of “Luvina” is drawn to the town by the same force that impels Preciado to Comala—the power of illusion. Although the former, unlike Preciado, succeeds in escaping physically from the town, he is drained of will, hope, and desire and reduced to an existential husk: “Allá viví. Allá dejéla vida...”. The muleteer who brings the newcomer and his family to Luvina then hastily departs “como si se alejara de algúr lugar endemoniado,” prefigures the mule driver Abundio who escorts Preciado down into Comala. The disorientation felt by the narrator upon being abandoned in the silent town is paralleled by the bewilderment of Preciado. who gradually loses his identity in a world of nonbeing:

Me sentí en un mundo ajeno y me dejé arrastrar. Mi cuerpo, que parecía aflojarse, se doblaba ante todo, había soltado sus amarras y cualquiera podía jugar conél como si fuera trapo.

In the limbo realm of Luvina, the pulse of human activity is faint. Social institutions have all but vanished. The ruined church, with its dismantled altar and its stations of the cross whipped by the wind, symbolizes by the spiritual desolateness of the town. The conversation between the narrator and his wife becomes a dialogue of absences: “—` Dónde está la fonda?—`No hay ninguna fonda.—`Y el mesón?—`No hay ningún mesón”. This reality of negation reaches its extreme in Comala, where Preciado knocks on a door that does not exist and is led into a furnitureless room by the spectral Eduviges.

The bleak reality of both towns is conveyed through simile, metaphor, personification, and hyperbole, figures of speech that grant a strange, poetic quality to the sites. They are removed from an earthly realm and suffused with a mythic aura. The swarm of black-robed women who glide like shadows through Luvina prefigure the very phantoms of Comala. The mute, hermetic women who emerge from their hovels at dawn to comprise a phantasmagoric procession, are perceived by the terrified narrator as huge black bats. Preciado also is confronted by mysterious beings, like the woman who disappears “como si no existiera.” Toribio Aldrete, a landowner murdered by agents of the cacique, is initially presented as a scream of agony perceived by Preciado. As he enters a room in Doña Eduviges' house in which Aldrete was executed years before, Juan is exposed without warning to the most terrifying moment of the victim's life—his struggling against the hangman's noose—a moment stripped of temporal limits and made eternal. The uncanny experience is only later clarified, through flashbacks developed by the omniscient author.

Even after his death, Preciado continues to dwell upon his perplexing experiences in Comala. Although the narrator of “Luvina” remains far away from the town, he too is mesmerized by the past. Fifteen years after his departure, he is still reliving the traumatic events of his brief stay in Luvina. The despondency that he finds there is now part of his own life. Alcohol provides only temporary relief. When the joyful shouts of the children playing nearby intrude upon his recollections, he warns them away, resenting their carefree enjoyment of life. He is oblivious to his present environment—a tranquil setting of verdant land and flowing water. His mind is riveted on the memory of the ashy gray and sterile white colors of the living cemetery that is Luvina:

Todo el lomerío pelón, sin un árbol, sin una cosa verde para descansar los ojos; todo envuelto en el calín ceniciento. Usted verá eso: aquellos cerros apagados como si estuvieran muertos y a Luvina en el más alto, coronándolo con su blanco caserío como si fuera una corona de muerto.

Although Luvina is situated on a physical summit, the town represents a nadir of existence. The thoughts of the narrator begin affirmatively, as if he were hoping to find something of value in Luvina, but their initial promise is always negated:

Está plagado de esa piedra gris con la que hacen la cal, peroen Luvina no hacen cal con ella ni le sacan ningún provecho... latierra de por allí es blanca y brillante como si estuviera rociada siempre por el rocío del amanecer; aunque esto es un puro decir....

Life is only an illusion, impossible to sustain, like the fragile poppies that bloom briefly, then shrivel into rasping husks. The wasteland of Luvina adumbrates the “páramo” or barren plain left by the cacique of Comala.

The same specter of fulfillment brutally undercut by a reality of living death is found in both the short story and the novel. Susana from within her grave fitfully recalls her awakening to sensual pleasure. The lyric images of a world of beauty and abundance contrast with the dampness and horror of her tomb. As a young girl, responding to the new and mysterious forces within her body, she longs to exult in the burgeoning sensuousness of nature. But her joy is restrained by the hand of death. The grotesque reality of the discolored corpse of her mother intrudes upon her erotic fantasies. The adolescent experience prefigures the tragic outcome of her marriage to Florencio. Here too the initial ecstasy of sensual desire proves ephemeral; her joy is once again truncated by death. The crone Dorotea, obsessed by a maternal desire, retreats into fantasy to escape the painful reality of her sterility. She pathetically cradles the mere illusion of a child and willingly becomes the procuress for Miguel, perhaps to compensate for her own sexless life.

In the short story, the narrator contrasts the spiritual promise of Luvina with the bleak reality he has found there: “San Juan Luvina. Me sonaba a nombre de cielo aquel nombre. Pero aquello es el purgatorio.”. Preciado travels to Comala with the paradisiacal image of the town acquired from Dolores, who in exile idealizes the land of her birth:

Mi pueblo, levantado sobre la llanura. Lieno de árboles y de hojas, como una alcancía donde hemos guardado nuestros recuerdos. Sentirás que allí uno quisiera vivir para la eternidad... Allí, donde el aire cambia el color de las cosas; donde se ventila la vida como si fuera un puro murmullo; como si fuera un puro murmullo de la vida...

Ironically, the gentle “murmullo” that for his mother is a life-giving essence is transmuted into the “murmullos”—the low moaning of souls in torment that takes Preciado's life. The fragrant smells of alfalfa and honey evoked by Dolores become for her son the rotten smell of the saponaria and the fetid odor of the urine-soaked bed belonging to the incestuous couple with whom he takes lodging. Like the protagonist of case centered around “la esperanza queera aquel señor Luvina, Pedro Páramo.” Both characters are brutally disillusioned. The monotony of existence in Luvina, where the immobility of facial expression reflects the paralysis of will, is broken only occasionally—and then by violence. Although the government is distant and unconcerned about improving the welfare of the town, violators of its law are brusquely summoned and swiftly executed. Like the inhabitants of Comala, who in their passivity and willingness to collaborate with the cacique serve to perpetuate his power, the people of Luvina submit without resistance to the government's will. Obedience to legal authority is but a part of their subservience to the wider law of tradition, that holds an unbreakable sway over their lives:

Los hijos se pasan la vida trabajando para los padres como ellos trabajaron para los suyos y como quién sabe cuántos atrás de ellos cumplieron con su ley. ...

The confluence of the living and the dead characterizes both towns. The inhabitants of Luvina stubbornly refuse to leave the home of their ancestors. The weight of the dead smothers their potential for life. In Pedro Páramo, the living are also locked in the memory of the dead. The existence of Susana, dominated by the memory of Florencio, is reduced to the level of feverish dreams:

Hemos pasado un rato muy feliz, Florencio. Y se volvió a hundir entre la sepultura de sus sábanas.

Her retreat into self anticipates the fate of Páramo after her death. The crippled cacique resembles the inert figures of the old people of Luvina, vacantly staring at the rising and falling sun, waiting only for death.

In contrast to the feeble, dehumanized inhabitants of Luvina is the bizarre animation of natural forces, the blistering sun and chilling wind. Colored a funereal black by volcanic ash, the wind looms as a demonic power:

Se planta en Luvina prendiéndose de las comas como si las mordiera... uno lo oye a mañana y tarde, hora tras hora, sin descanso... hasta sentirlo bullir dentro de uno como si se pusiera a remover los goznes de nuestros mismos huesos.

Although the narrator perceives the wind as a destructive force—“El acabará con ustedes”—it is fatalistically endured by the townspeople, who even emphasize its positive value. The wind acts as a buffer agent to protect them from an even great danger—the merciless heat of the sun. Concomitant with the insidious force of the elements is the awesome power of negative psychic states. In Luvina as in Comala, joy and hope are elusive but sadness and despair are indestructible.

Rulfo's vision is characterized by a circle of futility. The monologues of his characters never lead to insight, resolution, or purgation. They cannot prevail either over adverse circumstance or over their own moral weakness. They remain circumscribed by a past that absorbs the present and precludes hope of a future. And since there is no temporal flow, and no change either in the external or psychic world, there is no possibility that their destinies can be modified.

Rulfo's nihilism is expressed through a terse, incisive style. Reality is not presented all-of-a-piece or developed in a linear sequence of thought and action because such techniques would imply a logic, order, and continuity of existence absent from his world. In his short stories, he portrays lives that are muted by despair. In Pedro Páramo, disintegration is total and irreversible. The world dissolves into chaos from which there is no redemption....



Source Citation

Gyurko, Lanin A. "Rulfo's Aesthetic Nihilism: Narrative Antecedents of Pedro Ṕramo." Hispanic Review 40.4 (Autumn 1972): 451-466. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. James P. Draper and Jennifer Allison Brostrom. Vol. 80. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.



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