Juan Rulfo and his novel, Pedro Páramo

Johanna Seligman, Hispanic Literature
Juan Rulfo

Juan Rulfo was born in Sayula, Mexico on May 16th, 1918. He was a product of the rural countryside and his parents were wealthy land owners before the Cristero uprisings between 1926 and 29. Rulfo began work as a writer when his family moved to Mexico City later in his life. It was there that he began working on scripts and film production. Rulfo's writing became important to the genre of "magic realism," a discipline that incorporated techniques such as interior monologue, flashbacks, the voice of the dead, and a stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Though his influence on that genre is great, the fruit of his existence as a writer was not plentiful. One collection of short fiction, El llano en llamas, was published in 1953 and was engendered by his life in Mexico City; another book, Pedro Paramo followed soon after in 1955. Rulfo lived in Mexico City for most of his life, teaching and advising young, aspiring writers at various universities and schools. On January 6, 1986, Juan Rulfo died in Mexico City having published only two novels.


Pedro Paramo - a summary:

A young man, Juan Preciado, has just lost his mother. Before she died she requested of Juan that he should go down to Comala, Mexico and try to find his father (1). His father, she had said, will be happy to see him. Out of respect for his mother but with little curiosity of his own, Juan hits the road, attempting to make his way to Comala. As he is almost to the town of his father, Juan is unsure of his way and asks a fellow along the road for directions. The fellow points him toward the town and inquires as to why the young man would want to visit a deserted place. Juan tells the man that he is searching for his father, Pedro Paramo, who he believes is in residence there. The man looks surprised, and confesses to Juan that Pedro Paramo is his father as well (3). This is only the beginning of the bizarities which Juan will encounter on his pilgrimage to Comala. The man steers Juan in the direction of a woman, Dona Eduviges, who he says will give him room and board if he mentions his name - Abundio (7). Juan takes his advice and seeks out Eduviges, who does as Abundio said that she would, and gives Juan a floor to sleep on. All night long Juan is haunted by strange noises in the house and eerie images of murders by hanging in his dreams. When he wakes up, startled by something, he goes out to find Eduviges. They begin to talk about his mother, Eduviges having known her from a long time before, and ever so slowly Juan recognizes the horror that will plague him throughout his trip to Comala. Eduviges is not alive, she is a ghost passing on information and messages to Juan from the crypt of his dead mother. Once Juan figures out that he has been speaking to and staying with a ghost, he packs up and leaves the house with the intention of finding a new place to stay. He soon figures out, however, the horrible secret of the town of Comala - every resident there is dead. Juan does not discount the wisdom of the dead, and soon learns many things about the history of his father, the legacy he left behind, and frightening specifics about the state of death. Horrifyingly, many lessons Juan learns about death come from his own termination of life - something that results in his sharing of burial space and the utterances of the dead from underground.


Who is Pedro Paramo? Through the course of his travels in the underworld and beyond, Juan Preciosa comes to understand his father, a man he never knew. Testimony from various sources reveal Pedro Paramo as a harsh negotiator, a man who, in life, owned most of the land in Comala and exploited those that lived on it, even the priest of the church (70). Pedro didn't let anyone stand in the way of his progress as a tycoon - he had anyone and everyone brought up on charges who didn't comply with the way he ran business (35-39). One such victim was Don Lucas, a man who Juan envisions being hung the night he spends on Dona Eduviges' floor. Finally, Pedro Paramo was a lady's man. Juan learns that Pedro has kids all over Mexico, and twice as many women. It was, indeed, the wiles of a woman that accounted for Pedro's ultimate downfall. Susanita, the love of his life left him heart-stricken when she went crazy and died. Married only for a short time, the relationship between Pedro and Susanita durably stood the test of time. Juan and his casket-mate, Dorotea, hear Susanita wailing and mourning over the past from underneath the dirt in the cemetery. Pedro is rumored to have died not long after Susanita, from grief. Don't read this story at night, alone in your house: Many comparisons have been made between Pedro Paramo and Dante's Inferno. The character of Abundio is comparable to that of Virgil in the Inferno, and the conversations between Juan and Dorotea in the grave give the old rungs of hell a run for their money. Especially frightening is the couple whom Juan meets, Donis and his nameless wife. The two turn out to be brother and sister, having turned to each other for companionship in the deserted town. Are they dead or not? Juan Rulfo only knows. This book serves as a connection between the past and the present, unequalled in shock value by even Fuentes' Artemio Cruz. After reading this book for two hours straight, the reader starts to wonder whether all that seems to live around him might actually be death in disguise. "Nothing can last forever. There isn't any memory, no matter how intense, that doesn't fade out at last" (Pedro Paramo 93).


Rulfo, Juan. Pedro Paramo. New York: Grove Press, 1959. "Rulfo, Juan (Perez)."

Encyclopedia Britannica Online. <http://search.eb.com/bol/topic?eu+66065&sctn=1> [Accessed February 5, 2000].