Fragmented Structure in Pedro Paramo
Juan Rulfo employs a fragmented structure in Pedro Páramo to provide information about the plot and characters from the point of view of different characters at different times. This allows stories to be echoed and reechoed throughout the novel. Often times, this structure creates a sense of ambiguity and confusion because Rulfo leaves interpretation up to the reader and because of the story’s nonlinear aspect. In this fragmented storyline, Rulfo uses sound and silence to add suspense and to contribute to the setting and plot.
Juan Rulfo wrote Pedro Páramo with tense shifts and shifts in perspectives of different characters that add tension and reveal more and more about the plot. With seventy fragments differing in time and perspectives, the reader has to put the pieces of the puzzle together based on how they interpret it. For example, when the narrative switches from Juan to Pedro at fragment six, it confuses the reader because it does not initially indicate that the fragment is about Pedro. The reader only learns that fragments six through eight are about Pedro because Rulfo writes “‘Pedro!’people called to him” at the end of fragment seven (Rulfo 14). These fragments, though confusing at first, are the first fragments directly involving Pedro. Rulfo uses them to introduce Pedro and let the reader learn a little about his past. This also adds tension because it acts as sort of a face reveal; prior to this, the reader cannot match a character to the “Pedro Páramo” that Juan sets out to find.
Rulfo utilizes both sound and silence to add suspense and truly embody the theme of the living and dead in the novel. For example, in fragment three, there are no “children” or doves,” and only silence can be heard. However, Juan still feels “that the town [is] alive” (8). This reflects the theme of the novel because there is a middle ground where the reader is not sure how to differentiate between the living and the dead. The lack of sounds of “children” and “doves” characterizes the eeriness and phantasmal aspect of the novel. Rulfo implements another use of sound and silence in fragment twenty-eight. “Sounds. Voices Murmurs. Distant singing… As if it were women singing” exemplifies the ambiguity that Rulfo once again displays (46). This fragment describes “distant singing” that may or may not truly be heard at all. Rulfo writes “as if” instead of illustrating with a more definite tone that women are actually singing. The scene leaves the reader to decide what exactly takes place. A third example of a fragment where sound and silence appear prominently is in fragment twenty-nine. The line “Empty carts, churning the silence of the streets” again represents the ghastliness of the town (46). Rulfo uses lines like these to illustrate the silence that allows a sense of ambiguity to be present. The town is simply made to seem dead, and this is done in part by the presence of silence. Rulfo also writes that there is an “echo of shadows” (46). The sound of shadows is quite ironic because shadows are merely an image cast from an object, having no ability to emit noise.
The fragmented structure of Pedro Páramo allows for some stories to echo and re-echo throughout the novel. For example, the story of Pedro Páramo himself is one that shows up time and time again. His story begins on page twelve when Pedro was just a little boy. He thinks about Susana and how they would fly kites. Pedro thinks about her fondly, and this establishes early in the story that Susana and Pedro are two characters that seem to have gotten along at some point. Later, the reader learns just how much Pedro cared for Susana: He “waited thirty years for [Susana] to return” to Comala (82) and then when Susana dies and there are, coincidentally, festivities in Comala, Pedro intends to “cross [his] arms” so “Comala will die of hunger” (117). Different parts of the story illustrate Pedro’s deep love for Susana. Another example is what happens with Miguel. Miguel is introduced when Juan Preciado hears the sound of Miguel’s horse (21). The noise prompts doña Eduviges to explain what happened with Miguel the night he died.
With Miguel’s tale, his ending is introduced first, adding suspense by introducing another character only to quickly learn that he has died. Through flashbacks and thoughts about the past and present, memories and stories can be recounted, revealing more about the story each time. Altogether, the fragmented narrative storyline that Rulfo utilizes induces a sense of ambiguity and confusion in the reader, with the employment of sound and silence and the repeated echoing of certain stories.
Rulfo, Juan. Pedro Páramo. Trans. Margaret Sayers Peden. New York, NY: Grove, 1994. Print.
Descriptions in Pedro Paramo: An Essay Regarding Confinement
The work Pedro Paramo, written by author Juan Rulfo, explores in an abundance the notion of confinement in relation to its physical, mental, and metaphorical manifestations. Through his use of temperature description, overwhelming sound imagery, and oppressive family characterization, Rulfo emphasizes how confinement can come in many forms as well as how it negatively affects those who are confined.
Initially, to explore the meteorological representation of confinement in Pedro Paramo, Rulfo includes a wealth of detail about changes in temperature. This heavy emphasis, especially on heat, accentuates the pressing, suffocating nature of Comala’s weather. As Juan Preciado and Abundio are first making their way down to Comala, Rulfo includes details about their venture such as, “… the August wind blows hot,” (Rulfo 4), “We had left the hot wind behind and were sinking into pure, airless heat,” (Rulfo 5), and even uses a biblical analogy, writing, “That town sits on the coals of the earth, at the very mouth of Hell,” (Rulfo 6). This heat is oppressive simply because of how insistent its existence is—Juan cannot escape it, and it is constantly pushing down on him, a reminder of how close he is to Hell. It demands to be acknowledged. As well as heat, cold is also used to highlight feelings of confinement throughout the book. When Juan is taken in by the incestuous couple, (Donis and his unnamed wife/sister,) he begins to feel drastically ill. During this period, he is, for the most part, bedridden or incapacitated. In his time of suffering, Juan experiences drastic changes in temperature over his entire body. Juan expresses this by narrating, “The heat woke me up just before midnight. And the sweat,” (Rulfo 57). Then again, when he is recalling how he died, Juan explains, “I wasn’t hot anymore. Just the opposite, I was cold,” (Rulfo 59). Rulfo is exploring how one’s own body can be a prison, in a sense. Juan is undoubtedly trapped by these changes, unable to stop them. He is at the whim of his own bodily pain.
Additionally, Rulfo puts immense emphasis on the sound imagery in Pedro Paramo. In this, the overpowering force of sound leads the characters in the book to not only feel confined, but hopeless as well. A prominent example of this is Juan’s experiences with the murmurs. When Juan first encounters the murmurings among the many ghosts of Comala, the sound is foreign and uncomfortable to him. Later, during the scene of Juan recalling his death, Juan narrates, “The murmuring killed me. I was trying to hold back my fear,” (Rulfo 58). The murmurs surround Juan as he is dying, suffocating him to the point that he feels as though he is drowning. They cloud his senses, what was initially detected as merely noise manages to manifest itself as physical suffering. Confinement through the usage of sound continues even after Juan is buried with Dorotea. From inside their grave, the two are able to hear the incessant mumbles and ramblings of others who have died. They even hear the voice of Susana, and are immediately intrigued, Juan eagerly saying, “You hear? I think she’s about to say something. I hear a kind of murmuring,” (Rulfo 79). The muted voices, dulled due to their travel through soil and other debris, serve as yet another reminder of just how trapped Juan and Dorotea really are. They cannot escape the fact that they are dead.
Continuing, Rulfo touches heavily on family in this novel, especially unconventional or dysfunctional ones. These familial relationships are written as toxic and oppressive to the people involved in them. This theme is especially present in the way that Rulfo describes Susana’s relationship with her father. In dialogue between Pedro and Fulgor, Rulfo writes, “‘Wasn’t it his daughter?’ ‘Well, the way he treats her, she seems more like his wife,'” (Rulfo 82). In Mexico in the 1920’s, women, especially wives, were held at a certain expectation of submissiveness. The fact that Susana is thought to be her father’s wife only further highlights how controlling he is over her life. In a more literal sense of how Bartolome oppressed and confined Susana, one can refer to an event described in her early childhood. Her father forces her through, “… a small opening in some boards,” (Rulfo 90), as she was, “… dangling from a rope that cut into her waist and rubbed her hands raw,” (Rulfo 90). Her terror is clearly described, and Rulfo makes this apparent by writing, “… she stood there dumb with fear …The yell from above made her shiver,” (Rulfo 91). Susana almost seems more afraid of her father’s barking voice than of the chilling space surrounding her. During this event, young, impressionable Susana is completely at her father’s disposal; he quite literally has her life on a string. She is not given a choice about her role in this situation, and is forced into this physically confining space by her mentally confining father.
Ultimately, by exploring the theme of confinement in Pedro Paramo using temperature, sound description, and familial ties, Rulfo demonstrates the many forms that confinement can take. Moreover, through these devices, the novel investigates how people react differently when experiencing confinement itself.
The Fragmented Nature of Pedro Páramo
A fragmented narrative challenges readers to piece together the jumbled components of a narrative in order to make sense of the story (Hamilton). Although hard to follow at times, the narrative presents an alternative form for storytelling. In his work Pedro Páramo, Rulfo jumps between the past and present in order to portray the mysticism of the genre as well as suggest the oral story telling tradition of Mexican culture. Due to the inclusion of heteroglossia, similar stories surface frequently throughout the story, providing Juan with multiple perspectives of his father’s character. In order to make sense of the scattered fragments, Rulfo organizes specific indications to readers in the text, specifically through water and sound.
In Latin American literature, magical realism remains one of the most popular genres (Rave). This type of novel oftentimes pairs with a fragmented narrative to create a sense of mysticism or magic. As the novel progresses, Rulfo omits the answers to numerous questions; leaving it up to the readers to formulate their own answers. The lack of detail and ambiguity surrounding the open-ended mysteries designates any plausible answers, even the supernatural ones. Pieces of information hidden within the fragments serve as support for unanswered assumptions. The cause of Juan’s death, for instance, remains unknown. The solitary detail that Juan explicitly states, “The murmuring killed me” (Rulfo 58) offers the only insight for his death. This single phrase alone bears a multitude of possible interpretations. A more realistic interpretation would suggest that if Juan hears voices, it could mean he is schizophrenic. The voices in his head could influence him to do something that leads to his demise. Another realistic interpretation might blame dehydration for Juan’s death. When a person dies, commonly, a spirit visits the person just before their final moment. Juan might not notice his dying nature when he first enters the blistering town of Comala. In the words of his guide Abundio, “That town sits on the coals of the earth, at the very mouth of hell” (6). Since Rulfo never explicitly mentions that Juan drinks any water, readers might assume that dehydration gets the best of him. Instead of recognizing his lack of water, Juan blames the spirits for his death instead. However, taking a more supernatural viewpoint can lead readers to actually believe that the spirits surrounding Juan are to blame for his decease. This ambiguous question, as well as many others, correlates impeccably with a fragmented narrative. The shifting of narrators and time periods leave the readers contemplating the information they gather and making their own interpretations of the situation.
As seen in the first few pages of the novel, Rulfo employs an untraditional writing style. The opening sentences appear in fragments and in a shorter length than a traditional sentence, as seen in Dolores’s request for her son, “Don’t ask him for anything. Just what’s ours. What he should have given me but never did…” (3). By using the shorter sentences, Rulfo tries to convey the nature of an oral story. The story-teller typically chooses to not include all the details of story, but rather the ones that seem crucial to understanding the story. From the three short fragments, readers learn their first negative impression of Pedro as well as a foreshadowing of future events of the plot. Moreover, the exceptionally amount of detail, in addition to the sentence structure, produces the effect of Juan narrating an oral story from memory. As Juan and Abundio travel, Ruflo includes ample detail of their surroundings in order to paint a picture for readers, “In the shimmering sunlight, the plain was a transparent lake dissolving in mists that veiled a gray horizon. Farther in the distance, a range of mountains. And farther still, faint remoteness” (5). Rulfo often fails to provide this amount of detail throughout the whole novel. He only includes the necessary information to ensure that his readers follow along without confusion. The negligence of detail offers an alternative reason for Rulfo’s choice of a fragmented narrative. Memory recollection typically transpires thematically rather than chronologically; explaining the inconsistency of the story’s timeline. In the end, Pedro Páramo appears as an oral story through the usage of a fragmented sentence structure as well as the sprinkling of meticulous detail throughout the narrative.
According John Mullan, heteroglossia refers to “works that make present the clashes and incongruities of different voices” (Mullan). A variety of different narrators present themselves throughout the novel Pedro Páramo. With the inclusion of multiple narrators comes the repetition of particular stories that highlight different qualities of Pedro Páramo. Rulfo associates heteroglossia with the memories of different town members since a majority of them include a common theme: a hatred for Miguel Páramo. Through the eyes of Father Rentaría, Don Fulgor, and Doña Eduviges, readers discover that Miguel kills another man. Since heteroglossia presents multiple perspectives along with ample detail, each version of Miguel’s story provides more detail on Pedro’s character through his parenting skills. From the perspective of Father Rentaría, readers construct an idea of Pedro’s parenting skills, or lack thereof. If Pedro would have taken an authoritative position over his son; Miguel would not sneak out of the house to rape girls. Moreover, Don Fulgor’s memory of Miguel reveals Pedro’s absence in his son’s life. Even though Don Fulgor attempts to convince him otherwise, Pedro refuses to believe that his son possesses the capabilities to kill another man. Yet, Fulgor’s memory also presents a rare, soft, side to Pedro’s character. In response to Fulgor’s comment about the killing, Pedro responds, “Just think of it as something I did, Fulgor” (64). Pedro assumes the responsibility of killing the man rather than having his son take responsibility, possibly indicating caring feelings towards Miguel. According to the memory of Doña Eduviges, readers acquire knowledge Pedro’s distant relationship with his son. As Eduviges recalls to Juan the moment when she learns about Miguel’s death, she mentions the ranch hand stating, “… I think the animal is suffering more than don Pedro” (23). The absence of Pedro’s sympathy for his son proposes that Pedro Páramo does not embody the figure of a loving father that Juan wants him to. Overall, Rulfo’s inclusion of heteroglossia throughout the story serves as a benefit to readers as they are able to investigate more qualities of Pedro’s character through the perspectives of other town members.
In addition, the jumping between past and present tense throughout the novel Pedro Páramo enhances the possibility of confusion. To avoid this, Rulfo associates key motifs with the time period in order to trigger recognition from the reader. Pedro’s time in Comala starkly contrasts the Comala that Juan discovers on his journey; the old town prospers and embodies a particular liveliness. Whenever a mentioning of water occurs, the scene transpires in the past. Water represents a variety of things; but, in this case, water symbolizes life. During fragments of the past, Rulfo usually includes details about the heavy rain, indicating Comala’s former glory. Juan experiences the opposite of what he expects to see as he enters Comala for the first time. He envisions the town being this beautiful place that his mother admired, “Green pastures. Watching the horizon rise and fall as the wind swirled through the wheat, an afternoon rippling with curling lines of rain. The color of the earth, the smell of alfalfa and bred. A town that smelled like spilled honey…” (18). Instead, Juan stumbles upon a sweltering ghost town. Therefore, the lack of water conveys to the readers that the fragment occurs in Juan’s time. The abundance of water indicates Comala’s past. Moreover, the element of sound also indicates the time in which the fragment takes place. Pedro’s Comala appears noisy; indicating to the reader the town’s liveliness. Similar to the water motif, Juan expects a noisy, bustling town when he entered Comala. It shocks him to discover the opposite, “Empty carts, churning the silence of the streets” (46). In the end, the contrasting motif of an abundance of water and sound versus their absence clearly indicates to the reader the timeframe of the fragment.
All in all, there are a plethora of reasons to justify why Rulfo’s choice of a fragmented narrative in his work Pedro Páramo. Since this style contributes to the feeling of magical realism and reflects the sensation of oral storytelling, it promotes readers to make their own assumptions about the plot and create their own conclusions. The repetition of particular stories throughout the novel provides Juan, as well as the readers, with an ability to discover more about the character Pedro Páramo. By pairing heteroglossia and story recurrences, the readers acquire a wealth of information about the infamous patrón. Since fragmented narratives seem difficult to follow, Rulfo provides readers with the tags of water and sound so they are able to piece together the string of memories displayed in the novel.
The Role of Women in Pedro Paramo
In a traditional Mexican household, the women tend to personify a maternal character in which they nurture, provide for, and maintain the unity of their family. Throughout the novel Pedro Páramo, the protagonist Juan encounters three significant women who embody motherly roles in his journey through Comala. During Juan’s time in the town, Rulfo introduces Eduviges Dyada, Damiana Cisneros, and Dorotea La Cuarraca in order to guide his transition into the spiritual realm. Additionally, these three women assist Juan with completing his initial goal of learning more about his father, Pedro Páramo, by providing different perspectives of his character. Rulfo specifically implements female voices due to their representation of the three Fates and their cultural depiction as the caretaker of the family.
To begin, Rulfo manipulates Eduviges, Damiana, and Dorotea in order to depcit them escorts to ease Juan into the afterlife. During Juan’s mother’s time in Comala, she maintains a close relationship with her best friend Eduviges. Due to the devoted connection Eduviges has with his mother, Juan encounters her first upon arriving in Comala:
I found the house by the bridge by following the sound of the river. I lifted my hand to knock, but there was nothing there. My hand met only empty space, as if the wind had blown open the door. A woman [Eduviges] stood there. She said, ‘Come in’ And I went in (Rulfo 9).
Eduviges operates as Juan’s foremost encounter with the supernatural forces in Comala. She reveals these forces to Juan in a manner that makes him suspicious, yet he accepts and seems comfortable with. Once Eduviges disappears a short while later, Juan meets his next guide, Damiana. She works on Pedro’s ranch, the Media Luna, as a workhand. During their time together, Damiana explains to Juan aspects of Comala’s spiritual nature,
This town is filled with echoes. I’m not afraid anymore. I hear the dogs howling, and I let them howl. And on windy days I see the wind blowing leaves from the trees, when anyone can see that there aren’t any trees here. There must have been once (41-42).
By acknowledging that most spirits freely roam through town, Daimana justifies Comala’s appearance as a ghost town, easing Juan’s confusion about the settlement and the people he encounters. Lastly, Dorotea serves as a companion for Juan’s duration in the spiritual world. As Juan and she lay in the grave, Dorotea attempts to accustom Juan to his time in purgatory, “Try to think nice thoughts, because we’re going to be a long time here in the ground” (61). Dorotea alleviates Juan of an uncertainty he possesses about their situation. Not only does Dorotea appear as a friend, she also guides Juan by teaching him to listen for the surrounding spirits, like Susana San Juan. Overall, Eduviges, Damiana, and Dorotea each aid Juan by directing his journey to the spiritual world.
Additionally, each of the female spirits conveys varying perspectives on Juan’s father, Pedro Páramo, helping the protagonist amass supplementary information about this unknown man. Beginning with Eduviges, she reveals the manipulative quality of Pedro as a young patrón. Not only does he trick Dolores into marrying him, Eduivges describes to Juan how Pedro sexually manipulates other women:
He would fall into a trance and roll his eyes and conjure and curse, with spittle flying everywhere – you’d of thought he was gypsy. Sometimes he would end up stark naked; he said we wanted it that way. And sometimes what he said came true. He shot at so many targets that once in a while he was bound to hit one (17).
Eduivges reveals Pedro’s sly nature of his early years as patrón; however, his irresponsibility does not last forever as Damiana demonstrates. She represents Pedro’s middle years on the Media Luna, a time where he seems not as reckless. In spite of all the horrid comments people remark about Pedro, he could not have been as awful considering that his workhand Damiana stays with him until the very end,
“It’s me, don Pedro,” said Damiana. “Don’t you want me to bring you your dinner?”Pedro Páramo replied: “I’m coming along. I’m coming.”He supported himself on Damiana Cisnero’s arm and tried to walk. After a few steps he fell; inside, he was begging for help, but no words were audible” (124).
Despite his horrible past, Damiana illustrates a kinder, more tolerable side of Pedro, helping Juan create a holistic view of his father. Finally, Dorotea depicts Pedro’s undeniable love for Susana San Juan. As Juan and she lay in the grave, he hears Susana’s voice in a nearby grave. Dorotea proceeds to explain the incontrovertible love Pedro has for Susana, “He loved her. I’m here to tell you that he never loved a woman like he loved that one… He loved her so much that after she died he spent the rest of his days slumped in a chair, staring down the road where they’d carried her to the holy ground” (80). Throughout the novel, very few people view Pedro Páramo in a positive light. Dorotea’s perspective of the patrón serves as a counterargument to Eduviges’ view, providing Juan with a holistic conception of his father’s character. In the end, Rulfo includes Eduviges, Damiana, and Dorotea in the novel Pedro Páramo in order to help Juan on his mission of learning about Pedro.
Moreover, Rulfo incorporates the three female voices in his novel Pedro Páramo due to their representation of the three Fates and their role as women play in Mexican culture. In Greek mythology, the three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, determine human destinies, including the span of a person’s life. The Fates correlate with the process of dying, just like Eduviges, Damiana, and Dorotea. The latter three women assist Juan as he transitions into the spirit world. Eduviges introduces Juan to the beginning of his journey into the afterlife just as Clotho presents the life of the person as a ball of string. Then, Damiana helps Juan accept his reality of being in a town full of spirits, similar to the way Lachesis brings people to the realization of their life time by measuring out the string. Lastly, Dorotea arises during Juan’s death, just like Atropos who appears at the death of a person when she cuts the string. Since the journey to death seems frightening, Rulfo utilizes three women’s voices in order to calm Juan’s uneasiness. They ensure that Juan has a guide every step of the way and feels prepared for what might come, making the process appear less intimidating. For instance, Dorotea accustoms Juan to his new life after death. He appears very unfamiliar with his new situation and she attempts to calm him, “You don’t have to be afraid. No one can scare you now” (61). Here Dorotea appears to embody the nurturing role of a Mexican woman by soothing Juan’s anxiety about death. Overall, Rulfo’s reasoning for utilizing female voices in his novel Pedro Páramo results from their demonstration of the three Fates and the cultural role they play.
Rulfo ultimately shapes the characters of Eduviges Dyada, Damiana Cisnersos, and Dorotea La Cuarraca to serve as Juan’s guides in every stage during his time in Comala. Furthermore, the three women present themselves in Pedro Páramo in order to assist Juan in finding about more information on his father. Each of the three characters contributes a different perspective of Pedro to give Juan a holistic view of his personality. Their imitation of the three Fates explains one reason behind Rulfo’s choice to utilize female voices. Additionally, Eduviges, Damiana, and Dorotea care for Juan during his transition to the afterlife, exceedingly characteristic of a women’s role in Mexican culture.