Juan Rulfo’s Magical Realism and Its Powerful Message

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

In the novel Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, aspects of the setting, namely time and place, emphasize the novel’s magical realism and help convey Rulfo’s idea that Mexico is in dire straits in regards to Mexican politics and the Church.

In the novel Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, aspects of the setting, namely time and place, emphasize the magical realism. Though his selection of the time and place, Rulfo establishes an allegorical faux reality symbolic of purgatory through which Rulfo is able to make a statement about the political and religious turmoil of Mexico during the time in which the novel is set. By depicting Comala as purgatory Rulfo is conveying that Mexico is suffering from the sinful and wrong actions of both the Church, which Rulfo depicted allegorically through the character Father Renteria and his sins, and Mexican politics, which Rulfo depicted allegorically through the character Pedro Párramo and his manipulative and corrupt power in Comala. Magical realism allows Rulfo to subtly hint at the corruptness of the church and the government and its consequences through his character living in purgatory.

Juan Rulfo decided to set his novel in Comala, Mexico. In the exposition of the novel, Rulfo incorporates hyperbolic descriptions of Comala’s intense heat. Also, Rulfo highlights the fact that Juan Rulfo is entering Comala during August. Historically, August is one of the warmest months in this region of Mexico. For example, Rulfo wrote, “It was during the dog days, the season when the August wind blows hot, venomous with the stench of saponaria blossoms”. Shortly after this description of Comala he decided to reiterate what month it was as well as express the overwhelming heat by including “Their sleepy eyes were bulging from the August heat”. The description of the intense heat parallels the common horrific descriptions of hell. Through diction with terrifying connotations such as “stench”, “venomous”, and “eyes were bulging” Rulfo paints a horrific image coinciding with hellacious images. By repeating the month of August, the warmest summer month of the year, Rulfo insinuates the intensity of the heat while Juan Preciado is entering Comala. Both the diction and the description insinuate hellacious connotations though imagery resembling a hell common described by the Christian Church. In order to remove all doubt Rulfo is creating an allegorical purgatory, Rulfo blatantly indicates through Abundio’s dialogue: “You’ll feel it even more when we get to Comala. That town sits on the coals of the earth, at the very mouth of hell. They say that when people from there die and go to hell, they come back for a blanket”. Purgatory, being the place inhabited by the souls of suffering sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven, is commonly thought to be the median of heaven and hell. Rulfo metaphorically puts Comala at the mouth of hell in this dialogue where purgatory would be in the metaphysical world.. By describing it as at the mouth of hell but not entirely in hell illustrates Rulfo’s optimistic perspective.. By setting the novel in purgatory shows that Rulfo is optimistic that the political system and the church can find salvation and repair themselves. Also, by setting the novel is purgatory shows Rulfo’s optimism for the future but also Rulfo’s consciousness of the current corrupt state of the Mexican politics and church. The allegorical setting indicates that Rulfo believes that there is hope for Mexico’s political and religious systems. Even, Comala itself, the name of the town the novel is set in, is representative of hell’s fiery pits. A comala is the pan used for heating up tortillas. This further correlates the setting and its overwhelming heat to delineations of hell by naming the town after something that you cook on that gets extremely warm and enhances the magical realism of the novel. By setting a fictional novel in a town that actually exist in Mexico, the novel is given more realistic attributes. The realistic setting mixed with the allegorical setting of purgatory go hand in hand and cause the audience to question the reality of each character in the novel and their state of being within purgatory in regard to how close they are to salvation.

Juan Rulfo coveys a sense of timelessness in his novel through the plot sequence. This sense of timelessness emphasizes the magical realism by stepping away from linear, realistic time and instead occurring in short, out of order passage. The novel includes three separate plot strands. Each plot, Juan Preciado’s, Pedro Páramo’s, and Father Renteria’s, is loosely connected but woven together but with regular confusion as to which strand is the current voice. This adds to the magical realism and timelessness because one must place the passage in one of the three plot strands after deciphering who the voice is. This confusion gives the story a whimsical, mysterious, and magical tone that makes you question the reality in the novel. Furthermore, Rulfo begins the novel in medias res. In the exposition, Juan Preciado is coming to Comala and the remainder of the novel tells about what happens before Juan came to Comala and why Comala is in a crisis. Writing the novel in medias res allowed Rulfo to play with the concept of time throughout the novel. Also, writing the novel in medias res pushes forward that the characters are deceased throughout the novel through subtle hints. While Abundio and Pedro were discussing Comala, Rulfo wrote, “It doesn’t just look like no one lives here. No one does live here”. Rulfo creates magical realism by having the deceased interact as if they were alive. Also, each voice is aware of their death to different degrees. Though Dorotea’s dialogue, Rulfo conveys her awareness. He wrote, “After we found you, my bones were determined to find rest… they buried me in the grave with you, and I fit right in the hollow of your arms”. The awareness of death is directly correlated to the characters awareness of time or lack thereof. The characters who have not realized their death mention time as if it were occurring linearly and more often than those who are aware of their death. This is indicated through verb tenses. The word “determined” is in the past tense showing that she know she is passed away. Furthermore, the plot sequence is full of repetition and things are always recurring. Rulfo conveys this through Fulgor. When Fulgor is introduced in the novel, Rulfo is telling us about the second encounter Fulor had with Pedro Páramo. Then, later in the novel, Rulfo wrote about their first encounter. Rulfo wrote about the encounters out of order to exemplify that the time in the novel in nonlinear and does not exist. Rulfo incorporates this to show that they are in fact in purgatory, suffering for their sin in a repeated cycle while reflecting on their life by telling these stories. Juan Rulfo furthers his novel’s embodiment of magical realism through the idea that there is no time once you’ve died and things occur out of order.

In essence, though through the setting of the novel, specifically time and place, rulfo creates an allegorical setting of purgatory. This allegorical setting sets up the premises of this novel’s magical realism. Through magical realism, Rulfo is able to convey the idea that the mexican church and politics alike are corrupt and are only hurting the mexican population. Also, through the magical realistic setting of Comala as an allegory for purgatory, Rulfo is able to convey his optimism for the future of the mexican church and politics while recognising its current state of corruptness. He believes that they are currently being punished in the novel and facing consequences for their wrongdoings but since the allegorical setting is in purgatory, there is in fact salvation for all the mexican people if they change their ways.

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