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.

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