Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Because We Are So Poor” (which has also been published as “We’re Very Poor”) takes the form of an interior monologue of the nameless brother of Tacha, whose fate dominates the story. The reader discovers at the end that the action takes place at virtually a single moment, as the narrator stands with his sister above the rising river, contemplating her situation and the river below. As in other Rulfo stories, time is frozen. The narrator speaks directly to the reader about the circumstances before him now. The title itself is the present tense, and the story artfully weaves past and present together.

The prose in all Rulfo’s short stories is taut and spare, as if to mirror the grim reality he describes. In “Because We Are So Poor,” he relates his story in little more than fifteen hundred words but manages to evoke the world of his characters and portray vividly their poverty and forlorn lives.

Augmenting the realism of life on the plain unrelieved by either joys or some final, comic victory of its people, is a sense that the narrator’s thought process is woven into the narrative. He thinks out loud as he alters his account of the cow’s drowning from one line to the next; he speaks of climbing the ravine with his sister in the past tense, but eventually one discovers that this past is actually the present.

Rulfo uses a fine sense of dramatic pacing. He shocks the reader and builds to a climax, although time is telescoped into a single moment. He introduces the loss of the cow at the beginning, but the impending fate of Tacha is evident only at the end, indeed, in the last line.