Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Rulfo underlines the philosophical significance of this story by using proper names to indicate symbolic significance. It is ironic that Tanilo’s last name is Santos, for he and his wife are anything but saints. Talpa is a fictional place-name and was chosen to emphasize the spiritual blindness of the characters in the story as talpa is the Latin word for the genus of the mole. The narrator and Natalia are therefore to be understood as comparable to moles because they hide from the sun. This symbolism is further underlined by the description of the pilgrims who accompany them into Talpa, who are described unflatteringly as a mass of writhing worms. Worms, like moles, travel underground, and both images are intended to underline the spiritual blindness of the pilgrims. These metaphors undercut the notion of transcendence normally associated with the idea of a spiritual pilgrimage.

Zenzontla is also a fictional place-name, but this name is sufficiently similar to tezontle, the name of a light and porous volcanic rock common in Mexico, to be understood as a subtle, glancing allusion. This fits in with the symbolism of the story because the earth on which Natalia and the narrator lie when they are committing adultery (which is even more heinous because it is incestuous as well) is hot, Natalia’s body is described as “heating up” when she comes near the narrator, and their bodies are described as like a fire. The story is about the...

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