Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437
Juan Rulfo’s collection The Burning Plain, and Other Stories contains a variety of short stories ranging from brief character sketches such as “Macario,” an interior monologue by a mentally deficient boy; to longer, more complex tales such as the title story, “El llano en llamas” (“The Burning Plain”), which follows the skirmishes of a band of revolutionaries led by Pedro Zamora; or the haunting but humorous “Anacleto Morones,” in which a flock of women dressed in black descend upon the porch of the narrator to interrogate him about the death of Anacleto Morones. In one story, “Luvina,” the narrator describes moving to the village of San Juan Luvina with his family to become the schoolteacher. He finds a dried-up town, where the old women flock like bats and nothing grows. This story in particular recalls the deserted town of Comala in Rulfo’s novel Pedro Páramo.
Although the stories in the collection are varied in terms of length, point of view, and narrative method, certain common features emerge. Death is a constant in all of the stories. In “Talpa,” a dying husband, his wife, and the husband’s brother make a pilgrimage to a sacred site in hopes of a miraculous cure for the husband. The wife and the brother-in-law are in love, and they know full well that the husband will probably not survive the trip. In stories like “La cuesta de las camarades” (“The Hill of the Comadres”), “Díles que no me maten!” (“Tell Them Not to Kill Me!”), and “Anacleto Morones,” men confess to murders and fully expect to be punished for their crimes. Death is commonplace in stories like “The Burning Plain” and “La noche que lo dejaron solo” (“The Night They Left Him Alone”), which are both set against a background of guerrilla skirmishes in revolutionary-era Mexico.
Women fare poorly in these stories. In “Es que somos muy pobres” (“We’re Very Poor”), a twelve-year-old girl risks becoming as sexually promiscuous as her older sisters because the cow upon which her entire financial future rests has drowned in the river. Groups of old women dressed in black in “Luvina” and “Anacleto Morones” are described as sterile, harsh crones who avenge past sins.
Illness and poverty are common in many of the stories. Characters scratch out a meager living and carry their burdens against unforgiving landscapes. Heat, dust, floods, and infertile soil keep people from escaping their harsh lives. Characters struggle to survive while at the same time succumbing to a kind of fatalism in which they fully expect that poverty, violence, and death are the usual state of affairs.