(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Don Timoteo Limón is finishing his personal devotions when he becomes aware that a dog is howling continuously and that he forgot to pray to several saints. Terrorized by the plaintive sound of the dog, which recalls to him the tragedy of his young daughter Rosalía, Don Timoteo has visions of past events. One such event that makes him feel guilty is his killing a man in self-defense. The officials exonerated him, but the image of the dead man’s face still haunts him. He then links the dog’s howling to the fate of his son Damián, who went to the United States to seek his fortune. Soon after going to bed, Don Timoteo Limón is disturbed by his visualizations of desirable women and finally gets up to sprinkle holy water over his pillow, sheets, and windows. He concludes that his evil thoughts result from superstitions concerning the dog’s howling and decides to attend a religious retreat.

The same night Mercedes Toledo is unable to sleep after receiving Julián’s letter. As does Don Timoteo Limón, Mercedes wrestles with horrifying thoughts and contemplates taking refuge in a religious institution. Later that night upon her return from Mexico City, Micaela Rodríguez is restless because of visions of a happy, modern life away from her small hometown. She resolves to scandalize the Daughters of Mary, an organization for unmarried maidens with strict rules, in the following manner: first, arousing envy with her pretty clothes; second, conversing about the interesting life outside the village; and, third, stealing the attractive men away from the maidens. Her plan involves scandalous conduct, and Micaela thinks she will be hated and therefore will have to leave the stagnant, hypocritical people of the village. She is pleased.

At the men’s retreat, the principal parish priest, Dionisio Martínez, meets with Father Reyes and five other priests; they hear confessions and meditate on sin, death, judgment, hell, the Lord’s Passion, and the parable of the prodigal son. Although Don Timoteo Limón and other villagers feel uneasy because they find themselves standing next to their enemies, Father Reyes uses tact to quell the bitter feelings. The priests...

(The entire section is 889 words.)