Juan Rulfo Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Juan Rulfo’s international reputation rests on only two slender volumes published in his thirties. In contrast to the novel of the Mexican Revolution, with its descriptive realism and nationalism, Rulfo introduced the new Mexican narrative that would lead to what has been called the boom in Latin American literature, an outpouring of innovative fiction. Colombian novelist and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez claimed Rulfo as one of his greatest influences. The Mexican poet and Nobel winner Octavio Paz praised Rulfo as “the only Mexican novelist to have provided us with an image—rather than a mere description—of our physical surroundings.”

The isolation and desolation of the rural Mexican desert landscape of his stories provide a setting where human characters have as little hope or possibility as the landscape has fertility. Just as the sterility of the desert is broken only by the implied violence of snakes and buzzards, so too are Rulfo’s stories studded with vengeance and violence, death and despair. Several critics have suggested that Rulfo’s preoccupation with violence stems from the violent death of his father when he was only seven and the violent condition of a Mexico still in turmoil after a revolution that ended in 1920.

The journey, which is often a physical journey combined with a symbolic quest (inevitably doomed to failure), is the dominant theme and organizing principle in many of Rulfo’s stories. The relationship between father and son, or the absence of a father, is a recurring motif. Other recurring themes include poverty and power, such as the poor versus the government, or the poor versus the local cacique, or landowner-boss.

“Because We Are So Poor”

Like all of Rulfo’s stories, “Es que somos muy pobres” (“Because We Are So Poor”) reveals much about the lives of Mexico’s poor campesinos, or rural people. A first-person narrator, the boy in a poor family, tells his story in the present tense to an unnamed listener, which creates a sense of immediacy, as if events are unfolding along with the narrative. A series of disasters has affected this family: Aunt Jacinta just died and was buried; the rains came unexpectedly, without giving the family time to salvage any of their rye harvest, which was stacked outside to dry in the sun; and now the cow his father gave his sister Tacha for her twelfth birthday has been swept away by the newly overflowing river. Tacha is the last of three sisters. The other two “went bad” and became prostitutes. Tacha’s cow was her only hope for a better life; without her cow she has nothing to attract a man to marry her. Tacha’s dowry and the only bank account she will ever have has washed away in the floodwaters of the river. As the boy observes his sister crying, he notes that her “two little breasts bounce up and down as if suddenly they were beginning to swell, to start now on the road to ruin.” Tacha is devastated by the loss of her cow, but she does not yet understand the depth of her loss nor what seem to be the inescapable consequences of that...

(The entire section is 1274 words.)