Rulfo, Juan 1918–
A Mexican novelist and short story writer, Rulfo has only two books to his credit, yet his terse, objective narratives have earned him the reputation of being, next to Carlos Fuentes, the most important living Mexican author.
[Scant] lives find a driving force. Tapping it at the source has been Rulfo's achievement. His sketches are quick probes. It is the small touches that count. He has weaknesses as a storyteller. Excessive poetization freezes some of his scenes. His characters are sometimes too sketchy to deliver their full human impact. They are creatures of primeval passion, entirely defined by their situation. Because of their lack of inner resource, ultimately they inspire little more than pity. And that is the danger. We are often on the verge of falling into pathos. But the attentive reader will go beyond that. There is a deeper grain running through the stories. To live, in Rulfo, is to bleed to death. The pulse of the days beats hard, carrying off hope, gutting life at the core, spilling forces, emptying illusions…. It is the ability to close in suddenly and strike home that at moments gives Rulfo the dignity of a tragedian. His style is as stark as his landscapes. Its marks are discipline and economy. Its impact is cumulative. It has the pull of irresistible impulse. (p. 246)
Luis Harss and Barbara Dohmann, "Juan Rulfo, or the Souls of the Departed" (originally published under a different title in New Mexico Quarterly, Winter, 1965–66), in their Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin-American Writers (copyright © 1966 by Luis Harss; used by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Harper, 1967, pp. 246-75.
[Rulfo's] first collection, El llano en llamas (1953), details the joys and sorrows of the poor, their violence and hunger, the problems of the Mexican and his land, and talks of ghost towns, murderers and fugitives, the innocent and the guilty. He infuses these stories of the countryside and ordinary people with a primitive and magic view of life, brought to a peak of perfection in his first novel,… Pedro Páramo (1955)….
This novel, told in poetic and emotional language, is about an ambiguous and magical world, a kind of timeless fable of life and death, and a history of Mexico from the days of Porfirio Diaz to those of Obregón. It has been said that "nowhere in Mexican literature has the caciquismo theme been treated as well as in Pedro Páramo." But the novel completely transcends social themes in its telluric, philosophical, and metaphysical concepts of life and death. In a series of dream sequences Rulfo conveys not only the disappearance of the cacique as a political force through a recreation of the little ghost town of Comala but also the tragic sense of life. (p. 290)
As one comes to understand the characters' intrahistory, which transcends historical misadventures, one realizes that a tragic hope for a new dawn is implied, if nowhere else than at least beyond death. Pedro Páramo elaborates the Mexican view of death so aptly portrayed earlier in El luto humano . Pedro Páramo, even though he is dead, still lives just as the good and the bad and fear and sorrow still live on in Mexican towns and in the Mexican spirit. From the days of Indian myth, the Mexican, in his solitude, accepted the notion that the dead, indeed, discourse with the living. Despite the hope of a new existence one must also recognize life's continuing anguish. Throughout the novel Rulfo maintains his double vision, uniting heaven and hell, hate and love,...
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light and darkness and fusing Indian and Catholic myth…. Rulfo maintains a deliberate ambiguity in his ghost images of a hell juxtaposed with paradise through his use of fragmented and atemporal structures. Pedro represents the violent and destructive forces in the Mexican soul. He is also a hopeful and tender lover of the mad, sweet Susana, who represents unattainable love, a woman of dreams, evoked in memory as the elemental woman of the earth, the incestuous, the sweetheart, the mistress, the eternal and complete woman. (p. 291)
An obvious disciple of Faulkner in his poetic vision of "time was," Rulfo converts incredible realities into probable ones. In his short stories he had discussed the communion of man and nature, the nature of reality, and the disintegration of the human personality into its components, themes he intensifies in his novel…. Rulfo projects a fatalistic view of the universe and a pessimistic one about the revolution's failures as a symbol of "the futility of all history in its ineffectual consequences and its essentially barbaric nature." Rulfo exposes the inadequacy of Christianity in alleviating man's capacity to suffer and to cause pain, as he projects "doubts so deep as to question any foundations of belief in modern society." (pp. 291-92)
Kessel Schwartz, in his A New History of Spanish American Fiction, Volume II (copyright © 1971 by University of Miami Press), University of Miami Press, 1971.
If the national elements in Rulfo's fiction (short stories in El llano en llamas, 1953, and the novel Pedro Páramo, 1955) are to be found in the use of language, the structures reveal the influence of Faulkner as well as other foreign novelists. (pp. 114-15)
Rulfo's language … gives his fiction a national tone; yet his style is poetic, and in Pedro Páramo, by means of this poetic style, Rulfo is able to give life to a dead town, a town that has been choked to death by the local cacique, Pedro Páramo. The transitions between the scenes are not carried out by formal linking elements, but, like the stanzas in a poem, the scenes are juxtaposed, united only by the central theme and lyrical motifs, which Rulfo can use with great effectiveness. The novel, a mixture of realism and fantasy which may be called magic realism, has been created through the use of images which, although poetic, are structured in a language that is characteristic of the countryside. (p. 115)
Luis Leal, in Tradition and Renewal: Essays on Twentieth-Century Latin American Literature and Culture, edited by Merlin H. Forster (© 1975 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois; reprinted by permission of the editor and the University of Illinois Press), University of Illinois Press, 1975.