In Pedro Páramo, Juan Rulfo delves, as no Mexican writer of fiction had done before, into the complex, atavistic, desolate, and fatalistic world of the Indians of Mexico. Pedro Páramo is a book of voices—voices of people, voices of nature, and voices of circumstance, morality, and passion. All of its characters are dead; they are only voices, murmurs, who live in a town, Comala, a village of echoes. All of these dead people, souls in pain, are presented as if they were living in another world, in a strange limbo of memory.
A mixture of fantasy and reality, Pedro Páramo contains thematic threads that express Rulfo’s pessimistic vision of life. Each inhabitant of Comala relives a single moment of pain or guilt over and over again, but the experience never brings any increased self-awareness, any insight into the causes of behavior, or any suggestion of possible remedies for dilemmas. The characters are symbolic figures; they stand for the individual as a powerless victim of both external and internal forces. Rulfo’s men and women are helpless in the face both of outside circumstances and of their own psychic problems. Comala is a microcosm in a state of irremediable chaos and inescapable disintegration. The despair of this situation is conveyed powerfully through the author’s style, which is based on the basic rhythms of common speech.
Pedro Páramo stands as a landmark work in the evolution of the twentieth century Spanish American novel in that it represents, for many critics and other readers, the first example of the Spanish American New Novel. After the 1920’s and 1930’s, in which Spanish American fiction sought to paint realistic and detailed pictures of external Spanish American (and often national or even regional) realities, in which description often ruled over action, environment over character, types over the individual, and social message over artistic subtlety, and in which the understanding of the story required little attention on the part of the reader, the nature of Spanish American fiction began to change radically.
In the 1940’s, as a result of internal and external influences (chiefly of Argentine short story writer Jorge Luis Borges and of American writer William Faulkner, respectively), Spanish American fiction developed a new narrative that, unlike its predecessor, treated the fictional world as just that—fiction. This new narrative presented various, and often alternative, versions of reality, entered the inner worlds of its characters, and expressed universal as well as regional and national themes. In doing so, it broke with tradition. The new Latin American narrative also was unafraid of unconventional modes of telling the story, of subtle presentation of theme, and of requiring the reader’s participation at all levels of the narration. Though numerous Spanish American novels of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s...
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