Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 498

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As with his classic novel Bless Me Ultima (1972), Rudolfo A. Anaya explores in “The Silence of the Llano” the relationship between place, culture, and the Latino individual in the New Mexico of the early to mid-twentieth century. Anaya’s fascination for this time and region has two origins. First, this is the landscape of his childhood, for Anaya grew up in the desolate prairie lands near Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Second, this is the era when this region began to lose its uniqueness because of the transformations caused by technology and the modern world. It is significant that Rita’s rapist arrives by automobile, a harbinger of twentieth century change and its dangers.

At the story’s opening, Anaya establishes the twin forces of land and culture. He writes how the llano’s oppressive vastness creates a silence that steals human souls. To escape this silence, the ranchers go to town just to hear the old men gossip in front of Las Animas’s general store. They also go there for the healing of the soul through the priest and the healing of the body through las curanderas, or folk healers, like Doña Rufina.

Thus the dual influences of the rugged land and the rural, Catholic-Spanish civilization shape the young rancher Rafael, as they did most Hispanic men and women of mid-twentieth century northern New Mexico. Early on, Rafael learns the tough lesson of the llano’s cruelty when his parents die in a blizzard and he loses half his herd. However, Rita breaks through his resultant stoicism, and for a brief time, the couple live in a pastoral Eden. However, Anaya knows that the llano breaks such paradises quickly, and with Rita’s death, Rafael retreats into a private world devoid of human contact. Out of bitterness and blame, he even severs any connection with his own daughter.

Ironically, it is another tragic moment that breaks through Rafael’s shell. His daughter’s rape shocks him into seeing his wife’s spirit, and this experience heals his wounded heart and allows him to return to his true nature as a caring and loving man, as symbolized in the new garden he will dig for his daughter.

Finally, it is important to note that Anaya also believes that the llano can be a place of nurturing and beauty. During his brief marriage, Rafael becomes drunk on the spring air and revels in the glories of the prairie’s night sky. His wife coaxes a gemlike green garden and peach trees lush with blossoms from the dry soil. Rita, the daughter, while growing up on her own, learns the language of the animals and the ways of nature.

Thus the llano shapes its inhabitants into a people who possess a deep spirit, strong emotions, and a rich culture. They become great through their struggles with the land and life, and Rafael, by transcending his tragedies to return to his love of land and family, also attains that greatness.