Summary

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“Talpa” is one of Juan Rulfo’s best-known short stories. The story is related by the unnamed narrator, Tanilo’s brother, who accompanies Tanilo Santos and his wife, Natalia, on their pilgrimage to Talpa, where they hope Tanilo’s illness can be cured at the shrine of the Virgin Mary. The story begins after Tanilo has died and the travelers have returned to Zenzontla, with Natalia seeking solace from her mother. The reader believes that the narrator will be an objective observer of the events until he reveals in the second paragraph that he helped Natalia bury Tanilo and in the fifth paragraph that he and Natalia are responsible for Tanilo’s death. The rest of the short story is a series of flashbacks in which the narrator describes the events leading to Tanilo’s death.

According to the narrator, the idea of going to Talpa comes from Tanilo, but he and Natalia agree to accompany the sick man there out of a sense of duty. The narrator knows that Natalia has not been sleeping with her husband since he became ill. The inevitable happens, and during the journey to Talpa, Natalia and the narrator leave Tanilo on the side of the road and go off into the fields to consummate their passion. However, when they get to Talpa, the story takes a sinister turn.

The three of them left their hometown, Zenzontla, in mid-February, and twenty days later, in early March, they reach the outskirts of Talpa, where they join up with a number of other pilgrims who are also making their way along the main street of Talpa toward the Virgin Mary shrine. At this point, Tanilo suddenly gets very ill and asks to turn back, but because they want to get rid of him, the narrator and Natalia ruthlessly force him to keep walking. The pilgrims are singing the Gloria while walking along the main street, and just before they enter the shrine, they begin a dance, in which Tanilo, though very sick, participates. All the pilgrims then enter the church and take part in the ceremony, but immediately afterward, Tanilo is found dead.

Natalia and the narrator subsequently take Tanilo’s body to a nearby field, and they bury him deeply enough so the animals will not get him. On the way back to Zenzontla, Natalia is suddenly overcome with a terrible sense of guilt at what she has done, and she will not let the narrator come near her. The story ends where it began. The narrator is trying to come to terms with the crime he has committed, and he is bitter that Natalia will no longer have anything to do with him.

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