Tell Them Not to Kill Me!

by Juan Rulfo

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Tell Them Not to Kill Me! Summary

Tell Them Not to Kill Me!” is a short story by Juan Rulfo. It tells the story of Juvencio Nava, an old man who has been sentenced to death for a murder he committed thirty-five years ago.

  • The story opens with Juvencio’s son, Justino, coming to visit him in jail. Juvencio pleads with Justino to speak on his behalf before the colonel, who is in charge of his case.
  • Justino is initially hesitant but eventually agrees to help his father. He goes to see the colonel and pleads for Juvencio’s life, but the colonel is unmoved.
  • The colonel reveals that he is the son of Don Lupe, the man Juvencio murdered. Justino can do nothing but watch as his father is executed by firing squad.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Published in Juan Rulfo’s 1953 short story collection, The Burning Plain and Other Stories, “Tell Them Not to Kill Me” tells the story of an old man struggling to reconcile himself with his impending execution for a crime committed thirty-five years before. 

In the beginning, the story is rather dialogue-heavy, as the narrator, Juvencio Nava, pleads with his son, Justino, to advocate to first the sergeant, then the colonel on his behalf. Compared to Juvencio’s desperate panic, Justino appears disinterested in the proceedings and, at first, refuses to attempt to aid his father. Eventually, he begrudgingly acquiesces but chides his father for asking his son to risk his own life and the security of his daughter-in-law and grandchildren. 

After the father-son exchange, Rulfo fleshes out the scene. Juvencio sits, tied to a post, wishing only to live. He longs for life like a “recently resuscitated man,” then falls to reminiscing, recalling the circumstances that brought him to this point. He remembers a drought thirty-five years ago that decimated his herd; he remembers, too, Don Lupe Terreros, the owner of a pasture, who refused to allow Juvencio’s starving animals to graze. As the effects of the drought killed his animals one by one, Juvencio began to cut holes in Don Lupe’s fence, holes the owner would repair each morning, and Juvencio would recut at night. Eventually, the situation escalated, as Juvencio explains, and he had to kill Don Lupe. 

He did not want to kill the man; however, Don Lupe soon lay dead. Juvencio tried to bribe the judge, first with his cattle, then his home, but to no avail. Now a murderer without a herd or a home, Juvencio fled to the mountains, where he hid with his son for thirty-five years. After Don Lupe's death, Juvencio lived like a hunted man. Whenever strangers came to town, he would take off to the mountains to hide. He bribed the judge and the posse to save himself, but it was useless. They came after him anyway. In the end, Juvencio went to live with his son at Palo de Venado. Although Juvencio was forced to live in hiding, he lived a relatively happy life, unlike Don Lupe’s abandoned family; his widow died shortly after, leaving their two young children orphans. Juvencio appears to feel little guilt over his actions and merely mourns the freedom he lost. Now, in his old age, Juvencio had hoped he would be left alone. However, this was not to be.

Two men escort Juvencio to the colonel. As he walks between them, he reminisces on his life. Staring down at the earth, he imagines the span of his sixty years stretching before him; he imagines that there must be some mistake, for he cannot wrap his mind around the idea of death. He attempts to reason with the men on either side of him, telling him that he “never hurt anybody.” The remark goes unacknowledged, and the men lead him to his destination in silence. 

They stop in front of the darkened house. The colonel’s voice emanates out and begins to question Juvencio, asking about his origins and if he knew Don Lupe. He responds that he did know Don Lupe but adds that he is dead. Finally, the colonel reveals his identity: he is Don Lupe’s son, and he demands justice for the man who brutally murdered his father and has yet to face justice. Without looking at the guilty old man, the colonel condemns him to death, summarily rejecting his pleas for mercy. Juvencio begs, asking the colonel to consider the thirty-five years he spent in hiding and fear. The colonel is cold, telling his men to tie him up and let him suffer before he faces the firing squad. 

In the final scene, Justino returns and finds his father slumped at the bottom of the post to which he was tied, riddled with bullet holes. He picks up his father’s corpse, strapping him to the top of the burro like luggage, then covers his head with a burlap sack. Earlier, Justino seemed disinterested in his father’s panic. Now, he seems even less concerned by his circumstances. Justino speaks dismissively to his father’s corpse and tells him that his grandchildren will hardly recognize him due to the bullet holes marring his face.

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