Tell Them Not to Kill Me!

by Juan Rulfo

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Juvencio Nava

Juvencio is the sixty-year-old protagonist of the story, who must face a firing squad for a murder committed thirty-five years before. Despite the heinous nature of his crime, the elderly man begs for his life and, in his pleas for mercy, flashes back to the crime itself. As a youth, he owned a herd of cattle he struggled to feed during a drought. As a result, he regularly stole from his neighbor, Don Lupe, and allowed his cattle to graze on Don Lupe’s pasture, despite his neighbor’s express disapproval. 

Even then, Juvencio was a dishonest, lazy man who expected the world to bend to his desires. He murders his neighbor for refusing to allow him to use his land but avoids punishment for his crimes. Later, he acts surprised and almost offended when the judge does not accept his bribes, forcing him to abandon his life in Alima and live in hiding. Juvencio is an incredibly entitled man who feels little guilt or remorse for his actions. In his last moments, he does not mourn his decisions; instead, he blames others for his circumstances and curses their lack of mercy. Juvencio was not a good man, and, in the end, he received his well-deserved punishment, the final act in a life lived in fear of capture and death.

Justino Nava

Juvencio’s son, Justino, is reluctant to help his condemned father, for he worries about the implications of helping a murderer. He appears rather apathetic to his father’s plight and only seems concerned about his own family. At the end of the story, Justino returns to retrieve his father’s corpse, which he rather disrespectfully lugs over his donkey’s back, covers with a burlap sack, and then insults. The relationship between Juvencio and his son is more than strained; in his moment of need, his son is neither sympathetic nor helpful.

Guadalupe Terreros 

Thirty-five years ago, Guadalupe Terreros, or, as he is more often known, Don Lupe, was Juvencio's neighbor. A married man with two young children, Don Lupe owned a pasture that Juvencio wished to use. When Don Lupe rejected his neighbor's aggressive demands on his property, he incited a conflict that ended in his death. Before this conflict, Don Lupe seemed to be friends with his neighbor, but their relationship soon decayed. Guadalupe Terreros suffers a grisly end, as he is hacked with a machete and stabbed with an ox goad. He lives on in agony for two days and, when he is finally found, begs that "his family be cared for." Unfortunately, his widowed wife dies shortly after, and his children are forced to move far away to live with family. Although Rulfo does not provide many details about who Don Lupe was and what he was like, his story is tragic and readers feel vindicated when he receives justice, even thirty-five years on. 

The Colonel

The name of Don Lupe's son is never revealed; however, he is referred to as “the colonel” throughout the story. His identity is only revealed at the end of the story, and his ruthless desire for revenge clarifies. More than the focus on justice expected of a law enforcement official, his yearning to bring Juvencio to justice is inspired by a personal tie to the crime. The man killed the colonel’s father, leaving him writhing in terrible agony. After that, his mother died, and he was forced to move, still grieving the loss of both parents, to live with distant relatives. Juvencio, pleading before him, was the cause of this pain and heartbreak. The colonel refuses to adjust his sentence, as he explains: 

I can't forgive his still living. He should never have been born.

It is a desire for vengeance that brings him back to Palo de Venado to oversee the execution of Juvencio Nava by firing squad.

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