Tell Them Not to Kill Me!

by Juan Rulfo

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Discussion Topic

The use of flashback as a narrative technique in "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!"


The use of flashback in "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" provides crucial background information and deepens the reader's understanding of the protagonist's motivations and past actions. This narrative technique allows the story to reveal the reasons behind the characters' present circumstances and emotions, creating a more layered and engaging narrative.

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Why does the author of "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" tell the story through a flashback?

In this story, we learn about a man called Juvencio, who allowed his animals to graze on the land belonging to his neighbor Don Lupe. Don Lupe got angry about Juvencio continually breaking through the fence to let his animals eat Don Lupe's grass, and so he finally said that he would kill one of the animals the next time they trespassed. When he did so, Juvencio killed him in retaliation. Since this time, Juvencio has been on the run, despite having bribed the judge and paid for his crime many times over. Juvencio feels that he is probably safe from Don Lupe's family because his widow died and his young children were taken away to be raised by relatives. Eventually, he goes to live with his son Justino, and Justino refuses to try to save Juvencio when Don Lupe's son eventually returns to bring him to justice.

Telling the story in flashback allows us to see, side by side, the present with the past: how Don Lupe's son is incredibly loyal and returns after many years to avenge his father, as well as how Juvencio's son is not and abandons his father rather than risking his own life to save him. Justino's response to seeing his father's corpse is relatively unfeeling, and he says nothing of how he will miss his father, only how his own children will miss their grandfather. The juxtaposition of past and present, as well as the responses of Don Lupe's son and Juvencio's son to their fathers, likely compels readers to judge Justino more harshly as a result of the loyalty the colonel shows to his own father.

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Why does the author tell the story in flashback in "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!"?

The choice of the author to tell this short story in flashback is a bold one, which not only heightens and maintains the suspense but also allows the writer to completely subvert the reader's expectations at the very last moment.

At the beginning of the story, we meet the old man pleading with his son to "tell them not to kill me." Our first thoughts, then, are sympathy for the old man, whom we are sure does not deserve to be killed, and also curiosity to know who wants to kill him and why. As the story goes on, we learn, piece by piece, how the old man has ended up in this situation.

The narrative voice shifts points of view, which also adds to the intrigue of the story. According to the old man's perspective, he did kill Don Lupe, but he "had to," and he "had his reasons." This strengthens our sense that the old man is being mistreated, particularly due to the phrases used which evoke pathos—the old man "clung" to "hope" and wants "peace in [his] old age." We feel sympathy for him because he is old and weak—but, of course, this is also exactly what he hopes his captors will do.

Only at the very end of the story, then, do we hear what happened to Don Lupe from the perspective of the unfortunate man's son. Far from killing him by accident, or even killing him humanely, the old man stabbed him with a cattle prod and left him to die in agony. By the time the story concludes, then, with the old man dead, we understand the actions of his captors, and our sympathies have shifted—we no longer believe that the old man is someone to feel sorry for. We feel for his captors instead.

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