Tell Them Not to Kill Me!

by Juan Rulfo

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What impression does the opening dialogue create about the main character and his situation in Tell Them Not to Kill Me!?

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In the opening section of Juan Rulfo’s “Tell Them Not to Kill Me!”, the impression of Juvencio Nava, the main character, is that of a desperate, selfish, and terrified individual who will do anything to stay alive. Rulfo paints the situation as incredibly dire—Juvencio’s life is in jeopardy. However, there is a role reversal here as well. Typically, we are all trained to believe that parents will do anything to protect their offspring. However, in the story’s opening dialogue, we see Juvencio willingly and passionately put his own life before his son’s. After Juvencio asks Justino to intervene on his behalf, Justino protests and says, “If I keep bothering them they’ll end up knowing who I am and will decide to shoot me too.” This statement does nothing to stop Juvencio from continuing to beg his son for help. When Justino expresses concern over who will care for his own children if he is killed trying to help his father, Juvencio’s only answer is that God will care for them. So here we have a man so desperately selfish and afraid that he is willing to put his own life before the welfare of his son and his (eight) grandchildren. Although Juvencio’s survival instincts are relatable, his willingness to risk his own family’s welfare just so he can save himself is despicable.

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In the short story "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!", by Juan Rulfo, Juvencio, now an old man, is pleading with his son, Justino, to speak to the colonel and beg for his father's life.

The reader gets the impression that Juvenico is in a dire situation. He is tied to a post begging his son to attempt to save his life, "For God's sake! Tell them [not to kill me]" (para 1). Juvenico brutally killed a man thirty-five years earlier and has been hiding from the law ever since. Now that he is an old man, he feels that he is close to death anyway and shouldn't be executed for the crime that took place so long ago. It is clear he will do anything to save his life, including endangering his son.

Justino does not want to speak to the sergeant or the colonel because he fears for his own life if they discover he is Juvencio's son. As well, the son has a wife and children and asks his father what will happen to them if they shoot him.

The reader gets the impression that Juvencio will do anything to save his own life. By the end of the story, this is reinforced as we discover that he has spent his entire life simply trying to stay alive no matter what the cost.

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When Juvencio is exhorting his son to try to intervene (mediate) on his behalf, the reader's impression of him is that he is desperate to remain alive; so much so, in fact, that he ignores the fact that he might endanger his son. His behavior arouses the sympathy of the reader; what person wouldn't want to avoid execution? At the same time, his lack of concern for the perilous position he would be putting his son in seems morally repugnant. The situation is definitely one of life and death, and, at the beginning of the story, it is not yet clear which man will lose his life, or if perhaps they both will. Justino, Juvencio's son, agrees to try to intervene, though it is clear that he is conflicted and worried about what would happen to his family if he were to be killed as a result of getting involved in his father's problem. Juvencio's assurance that God would look after Justino's family is shocking, because of Juvencio's selfishness in expecting his son to gamble with his life on his behalf.

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