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||Juan Rulfo (1918-1986)|
Mexican novelist and short story writer, one of Spanish America's most esteemed authors. Rulfo's reputation is based on two slim books, El llano en llamas (1953, The Burning Plain), a collection of short stories, which included his admired tale 'Tell Them, Not to Kill Me!', and the timeless novel Pedro Páramo (1955), one of the models for Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. After publishing the work, Rulfo fell silent as a novelist.
"But that's why they brought him from there, from Palo de Venado. They didn't need to tie him so he'd follow them. He walked alone, tied by his fear. They realized the couldn't run with his old body, with those skinny legs of his like dry bark, cramped up with the fear of dying. Because that's where he was headed. For death. They told him so." (from 'Tell Them Not to Kill Me!')
Juan Rulfo was born Juan Nepomuceno Carlos Pérez Vizcaíno Rulfo in Sayula, in the province of Jalisco, into a family of landowners. (According to one source, his birth year was 1917, not 1918.) His ancestors came to South America from the north of Spain around 1790. During Rulfo's childhood the region was a scene of political unrest, erosion and war, and it later provided the background and atmosphere of his fiction.
Rulfo experienced the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and cristero rebellion.
It caused widespread destruction in the late 1920s. Rulfo's family
suffered financial ruin. His father and two uncles were murdered in the
troubles, and his mother died in 1927 of a heart attack.
Rulfo was brought up by his grandmother in San Gabriel and sent to the San Gabriel orphanage. After attending the Luis Silva school in Guadaljara from 1928 to 1932 and then seminary and secondary school, Rulfo moved to Mexico City, where he studied for a short time law at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Yet for all his efforts he could never overcome his feeling of depression and solitude. Forced to give up his studies, Rulfo worked for the next two decades as an immigration agent in Mexico City, Tampico, Guadalajara, and Veracruz. In 1947 he married Clara Aparicio, they had one daughter and three sons.
In 1944 Rulfo cofounded with Juan José Arreola and Antonio Alatorre of the literary review Pan. He worked for Goodrich-Euzkadi rubber company (1947-1954), and in 1955-56 he was a staff member of the publishing section of the Papaloapan Commission for land development. In the late 1950s he wrote screenplays in Mexico City and worked then in television in Guadalajara. From the early 1960s Rulfo was a staff member and later the director of the editorial department of National Institute for Indigenous Studies, where he edited seventy anthropological and archaeological volumes on indigenous peoples. The work took him away from writing fiction. In 1980 Rulfo was elected member of the Mexican Academy of Letters. His many awards include the National Literature Prize in 1970 and Príncipe de Asturias Prize in 1983. Rulfo died in Mexico City on January 7, 1986.
Rulfo began writing around 1940, but destroyed his first novel. At the age of 35 Rulfo published first collection of short stories, El llano en llamas (The Burning Plain), which consists of fifteen tales. It was published in the series 'Letras Mexicanas'in editions between 2,000 and 4,000 copies. Rulfo was frustrated at the low sales of the book. Moreover, Pedro Páramo was poorly reviewed when it first appeared. It took four years to sell the first 1,000 copies.
Cruel view of the world marked Rulfo's world – a girl is forced to prostitution, a cuckolded husband dies on a pilgrimage, people are crippled by their poverty. In 1953 he started to write the novel Pedro Páramo. These works sum up the so-called "novel of the Mexican revolution." Rulfo did not talk much of his fiction. Writing, he maintained, was not his profession, but his hobby. Rulfo was known to write a novel entitled La cordillera, but he did not show the manuscript to anybody. However, he wrote several film scripts, of which Gallo de oro from 1964 is most famous.
The rebellion of the Cristeros (self-designated followers of Christ
the King) had a strong impact on Rulfo's imagination, which can be seen
in the title story of El llano en llamas,
'La noche que lo
dejaron solo.' Autobiographical material, especially the killing of his
father, shaped 'Tell Them Not to Kill Me!' In the story about a revenge
an old man pleads to his own son, Justino, to intervene on his behalf.
Another son, colonel, has come back and orders the damned man to be
shot – years ago during a drought he had killed the colonel's
father. "There he was, slumped down at the foot of the post. His son
Justino had come and his son Justino had gone and had returned and now
was coming again." The most famous story is perhaps 'Nos han dado la
tierra' (They have given us the land), about four peasants, who walk
through a dry, hard wasteland, where nothing grows. It is the land they
were promised following the land reform.
The theme of the search for the father marks Pedro Páramo from the start: "I came to Comala because I was told that my father, a certain Pedro Páramo, lived there." (Vine a Comala porque me dijeron que acá vivía mi padre, un tal Pedro Páramo. Mi madre me lo dijo. Y lo le prometi que vendría a verlo en cuanto ella muriera.) Rulfo blends black humor and modern experimental techniques with Mexican folklore. Noteworthy, the indigenous people are mentioned only in one passage. He once said: "I never use Indians because it's impossible for me to enter and be able to delve into the indigenous mentality."
The son of the main character, Juan Preciado, travels to his mother's birthplace to search out his father. He only hears in the ghost town voices of phantoms.Comala, a barred dustbowl, is so hot, that when its people die and arrive in Hell they have to come back to fetch a blanket. Doña Eduviges, Damiana who had lived in Páramo's house, Dorotea a mad woman who had procured women for Páramo's son, all these appear as living people to Preciado. Pedro loves Susanna, who dies and allows his land to fall into ruin: "From that moment, the earth remained fallow and as if in ruins. It was terrible to see it overrun with such infirmities and so many scourges which invaded it as soon as it was left alone. And all because of the ideas of Don Pedro, for the conflicts of his soul." But everybody is already dead, his father has also taken the town, Comala, with him to the grave. The reader realizes that Juan Preciado is another afterlife voice in this Mexican Spoon River Anthology. The story ends with Pedro Páramado's murder by one of his other sons. Pedro Páramo has influenced deeply Latin American literature. Gabriel Garcia Marquez included a sentence from the book in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Also Rulfo's ghost town, populated by phantoms, partly inspired García Márquez's portrayal of his mythical town of Macondo.
Rulfo challenged the mainstream of Mexican narrative, its adherence to French naturalism. He mixed reality and fantasy, used short sentences, concentrated on behavior rather than states of consciousness, and avoided clearly judging characters he described. Rulfo's work also showed the influence of such Nordic writers as Knut Hamsun, Selma Lagerlöf, F.E. Sillanpää, and Halldor K. Laxness. Also Emily Brontë and William Faulkner left traces in Rulfo's fiction. Typical for Rulfo's stories were problematic father-son relationships, flashbacks of violence, upside-down chronology, haunting visions, and the burden of guilt and death. Dialogue is often treated as monologue. The Mexican poet Octavio Paz once said that Rulfo is "the only Mexican novelist to have provided us an image – rather than a mere description – of our physical surroundings."
For further reading: (Re)Collecting the Past: History and Collective Memory in Latin American Narrative, ed. Victoria Carpenter (2010); Juan Rulfo's Mexico by Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, Margo Glantz and Jorge Alberto Lozoya (2002); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed. by Steven Serafin (1999); Ensayos sobre la obra de Juan Rulfo by Gustavo Fares (1998); Juan Rulfo by Gustavo C. Fares (1994); Los caminos de la creación en Juan Rulfo by Sergio López Mena (1993); Juan Rulfo by Silvia Lorente-Murphy (1988); El Texto En Llamas: El Arte Narrativo De Juan Rulfo by Terry J. Peavler (1988) ; Rulfo: dinámica de la violerncia by Magda Portal (1984); Juan Rulfo by Luis Leal (1983), Analisis Arquetipico, Mitico Y Simbologico De Pedro Paramo by Nicolas E. Alvarez (1983); Claves narrativas de Juan Rulfo by José Carlos Gonzáles Boixo (1980); World Authors 1970-1975, ed. by John Wakeman (1980); El lugar de Rulfo by Jorge Ruffinelli (1980); El Estilo De Juan Rulfo by Nila G. Marrone (1978) ; La narrativa de Juan Rulfo, ed. by Joseph Sommers (1974); Paradise and Fall in Rulfo's "Pedro Páramo" by George Ronald Freeman (1970); An Introduction to Spanish-American Literature by Jean Franco (1969); After the Storm by J. Sommers (1968); Into the Mainstream by L. Harss and B. Dohmann (1966); El arte de Juan Rulfo by Alcalá Rodríguez (1965)