October 22, 1994
Rulfo: Pedro Páramo
Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo is replete with murmurings and whispers from dead-but-not-gone denizens of Comala. These uneasy spirits are perhaps victims of unfinished quests or “inverted” quests. Since their longings and desires of the physical, linear world are unrequited, they are continuing their respective quests posthumously. This continuance, albeit perhaps compulsory, is futile for they have lost the very physicality that would have leant efficacy to their questing.
The narrator, Juan Preciado, begins the novel with his own quest: to collect from his father what is owed him, i.e. his rightful inheritance. He reluctantly begins this quest only for it to become his raison d’être—and therefore even after his death we find him in the grave talking with another victim of an inverted quest, Doretea, unable to rest. Yet, before his death, Juan encounters spirits of other disquieted dead: Abundio Martínez, Eduviges Dyada, Damiana Cisneros, various townspeople, and Donis and Chona. Each of these dead have their own story, and though some remain ambiguous, others relay their failed quests: Doretea never had her own son, Abundio was unable to get money with which to bury his wife, Eduviges’ suicide, and Donis’ and Chona’s wish to remain together with the church’s blessing. Now all of these spirits echo through the streets of Comala; Juan says, “The murmuring killed me … when I was face to face with the murmuring, the dam burst” (58). So Juan, like the rest of Comala’s inhabitants, is now a spirit, the victim of an inverted quest.
Other victims, Father Reutería, Miguel Páramo, Toribio Aldrete, Bartolomé San Juan, Gerardo Trujillo, and others, remain shades from the past and are present in the remainder of the novel. Like the shadows that Juan met, these have also ostensibly frustrated quests, and, like the others, they are not corporeal and cannot hope to fulfill their desires; that very hope, Doretea says, one pays dearly for. Yet, fulfilled hope, i.e. a completed quest, was realized by Susana and Florencio. The latter died which lets the former say that “I only believe in hell” (110). Florencio represented for Susana, and vice versa, Heaven, a fulfilled quest on earth. By the death of Florencio, Susana is plunged into hell, i.e. earthly despair, she suffers physically while she lives, and her spirit murmurs close the Juan and Doretea. Florencio’s spirit, however, does not murmur in the novel; seemingly he has found his earthly happiness which allowed his soul to rest after death.
The church, the orthodox venue for the salvation of souls, is unable to help, and causes more suffering, in this case by leaving quests unfulfilled, than it alleviates. Father Reutería, representing the church, is impotent to help anyone, including his own hapless soul. When he comes to “comfort” Susana, she sends him away: “Don’t come back. I don’t need you. … Why do you come see me, when you are dead?” (93) She had her heaven and it is gone, Reutería can not help her, nor anyone else it seems. He has doubts in his own church: doctrines that seem unfair, giving no absolution to those that seemingly deserve it, and accepting support from those who don’t, e.g. Pedro Páramo.
It could be suggested that Pedro Páramo is to blame for these suffering souls. Indeed, if he showed some compassion and understanding many of the failed quests could have been realized. Yet, Pedro Páramo is also a disturbed spirit who failed in a quest: to reach Susana whom he placed behind the great providence of God. At the novel’s close, Pedro sits motionless in his chair thinking of Susana whom he will never have: “This is death,” he says as capable as a pile of rocks to seeing the fruition of his quest (123).