This town is filled with echoes. It's like they were trapped behind the walls, or beneath the cobblestones. When you walk you feel like someone's behind you, stepping in your footsteps.If the dead could speak, what would they say? To whom would they say it?
Pedro is Peter, the rock, the stone. Páramo is a moor, a wasteland. So the title character, the title of this novella, is something like "the stone in the wasteland." I get the impression that Rulfo is implying an inversion of St Peter, the rock upon which the church is built, for Pedro Páramo is the rock upon which the tale is told, and also the rock upon which the characters are dashed and destroyed. There are also historical forces at work, at the edges of the story, piercing the action toward the end in the form of revolutionary armies, but I lack the knowledge of Mexican history to know what those forces mean. I'm left looking at the humanity of the characters and the forms of expressions, the early stirrings of magical realism, that Rulfo puts into Pedro Páramo. Which is plenty enough to think about.
The sky was filled with fat stars, swollen from the long night. The moon had risen briefly and then slipped out of sight. It was one of those sad moons that no one looks at or pays attention to. It had hung there a while, misshapen, not shedding any light, and then gone to hide behind the hills.The Páramo family is a dynasty of almost feudal landowners somewhere in rural Mexico, the family seat being a hacienda called Media Luna*, outside the town of Comala**. The Páramo patriarchs more or less own Comala and the surrounding ranches, taking what they want by intimidation, corrupt legal dealings, and murder. The Páramo men take whatever women they want, fathering who knows how many illegitimate children, ruining lives as if by instinct.
Rulfo lets the dead of Comala narrate their own stories, in short episodes that build a sort of branching viny picture of the dead town. The first speaker is Juan Preciado, who makes a promise to his dying mother to make a pilgrimage to Comala, to find Pedro Páramo. Páramo is Juan's father. Juan's mother claims to have been Páramo's legal wife before she left him forever. Juan makes the long journey to Comala to discover that everyone in the town has died, that it is populated now only by ghosts whose deaths have brought them neither peace nor rest. Juan learns, in fact, that he himself is one of the dead. Pedro Páramo is a book of the dead speaking to the dead. If you are reading the book, you too may be one of the dead.
I am lying in the same bed where my mother died so long ago; on the same mattress, beneath the same black wool coverlet she wrapped us in to sleep. I slept beside her, her little girl, in the special place she made for me in her arms. I think I can still feel the calm rhythm of her breathing; the palpitations and sighs that soothed my sleep... I think I feel the pain of her death... But that isn't true. Here I lie, flat on my back, hoping to forget my loneliness by remembering those times. Because I am not here just for a while. And I am not in my mother's bed but in a black box like the ones for burying the dead. Because I am dead. I sense where I am, but I can think...This is all clearly metaphorical speech on the part of Rulfo, maybe a claim that Mexico--or at least parts of rural Mexico--have died due to the violence and greed of someone, I don't know who. I can sense the power behind all of this surrealism, the anger and sadness of Rulfo, but I can't really understand the center of it. Which is fine, because we can all understand the anger and sadness of the world's losers, right? My inability to know the subtleties of Rulfo's argument don't necessarily blind me to either his artistic strengths or his portrayal of suffering.
This is after all a book about suffering. It's Lent as I write this, so I am allowing myself to think about how my people believe that suffering can lead to grace. In Rulfo's ghost town of Comala, suffering leads to nothing but an awareness of one's pain, pain beyond endurance, eternal despair that can never be forgotten. The dry stone in the middle of the wasteland.
* "half moon" (but which half?)
** My Spanish fails me with comala, and the best I can figure is that it's a portmanteau of coma and mala. Someone help me with that one.