Rulfo, Juan (1918–1986)

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Rulfo, Juan (1918–1986)

Juan Rulfo (b. 16 May 1918; d. 7 January 1986), Mexican writer. Born in Sayula, Jalisco, Rulfo was a man of vast culture and a writer of extreme economy, despite the fact that his literary aptitude became apparent during childhood. His first works were published while he was still very young in a literary magazine in his native province, where he met Juan José Arreola. Arreola and Rulfo became friends as well as representatives of the two most influential styles—both opposing and complementary—in the 1950s and 1960s in Mexico. In 1934, Rulfo moved to Mexico City, where he lived until his death, although in his varied career he traveled throughout the entire country. He came to know intimately the local dialects of many rural areas, which he put to brilliant use in his works. In a period of two years, Rulfo published his only two books: the collection of short stores El llano en llamas in 1953 and the novel Pedro Páramo in 1955. The revised edition (1970) of the former consists of seventeen stories. All the stories are set in rural Mexico, and in all of them the most diverse possibilities of the genre, ranging from narration in the first person to the objective and impersonal, are developed to perfection.

Pedro Páramo makes use of brief passages of extremely diverse narrative techniques in a disconcerting arrangement. It describes a world in which appear all aspects of human life and death, a world that is at the same time merely a town. This town, in the author's own words, "is dying of itself." It is the symbol of a country and of the myth of paradise lost (Pedro Páramo is the overlord of a paradise-inreverse called Comala, and it is also desolation, devastation, the desert).

In his works Rulfo also displayed the best of the large, complex tradition of realist prose in Mexico, one phase of which is known as Mexican Revolution novels. At the same time, since their publication, his works have been enormously influential, not only in Mexico but in all of Latin America. Rulfo knew how to portray with linguistic precision the radiant universality that dwelled within the lives of the poorest, most anonymous campesinos as well as within the most renowned leaders. Through the most mundane acts, each of Rulfo's characters embodies and expresses the essential truths and myths of humanity. A father carries his agonizing son, reproducing an inverted version of the myth of Saint Christopher; a son travels in search of his father, who has never left the place of his birth, and repeats in reverse the story of Telemachus and Ulysses. Rulfo's world is a world in reverse, where extremes touch. Thus, the silence in his work is always murmuring and the dead never stop manifesting their vitality. Rulfo never forgot that in order to be authentic the universality of his imagination had to be rooted in the most profound interconnections of Mexican reality.

Several things stand out about these interconnections: the discreet omnipotence of language which, without great fanfare and with simple, fleeting metaphors, gets to the bottom of the daily miracles of life; the complicity between humankind and nature, which, in Rulfo's eyes, makes the rustic Mexican world an environment full of movement, of animism, where each object and act provides a unique means of seeing the universe; and the vitality that makes his protagonists unforgettable because they are not moved by psychological motives but rather by intense, sanguine convictions. This transforms his characters into human beings whose singular "Mexicanness" is startling, whose fondness for the earthy forces of passion, obsession, and vengeance is disturbing to many foreign readers. With his vision, Rulfo was able to influence Mexican as well as Latin American literature. He created the basic characteristics of "magic realism" and has become a primary source of the universal modern narrative.

See alsoLiterature: Spanish America; Mexico: Since 1910.


Rose S. Minc, Lo fantástico y lo real en la narrativa de Juan Rulfo y Guadalupe Dueñas (1977).

Luis Leal, Juan Rulfo (in English) (1983).

Luis Fernando Veas Mercado, Los modos narrativos en los cuentos en primera persona de Juan Rulfo: Los relatos considerados como una metáfora de una visión del mundo (1984).

Francisco Antolín, Los espacios en Juan Rulfo (1991).

Gustavo C. Fares, Imaginar Comala: El espacio en la obra de Juan Rulfo (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Arias Urrutia, Angel. Entre la cruz y la sospecha: Los cristeros de Revueltas, Yáñez y Rulfo. Madrid: Vervuert, 2005.

Campbell, Federico. La ficción de la memoria: Juan Rulfo ante la crítica. México, D.F.: Ediciones Era, 2005.

Estrada Cárdenas, Alba Sovietina. Estructura y discurso de género en Pedro Páramo de Juan Rulfo. México, D.F.: Eón: Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, 2005.

Ortega, María Luisa. Mito y poesía en la obra de Juan Rulfo. Bogotá: Siglo del Hombre Editores, 2004.

                                       Jorge Aguilar Mora