Written in the style of magical realism, Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo is quite an unusual novel. Its characters are ghosts and the only one living dies and becomes a ghost too in mid-story. Imagine reading a story told by ghosts! It is weird, but it also has some attraction because of the novelty.
The story is about a young man’s journey to Comala to meet his long-lost father who he finds to be dead. And what is interesting is that so are the rest of the townspeople. It’s basically a ghost city to which he goes looking for his father. At first, he is unaware of this fact. But then he realizes the truth and the fright kills him! So once the living narrator becomes a ghost himself, and the story is told from all ghosts’ points of view.
The story is presented in fragments, going back and forth in time. Through these fragments, the true character of Pedro Páramo comes to light. He is a dictator, manipulator, seducer, and murderer, an unlikeable character altogether. This character reminded me of a don in a mafia. The story is more or less of his life and dealings and how he destroyed a whole village of dependents through his wicked conduct. But as the saying goes “what goes around comes around” and he must reap the consequences of his actions.
At first, it was difficult for me to understand what Rulfo was aiming at with this novel. Then I learned that he was prompted to write this piece following observation of the migration of people from rural cities to more urbane ones seeking better opportunities. This left the rural cities deserted and ghostly. Rulfo saw this trend as due to the loss of hope, hope for a better future. And the loss of hope lies at the root of the story of Pedro Páramo. Rulfo wanted to show what it would be like to lose hope. He wanted to show that humans are no better than ghosts when they lose hope. Juan Preciado’s journey to meet his father Pedro Páramo is rendered futile by Pedro’s death. His death is a mark of his shattered hope. Juan’s mother dies waiting in the hope of a summons from Pedro to come back to him, which never came. Susana San Juan becomes a living ghost when her beloved first husband dies. Even Pedro himself, who in his life lived only Susana, becomes a living ghost completely neglecting what he owes to his people.
The novel had its own attractions and merits. But the depressing tone of the story was not welcoming. I do understand that that tone colour was required to bring out the story’s thematic exposition, yet the understanding doesn’t make the reading any easier. And I do feel that the depressing tone prevented me from fully appreciating the quality of this powerful novel. So I must say that my rating is not a reflection of the merits of the novel or the quality of Rulfo’s writing (which I found quite pleasing), but a reflection of my reading experience.