The Burning Plain and Other Stories Summary and Analysis
by Juan Rulfo
One of the longer stories in The Burning Plain, “Anacleto Morones” is told in first person by the character of Lucas Lucatero. Lucatero begins the story by cursing the women who have come to visit him: “Old women, daughters of the devil! I saw them coming all together in a procession. Dressed in black, sweating like mules under the hot sun.” They were carrying “their large black scapularies on which the sweat from their faces fell in big drops.”
Knowing “what they were up to and who they were looking for,” the narrator immediately hides out in his backyard, running with his pants in his hands. The women found him naked, idly squatting on a stone, however, and were immediately scandalized. Lucatero does this intentionally, “so they would see me and not come close,” but this does not discourage the women. They then explain that they have come from the town of Amula to see him, “but we didn’t figure you would be way back here doing this.” The narrator curses them again, comparing them to saddle sores on a donkey. He then asks them what they want as he buttons his pants and they avert their eyes.
The women explain that they have come on a mission, and have been searching for him in various towns. The narrator tells us he already knows all the women by name, but he decides to act as if he doesn’t. He then invites them onto his porch, brings out some chairs and offers them some food and drink. The women decline the food and return to the subject of their visit. One woman asks him if he recognizes her and Lucatero says he thinks she might be “Pancha Fregoso, who let herself be carried off by Homobono Ramos.” The woman says she is Pancha but that no one carried her off, “the two of us got lost looking for berries. I’m a church member and I would never have let him.” She then chastizes him for having an evil mind.
The narrator then offers them a glass of water, and the women finally agree to accept it. There were ten women seated on his porch in a row and all dressed in black, “the daugthers of Ponciano, Emiliano, Crescenciano, Toribio the Tavernkeeper and Anastasio the barber.” The women explain that they have had a hard time tracking him down, and as they begin to go into the reason for their visit the narrator gets up to collect some eggs from the yard despite the women’s protest.
The narrator sees a pile of stones outlining a grave. Lucatero scatters the rocks in every direction. He goes back inside and gives the women the eggs. He knows that these women of the Congregation of Amula have been looking for him since January, when Anacleto Morones disappeared: “They were the only ones who could have any interest in Anacleto Morones. And now here they were.”
The narrator decides to stall until night, when would have to leave: “They wouldn’t dare spend the night in my house.” Sure enough, night falls and the women refuse to stay for fear of what the townspeople would think if they spent the night there alone with him. They don't leave yet, however.
Lucatero speaks to one of the women, Nieves García, continuing to stall her. Nieves and he used to be lovers, and Lucatero abandoned her while she was pregnant; he conveniently forgets this history for a while before flirting with her, describing how he used to kiss the back of her knees. Nieves responds that God will not pardon Lucatero because she had to abort their baby. The narrator feigns ignorance and goes outside to make more myrtle water. When he returns Nieves has left.
The conversation soon turns to the subject of Anacleto, "the Holy Child." They speak of a man, Eldemiro, who was punished by God for accusing Anacleto of being a quack. They note that the judge who “sent the Holy Child to jail” also met the same fate.
Suddenly one of the women asks Lucatero if he will come with them to Amula. This is why they have come. They explain that they want him to participate in their novena, a prayer group for Anacleto. They need someone who had known him “before he became famous for his miracles” so they can put together a case to have him made a saint.
This is repulsive to Lucatero, and he says he cannot go because no one will take care of his house. They respond that two of them will stay to take care of it along with his wife, the Holy Child's daughter. Lucatero says that he does not have a wife anymore, telling them that he ran her off, which shocks the women. They hope that she has at least been placed in a convent but the narrator says she was “too fond of being loose and bawdy” to be in a convent.
The women then say that all this can be fixed if he just confesses when he gets to Amula. They ask him when he last confessed and he says that it was fifteen years ago, “when the Cristeros were going to shoot me. They shoved a gun in my back and made me kneel in front of a priest, and I confessed to things there that I hadn’t even done yet.” To this the women again say that if he wasn’t the son-in-law of the Holy Child they wouldn’t ask this of him because “you’ve always been a real devil, Lucas Lucatero.” The narrator then remarks that he was just “Anacleto Morones’ helper. He was the living devil himself.”
This scandalizes the women once again, and they say he was a saint. Lucatero explains, however, that Anacleto used to sell phony saints’ relics in the fairs. Lucatero says that Anacleto once pretended to endure ant bites with the help of a piece of the true cross, with the aim of then selling the relic, though in fact he simply bit his tongue to keep from crying out. The women deny that the narrator is telling the truth. They say Lucatero was ungrateful because he was nothing more than a swineherd before he met Anacleto.
The women say that Anacleto is in heaven now, but Lucatero says he heard the man was in jail. To this the women say that he has since escaped, leaving no trace, so he must be in heaven. The women then kneel down and kiss their scapularies with images of Anacleto. During this time the narrator goes to the kitchen to eat some tacos: “When I came out only five women were left.” Pancha tells him that they were so disgusted they had to go. He then offers those that remain some more myrtle water. Filomena, who’s nickname was the Dead One for her quiet nature, “rushed over to one of my flowerpots and, putting her finger down her throat, brought up all the myrtle water she had swallowed, mixed in with pieces of sausage and fruit seeds.” She then said that she didn’t want anything from him and leaving her egg on her chair, left: “Now only four were left.”
Pancha said she felt like vomiting too, but that they had to get him to go to Amula. She reminds him that he was almost Anacleto’s son: “You inherited the fruit of his saintliness. He put his eyes on you to perpetuate him. He gave you his daughter.” To this the narrator responds by saying “yes, but he gave her to me already perpetuated.” The women again are shocked, but he insists that the girl was already four months pregnant when they were married and was proud of showing off her bulging stomach. She ran off with someone else just because he offered to take care of the child.
The narrator then truly stuns the women by telling them that “inside Anacleto Morones’ daughter was Anacleto Morones’ grandchild.” She wasn’t the only one either, because he “left this part of the country without virgins, always seeing to it that a maiden watched over his sleep.” The women then defend the man by saying he did this to stay pure, but the narrator responds that they say this because he didn’t choose to be with them.
Melquíades, one of the remaining four then said that Anacleto did call on her, and that he only held her through the night. The narrator tells her that this was because she is old, and that Anacleto “liked them young and tender, liked to hear their bones breaking, to hear them snap as if they were peanut shells.” The one named “The Orphan” then called Lucatero a cursed atheist. She said she was an orphan and that Anacleto comforted her. She explains that she found her parents again in his embrace when the night they spent together: the only happy night I spent was with the Holy Child Anacleto in his consoling arms. And now you say bad things about him.”
After another batch of insults thrown Lucatero’s way, only two women remain. Anastasio’s daughter Micaela then asks if he would really deny that Anacleto performed miracles. She claims that he cured her husband of syphilis. The narrator expresses surprise at this since he had heard that she was single. Micaela, then tells him that being a señorita and a being single are different things. She says she got little benefit out of living as a señorita: “I’m a woman. And a woman is born to give what is given her.” Lucatero remarks that these are Anacleto’s words. Micaela explains that he got her to sleep with him in order to cure her liver trouble, but that “being fifty years old and a virgin is a sin.” The narrator again recognizes Anacleto’s voice in her words. He asks the two women why they don’t want to make him a saint instead, and Micaela replies that he has never cured anyone of syphilis. She describes how her husband suffered before Anacleto burned him with a hot reed and rubbed saliva on his sores to cure him. Lucatero tells her that he must have had the measles since he too was cured as a child using this technique. They again criticize his lack of faith, but Lucatero responds: “I have the consolation that Anacleto Morones was worse than me.” Upon hearing this Micaela decides to leave.
Lucatero then asks Pancha if she will stay and sleep with him now that the other women have left. She replies that she only wants to convince him to come with them. Lucatero says that they ought to try to convince each other: “After all, what have you got to lose? You’re too old for anybody to pay attention to you or do you that favor.” Finally she says she will stay but only until dawn and only if he promises to go to Amula with her so she can tell them she spent the night begging him to accompany her. He then jokingly says: “Okay. But first cuto off those hairs over your lips. I’ll bring you the scissors.” She replies that they can’t trim her moustache since someone will notice.
When it gets dark Pancha helps Lucatero put the rocks he had scattered back into the corner where they originally were. The narrator tells us that “she had no idea that Anacleto Morones was buried there. Or that he died the same day he escaped from jail and came here demanding I return his property to him.” Anacleto had asked him to sell everything so he could have money to travel up North. He promised to write Lucatero so that he could then join him and they could go into business together again. Lucatero had told him to take his daughter since that’s all he had left of Anacleto’s. Anacleto responded that they could join him later once he got in touch: “There we’ll settle accounts.” He asked Lucatero how much money he had saved, and the narrator told him there was a little left, “but I’m not going to give it to you. I’ve gone through hell with your shameless daughter. Consider yourself well paid by my keeping her.” Anacleto then got angry and shouted that he had to get out of town. Lucatero buried him with stones from the river and said to the grave: “You won’t get out of here even though you use all your tricks.”
The narrator notes the irony that Pancha is now helping him rearrange the stones without knowing Anacleto is buried underneath, and says the reason he puts stones on the grave is so Anacleto won’t be able to escape: “Pile on more rocks, Pancha, here in this corner; I don’t like to see my yard all rocky.”
The next morning at dawn Pancha says to him: “You’re a flop Lucas Lucatero. You aren’t the least bit affectionate. Do you know who was really loving?” When the narrator asks who, she replies: “The Holy Child Anacleto. He knew how to make love.”
“Anacleto Morones” has a humorous tone that is quite different from the other stories in this collection. The comic elements in this tale are certainly dark, but they nevertheless provide a strong contrast with the stark and harrowing tales that accompany it. While the Amula women have the understandable excuse of being little more than a product of their social and historical context — much of which is shaped by the actions of “machista” men like Anacleto and Lucatero — the narrator’s mockery of their rigid and provincial religiously-oriented behavior is certainly capable of provoking laughter.
The humorous elements of “Anacleto Morones” are derived from a certain brand of the comic, however. Moments such as the narrator’s naked greeting of the supposedly pious congregation, Filomena’s decision to forcefully purge all the myrtle water she has drunk at Lucatero’s house in one of his flowerpots, and Lucatero’s flirtatious request that Pancha trim her moustache are all funny in grotesque, bodily ways. The story also has a strongly macabre irony since the “Holy Child” whom the women are so desperately seeking is actually buried a few meters away in the narrator’s backyard. This type of macabre humor has deep roots in Mexico in particular and in Latin America in general. In fact, these roots stretch all the way across the Atlantic to Spain, where during the sixteenth and seventeenth century Golden Age authors wrote highly popular stories in the picaresque genre.
The picaresque is a satirical narrative sub-genre that usually deals with the adventures of a lower-class hero who survives though clever manipulation of his surroundings and wit. Much like “Anacleto Morones,” the picaresque hero is typically humorously involved in base and grotesque acts and as he rises through the social hierarchy he descends morally. Lucatero is clearly more wealthy at the end of the story than when he first met Anacleto, but along the way he and his mentor have also corrupted the virtue of quite a few of Amula’s women.
However, the picaresque appears in Rulfo’s story with a typically Latin-American slant since Anacleto and Lucatero masquerade as divinely inspired miracle-workers who are only distinct from indigenous “curanderos” — or witch doctors — in their close identification with the Catholic Church. Indeed, it appears that these “picaroons” are likely a product of the devout Catholicism sparked by the Cristero War. Lucatero himself admits that the Cristeros made a strong impression on him when they forced him to confess at gunpoint fifteen years earlier. All he and Anacleto have done is to appeal to this heightened religious fervor at every opportunity.
Though the women in this story certainly inspire a certain amount of laughter, they also at times inspire compassion. Pancha is clearly a woman who, underneath the black clothing of a spinster, simply wants to feel loved and live a little. Sadly enough, Lucatero is right when he offers her the opportunity for intimacy and says: “you’re too old for anybody to pay attention to you or do you that favor.” Micaela also demonstrates a strong understanding of her tragic situation when she says: “what good did I get out of living as a señorita? I’m a woman. And a woman is born to give what is given her.”
Micaela’s observation that “being fifty years old and a virgin is a sin” also gives us the impression that, as repugnant as the story’s two roguish picaroons are, they certainly provide some release for the sexual frustrations of women like these. Oppressed by the more “respectable” — but still machista — men of their town, these women know where to go to find satisfaction. While men like Lucatero and Anacleto have caused a great deal of heartache, they do serve the purpose of making these women feel alive. As a result, just as the rascals use the women, we should make no mistake that the women use them reciprocally. After all, Pancha puts Lucatero in his place at the end of the story when his performance in bed doesn’t live up to her expectations: “You’re a flop, Lucas Lucatero. You aren’t the least bit affectionate.” Lucatero is just a shadow of the “Holy Child” Anacleto in bed: “He knew how to make love.” In this way, it is important to remember that humor is used to accent and highlight the social situation of the women, and not to trivialize it.
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