The road rose and fell. It rises or falls whether you're coming or going. If you are leaving, it's uphill; but as you arrive it's downhill.
As Juan Preciado approaches Comala, he hears the voice of his mother (set apart in italics). For the reader, this immediately establishes a metaphoric significance to Comala before we discover how truly supernatural the town is. The idea of heading "downhill" into a location helps establish the quasi-epic nature of the work, which echoes stories where heroes descend into the afterlife (e.g. Dante's Inferno, the myth of Oprheus). Indeed, Comala will prove something of a purgatory that requires a long period of difficult self-reflection to escape. In other words, the trip away will be "uphill" and not easy to accomplish. Considering the deep messages of sin and guilt in the novel, the idea expressed here is that it is very easy to fall down into the pits of sin, but much more difficult to pull oneself out. The reasons for this difficulty are explored at length in the story that follows.
It's only his horse, coming and going. They were never apart. It roams the countryside, looking for him, and it's always about this time it comes back. It may be that the poor creature can't live with its remorse. Even animals realize when they've done something bad, don't they?
Doña Eduviges speaks these lines to Juan Preciado as they wait in her house. She is describing the ghost of Miguel Páramo's horse, which killed its owner by throwing him off during one of their many wild gallops. Three elements are set up in this quote. The first is an introduction to the unfettered id of Miguel, which is represented in the horse's inability to stop moving, its constant desire to gallop uncontrollably. However, more important are the themes of death and remorse that are established here. Even horses are forced to endure the purgatory of Comala, to attempt restitution for committed sins. That the horse was technically innocent of the murder – it did not throw Miguel off out of cruelty – does not matter. Pedro orders it put to death, but this does not end its journey. It only begins the long process of atonement that plagues everyone who dies in Comala.
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. You hear rustlings. And people laughing. Laughter that sounds used up. And voices worn away by the years. Sounds like that. But I think the day will come when those sounds fade away.
Here, Damiana Cisneros gives a succinct depiction of the purgatory-like state of Comala. The place is haunted, not just by ghosts, but by the ceaseless repetitions of moments long past. These moments – footsteps, laughter, and voices – continue to cycle until they have lost their initial impulse, and they are used up from repetition. Such is the nature of the atonement required by this land. However, she also gives the first glimmer of hope in the novel, by suggesting that the sounds might one day "fade away" - presumably through absolution. One element of purgatory is the potential to move on to a better place through time, and Damiana believes this to be a possibility. If the reader accepts this as true, then even the novel's most depressing sections maintain an air of possibility and hope.
There was no air; only the dead, still night fired by the dog dogs of August.
Not a breath. I had to suck in the same air I exhaled, cupping it in my hands before it escaped. I felt it, in and out, less each time…until it was so thin it slipped through my fingers forever.
I mean, forever.
This passage introduces one of the most confounding elements of the novel: the narrator's death. The passage explains not only that he passes away, but also the qualities that lead him to expire. Juan believes his death is due to suffocation; it can also be interpreted that he dies of fright of the "murmurs". Comala is a used-up place, where the world has lost its value but continues to cycle through the past nevertheless. Juan, as victim to Comala, is unable to breathe in its stale, hot air, and as a result he is literally swallowed up into the ground of Comala. Juan's death is one of many ambiguous moments in the novel. As the definite cause is open to interpretation, so is the time of his death. Perhaps he has been a spirit all along. His mournful "forever" may suggest that this is not the first time he has told his story. Like others in Comala, he is likely being forced to repeat his past over and over again in the hopes of a final release. Perhaps he has been dead long enough to accept a lack of release.
It's probably wandering like so many others, looking for living people to pray for it. Maybe it hates me for the way I treated it, but I don't worry about that anymore. And now I don't have to listen to its whining about remorse. Because of it, the little I ate turned bitter in my mouth; it haunted my nights with black thoughts of the damned. When I sat down to die, my soul prayed for me to get up and drag on with my life, as if it still expected some miracle to cleanse me of my sins. I didn't even try. 'This is the end of the road,' I told it. 'I don’t have the strength to go on.' And I opened my mouth to let it escape. And it went. I knew when I felt the little thread of blood that bound it to my heart drip into my hands.
In this passage, Dorotea explains to Juan her joy at having lost her "soul". Considering that Comala is a place where souls are forced to relive their lives over and over, constantly revisiting their past sins, Dorotea's philosophy comes across as quite liberating. What she suggests here is that humans are their own worst enemies in terms of guilt. She celebrates having lost her soul, since its morality only caused her pain. It kept her from enjoying her life, instead making her lament her poverty, unhappiness, and decisions. In the afterlife, she is forced to relive her life, but refuses to be overcome by her misfortunes. This philosophy is expressed, to varying degrees, by both Pedro and Susana.
Pedro Páramo stood there, his face empty of expression, as if he were far way. Somewhere beyond his consciousness, his thoughts were racing, unformed, disconnected. At last he said:
"I'm beginning to pay. The sooner I begin, the sooner I'll be through."
He felt no sorrow.
This passage describes Pedro's reaction to Miguel's death. There is a fascinating contradiction in the character, as expressed here. Whereas Miguel was unfettered "evil", Pedro reveals much more nuance in his recognition that life does operate under forces of retribution. Seeing his beloved - and only recognized - son dead, he realizes that he is "beginning to pay" and that his actions have consequences. However, this realization leads to no epiphany, since it is not accompanied by any emotional reaction or a change in behavior. He has been so ruined by his father's murder, which led him to hate the world, that he is willing to persevere in his cruelty even though it will ultimately cost him. Even in the deaths Pedro had to face when a boy, he remained stoic. Now, when he can no longer blame a death on anyone but himself, he is content to stay the course and thereby take responsibility for his own soul.
That man whose name you do not want to mention has destroyed your church, and you have allowed him to do it. What can I expect of you now, Father? How have you used God's might? I want to think that you're a good man and that you're held in high esteem because of that. But it's not enough to be good. Sin is not good. And to put an end to sin, you must be hard and merciless. I want to think that your parishioners are still believers, but it is not you who sustains their faith. They believe out of superstition and fear. I feel very close to you in your penury, and in the long hours you spend every day carrying out your duties. I personally know how difficult our task is in these miserable villages to which we have been banished; but that in itself gives me the right to tell you that we cannot serve only the few who give us a pittance in exchange for our souls. And with your soul in their hands, what chance do you have to be better than those who are better than you? No, Father, my hands are not sufficiently clean to grant you absolution. You will have to go elsewhere to find that.
When Father Rentería seeks absolution from a colleague in Contla for his passive support of the Paramo family, he is confronted with this rather intense denial. What is expressed here is a damning condemnation of the hypocrisy practiced by rural Mexican priests, especially in light of the blind devotion to Catholicism amongst their parishioners. The people in Comala do not follow Father Rentería out of respect, but from fear of being punished in the afterlife. The fact that he doles out forgiveness only to those who can pay is a huge factor in the misery of the poor villagers of Comala. Even worse, he does grant absolution to people like Miguel, who clearly do not deserve it, while he punishes others like Dorotea, whose sins arise from her misery and poverty. Facing his own sin directly shakes Father Rentería to the core, but in the subsequent scenes, we see that it does not change him, but rather leads him to cruelly take out his resentment on Dorotea, Susana and others. The fact that the priests know about the "superstition and fear" but allow it to continue for the sake of power suggests that religion is yet another institution that keeps rural Mexico enslaved.
"Your heart is dying of pain," Susana thinks. "I know that you've come to tell me Florencio is dead, but I already know that. Don't be sad about anything else; don't worry about me. I keep my grief hidden in a safe place. Don't let your heart go out!"
Like Dorotea, Susana is able to find contentment even though she knows how horrible the world can be. She later tells Justina that she only believes in hell, which makes sense considering the miseries she has endured in her life. However, she reveals here the ability to transcend such misery by retreating to a "safe place". During her last days with Pedro, she never acknowledges him, but rather sleeps constantly so that she can revisit her past with Florencio via fever dreams. Though she is effectively living the life of repetition that haunts the ghosts of Comala even before she dies, Susana finds a way to gain contentment from this, to keep her heart from hurting. Basically, she ignores everything around her and commits fully to her fantasy. It is hopeful but ironic, since the cost of that hope is dear. That she speaks this philosophy to Father Rentería, who is there to try and grant her forgiveness, makes it doubly affecting, since she is also repudiating the belief that she will ever find reward in the afterlife.
It speaks well for you that you're looking after your men, but go somewhere else to get what you need. I've already given you money. Be happy with what you've got. Now I don't want to offer this as advice, but haven't you thought of riding on Contla? Why do you think you're fighting a revolution? Only a dunce would be asking for handouts. You might as well go home and help you wife look after the hens. Go raid some town! You're risking your skin, so why the hell don't others do their part? Contla is crawling with rich men. Take a little out of their hides. Or maybe you think you're their nursemaid and have to look after their interests? No, Damasio. Show them that you're not just out for a good time. Rough them up a little, and the centavos will flow.
In the final sections of the novel, the Mexican revolutions begin and start to impact the Media Luna. Here, Pedro speaks to El Tilcuate, who initially joined the rebels to help destroy them on Pedro's behalf but is ultimately pulled into the movement. In a sense, these revolutions are exactly what the rural Mexico represented by Comala needs. This dying, stilted world committed to oppressive institutions needs new life and breath. However, Pedro's attitude, as espoused here, suggests the futility of even these redemptive revolutions. First, the revolutionaries' purported ideals are secondary to their greed. In this case, the war is not a social revolution meant to liberate the poor, but rather the scheme of a disorganized group of greedy men. The violence that has been practiced on the poor for generations is not being overthrown, but is merely being replaced by another power structure. This complicated relationship with Mexico's past is central to the novel's conception and thematic thrust, and Rulfo makes clear that he does not mean to unconditionally endorse revolution through this passage. After all, the revolutions did not prove to be the saving grace they intended.
The sun was tumbling over things, giving them form once again. The ruined, sterile earth lay before him. Heat scalded his body. His eyes scarcely moved; they leapt from memory to memory, blotting out the present. Suddenly his heart stopped, and it seemed as if time and breath of life stopped with it.
"So there won't be another night," he thought.
Because he feared the nights that filled the darkness with phantoms. That locked him in with his ghosts. That was his fear.
"I know that within a few hours Abundio will come with his bloody hands to ask for the help I refused him. But I won't have hands to cover my eyes, to block him out. I will have to hear him, listen until his voice fades with the day, until his voice dies."
This passage, which marks Pedro's final moments on Earth (and the close of the novel), again reveals his awareness of retribution for his sins. As he approaches death, he begins immediately to experience the state of Comala's afterlife – "his eyes…leapt from memory to memory, blotting out the present." He does not want to live in the darkness of regret. However, he finally accepts that even in death, he will be revisited by the horrible events of his life; he says here Abundio will come again and again until his voice hopefully fades and Pedro can find a greater peace. His acceptance of this state of existence on the novel's final page also gives credence to the possibility that all of Pedro's story in the novel is simply Pedro himself speaking aloud and being repeated by his son Juan, who repeats the stories of many dead Comala residents.
Pedro Paramo Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Pedro Paramo is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The novel is full of implicit criticism of a world that oppresses women. Pedro Páramo and his son Miguel see women as objects (the former for their tactical value, the latter for their sexual value). Women have little agency in their own lives or...
Comala is described as a "sorry-looking place" that has gone through hard times. The buildings are run down and unkempt, the streets seem deserted. The town our narrator enters is nothing like the one he'd heard about in his mother's stories.