Death pervades the entire novel, both in a literal and figurative sense. Literally, it is death that both incites the main action and complicates the protagonist's quest; his mother dies and asks him to find his father, and he soon discovers his father is dead as well. Juan is led into Comala by Abundio's ghost. The reader learns later that Abundio is the person who murdered Pedro. Comala is a ghost town, having been deserted by the exodus of rural villagers to the cities following the revolution. In Comala, Juan meets several ghosts and hears the persistent murmurs of others - including his mother. Halfway through the novel, Juan dies but he still continues to narrate from his grave. Death is not final in Comala; the dead wander their purgatory hoping for absolution. The questions of memory and nostalgia also echo this sense of death in that they also concern the passing on of life.
Despite its ethereal nature, Pedro Páramo is a novel very much grounded in the realities of early 20th century rural Mexico. As such, one of the primary concerns is the oppression of the poor wielded by those in the powerful land-owning class. Pedro rules the Media Luna with an iron fist, to large degree because he is able to monopolize the ownership of land. He is ruthless in his pursuit, murdering those that dispute his control. What ultimately leads to the desertion of Comala is his inability to offer any work opportunity after Susana's death, which highlights the lack of options available to poor folk who own no land of their own. Comala's ultimate tragedy lies in the ruin of its wonderful past by a ruthless, archaic system that punished all but the most wealthy.
The rural Mexico of the novel is haunted by a Christianity that makes denizens beholden to hypocritical priests. Their Catholicism requires forgiveness for any and all sin, but under a priest class that demands payment in exchange for absolution, the poor are left oppressed by their own belief systems. It is one of several factors that create the stilted existence of Comala. Father Rentería serves as the personification of these forces throughout the novel. He is seen as a patsy of the Páramo family, as he absolves Miguel despite the boy's actions during his life - the murder of Father Rentería's brother and rape of his niece. Rentería is himself denied consecration by the priest in Contla for his misdeeds. It is suggested that he is the reason that Comala is so heavily populated with ghosts; he failed to absolve the poor before their deaths. Comala can be understood as a type of purgatory, where souls must relive their lives until granted atonement, which opens up several questions of guilt, sin, and redemption that unfold throughout the work.
Oppression of Women
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 the world around them. Their lack of power is evident in a full spectrum of events - from Dolorita's failure to postpone her wedding to Donis's sister's abuse at the hands of her brother to Miguel and Pedro's rapes of villagers. Only Susana, trapped in fantasy and grief, is able to transcend the power structure, but at the price of her sanity. This rampant oppression leads to much heartbreak, pain, and ultimately depression. Juan is an interesting character to introduce into this world because he enters the story as a person very much influenced by a woman (his mother). He is someone who does not view women the same way as his father and the men of his time did. Through him, the predominately female voices of the spirits are honored.
The basic narrative thrust of the novel is that of a narrator relating the memories of other people. The fractured structure of the novel unfolds in a way akin to memory. The complicated perspectives of the novel can well be explained as a multitude of voices repeating the stories of their lives. However, even if one does not accept this interpretation, it is undeniable that the primary force of the work is making peace with a lost history. The souls who inhabit Comala are cursed to relive their lives over and over, a rather depressing activity which contrasts with Juan's hope of reliving something wonderful when he arrives in the village.
Though Pedro Páramo is fundamentally steeped in sadness, there remains some semblance of hope for many of the characters. One interpretation of Comala is a purgatory and, therefore, even the worst sinner can find restitution if he or she suffers and atones long enough. Some characters believe they will be able to leave Comala at some point; there may be a happy ending after all for these spirits. However, there is plenty of reason to doubt this hope, as characters like Dorotea challenge the notion that absolution is possible. Still, Dorotea delights in the shedding of her soul and, with it, her guilt. She finds a way to find peace. It is telling that the basic narrative begins with Juan's hope of reuniting with his father, and yet ends without any sense that he will ever leave Comala. In death, as in life, Comala's residents are trapped.
The difference between death and lifelessness is that the latter can occur during a person's lifetime. If anything is to be seen as a sin by Rulfo, it is the way people fall into a stasis from which they either cannot or refuse to break. In some ways, this stasis is forced by social condition - the poor have little power to change their lives, and women often have no option but to submit to patriarchy. At other times, the lifelessness results from a lack of hope, an acceptance of the world's brutality. We are meant to somewhat admire Susana because, even though she is forced under Pedro's care in the last days of her life, she remains active in her mind, remembering things that make her happier. That she is in pain at the same time only underscores the cost of breaking out of static systems of thought and life. In the narrator's journey, he is ultimately swallowed by the lifelessness of Comala until he is, like many in the town, literally dead and unable to move further and find peace.
Pedro Paramo Questions and Answers
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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.