The Burning Plain and Other Stories

The Burning Plain and Other Stories Study Guide

Juan Rulfo's The Burning Plain and other Short Stories (originally En llano en llamas) was published in 1953. It marked the first of Rulfo's two publications, the other being his highly regarded novel, Pedro Páramo (1955). These two works, though short, established Rulfo as among the most important writers of his generation - a figure comparable to Jorge Luis Borges in stature and a source of inspiration for subsequent writers, most notably Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Indeed, Marquez credits Rulfo as influencing the composition of his great novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Rulfo’s narrative style in The Burning Plain is regarded by many critics as revolutionary - he had clearly invented a new way of writing about rural life in Mexico. In the collection, he avoids the conventions of regional realism (which involve an educated narrator who identifies local “traditional” characters and scenes) that made rural folk seem rustic or ignorant, and focuses instead on reproducing the peasant’s thought and spoken word. As a result, Rulfo’s narrators employ language found in no other Latin American author. They seem to use an artless, everyday discourse, but the language is actually highly metaphorical and lyrically stylized. This is perhaps the most unique aspect of Rulfo’s literary production.

In keeping with his approach to the dialog of the narrators and peasants, Rulfo generally strives for simplicity and avoids challenging the reader with difficult constructions throughout his collection. The stories consist of simple, everyday words; the lexicon employed is relatively small, and sentences are typically short. The author does not, however, use regional dialects, for this would increase the difficulty of the text. Rulfo also avoids words that are emotionally charged. All this contributes to the remarkable impression of “neutrality” that Rulfo’s writing evokes.

In these stories solitude constantly besets the main characters, and the only rest from it can be found in their monologues, confessions and testimonial narratives. These intimate discourses constitute the main structural framework of the short stories. As a result, throughout The Burning Plain the reader acts very much like a confessor who patiently lends an ear to the last words of the frequently condemned, marginalized or dying characters. Despite the works’ simplicity, rarely is this task of deciphering stories communicated through snippets of monologues an easy one. More often than not the meaning and nature of the characters’ original motives has been lost or forgotten due to the passage of time. Or, in many cases the backdrop to their current situation can be increasingly difficult to make out in the growing physical darkness. General elements and concerns of the the Mexican post-revolutionary period often provide the only discernible contextual landmarks.

The work - especially the short story "Tell Them Not to Kill Me!" - has gained in popularity as well as critical interest and literary influence since its publication.