The Burning Plain and Other Stories

The Burning Plain and Other Stories Summary and Analysis of “Tell them not to kill me!” ("¡Diles que no me maten!")


“Tell them not to kill me!,” narrated in third person, begins with this very phrase, uttered by Juvencio Nava speaking to his son Justino. Juvencio is begging his son to ask the sergeant who has him tied to a post to spare him, to tell his captor that tying him up and scaring him has been enough punishment. The son responds that he cannot help his father, that the sergeant doesn’t want to listen, but the father continues to plead for his son’s intervention. The son says that he cannot intervene because “if I do they’ll know I’m your son. If I keep bothering them they’ll end up knowing who I am and will decide to shoot me too." The father tells Justino that he should say that his father is not worth killing because he is so old. Finally Justino relents and goes to the corral, turning on the way to ask his father what will happen to his wife and kids if he too is shot. To this the father replies: “Providence will take care of them, Justino. You go there now and see what you can do for me. That’s what matters.”

After this first section of the story — which consists predominantly of dialog — the narrator’s perspective shifts to become a little more omniscient and he takes a more active role in the storytelling. The narrator tells us that the father was brought in at dawn and had been tied to the post all morning long. Juvencio could not calm down, especially since “now that he knew they were really going to kill him, all he could feel was his great desire to stay alive, like a recently resuscitated man.”

The narrator then begins to relate to us Juvencio’s thoughts as he muses on his murder of Don Lupe, the event that led to his condemnation. He recalls that he he killed Don Lupe because he would not share his pasture with Juvencio's animals.

Juvencio remembers that at first he didn’t do anything, but with the drought later his animals began to die off, so he broke through the fence and drove his animals through the hole so they could eat the grass on the other side. Don Lupe didn’t like this and fixed the fence, but Juvencio cut through it again. This became a pattern where at night the fence would be broken and in the morning it would be mended. During the daytime the livestock would stay right next to the fence, waiting for nighttime when Juvencio would cut the hole so they could eat. Juvencio and Don Lupe would constantly argue but could not come to an agreement. Finally Don Lupe said that he would kill any animal that came into his pasture. Juvencio replied that the fact that the animals were breaking through was not his fault and that if Don Lupe killed one of them, he would have to pay for it.

Then Don Lupe killed one of Juvencio’s yearlings. The narrator at this point switches to first person and narrates from Juvencio’s perspective. The conflict happened thirty-five years ago in March, because by April Juvencio was already on the run, living in the mountains. The money and livestock he had given the judge didn’t matter, they kept pursuing him anyway. Finally he and his son began living on another of his plots of land, Palo de Venado, before his son married Ignacia, and had eight children. All this shows that the fateful event took place years ago and should be forgotten.

Around that time Juvencio figured that everything should be fixed with around a hundred pesos. Don Lupe had left his wife and two young kids behind, and then his widow died shortly after from grief. The kids were shipped off to live with relatives, “so there was nothing to fear from them.” Nevertheless, everyone kept pursuing him, and Juvencio believes it was in order to keep robbing him. Every time someone would enter the village he would have to run up into the mountains like an animal, and this happened for thirty-five years. At this point in the story the narration then switches back to third person. The narrator observes that ironically they caught Juvencio now, when he didn’t expect it. He had hoped with all his heart that they would never find him. This is what made it so hard to believe that he would die like this after fighting off death for so long.

The narrator tells us about Juvencio's capture. He had seen the men at nightfall walking through his tender corn crop and he had told them to stop. Juvencio had had time to escape but he didn’t; he simply walked beside them without protesting.

At this point the narration jumps forward in time to a meeting between the Colonel and Juvencio. The Colonel, who is hidden, says that Don Lupe was his father and that he died when he was young. As a result he had no male role model to follow as a boy. He goes on to say that later he learned his father had been killed by being hacked with a machete and then having an ox goad stuck in his belly. The Colonel found it particularly terrible that Juvencio, the murderer, remained free.

After being condemned to die, Juvencio pleaded with the Colonel to let him go given his old age, saying that he has paid many times over for his crime, since he has spent “forty years hiding like a leper” and fearing death. In response to his cries the Colonel told his men to tie the man up and get him drunk so the shots won’t hurt.

The narration then shifts to a more recent past, as Justino disposes of his father's corpse, which has been hooded to hide a disfigured face. Justino spurs the burro forward in the hopes that they can reach Palo de Venado in time to arrange the wake. He says to Juvencio’s body that his daughter-in-law and grandchildren will miss the old man, and that when they see his face they won’t believe it’s him. The narrator ends with these last words from Justino: “They’ll think the coyote has been eating on you when they see your face so full of holes from all those bullets they shot at you.”


As in “The burning plain,” the father-son relationship is a crucial one in Rulfian narrative. Fathers are usually considered crucial role models for their children and, as the colonel in “Tell them not to kill me!” says to Juvencio: “It’s hard to grow up knowing that the thing we have to hang on or take roots from is dead.” This loss of the father figure drives the Colonel to affirm — if not exaggerate — his masculinity by hunting down the man who was “tough enough” to kill his father.

Freudian theory could support the speculation that for the Colonel the killer of his father (Juvencio) has come to replaced Don Lupe as the target of an Oedipal death wish. Since Don Lupe’s murder precluded the Colonel’s ability to desire his death and hereby follow the normative Oedipal trajectory, one could say that this hatred was displaced on to Juvencio. By killing Juvencio, the Colonel is able to achieve manhood.

Intriguing as this interpretation may be however, it tells us little about the reality of the Mexican context in which this story takes place. In this story of revenge, a son kills his father’s murderer, but this moment of “justice” simply creates another imbalance where another son (Justino) is left without a father. In this manner, the cycle of violence continues much like in the story “The man.” This crisis in the father-son relationship can be read as a metaphor for a relatively young nation (Mexico) experiencing the instability — if not complete loss — of one of its fundamental pillars, the patriarchal state, after the chaotic events of the Revolution. In “Tell them not to kill me!” we see that the burden of loss constantly displaced, although none who pass it along find any consolation in the act.

In this story the reader is again subtly exposed to the problem of land reform in the post-revolutionary period. Although Juvencio appears to own more than one piece of land (the property near Puerta de Piedra and Palo de Venado, where his son lives), apparently this land is not irrigated and when droughts come his animals begin to die. This is much like the characters in “They gave us the land” who have land in abundance, but none of it has water. Between the lines one can tell that this lack of access to irrigated land is what drives a wedge into the friendship between Juvencio and Don Lupe. Paradoxically, Juvencio might almost be considered innocent despite murdering his friend, since the only way he can feed his family is by killing his neighbor.

Much like “The man,” “Tell them not to kill me!” is another variation on the theme of violence in post-revolutionary Jalisco. In this tale the violence experienced by the colonel at an early age results in an implacable obsession and anticipation of revenge. However, by the time he finally encounters his father’s murderer, we see that that the act revenge is inconsequential in comparison with the immeasurable anguish Juvencio has felt while running for decades from the authorities and from death. Indeed, the imminence of death is tangible from the moment the reader sees the story’s remarkable title, and for Rulfo this is just one more way to intensify and build suspense. Much like the title in the story “No dogs bark,” Rulfo uses the line “Tell them not to kill me!” just enough times to make it a leitmotiv but not so many as to make it repetitive.