The main themes in Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo are hope, illusions, religion, destruction,and self-destruction associated with suffering, violence, death, the supernatural, and insanity. Hope is one of the primary themes in the novel. Hope is what inspires and motivates the characters to have their illusory journey full of dangerous adventures.“There is hope for us to heal our sorrow” (p.12). Soon, hope becomes a source of despair. Moreover, hope becomes synonymous to despair and illusion due to inefficient attempts to achieve the goals of the journey. The main characters Juan, Pedro and Father Rentería all experience loss of hope related to finding a family member, waiting for the return of their loved ones, and fulfilling religious vows.
Religion is another common theme and context in which events of the novel take place. Many of them revolve around the Catholic Church. The rich, like Páramos can “buy tickets” to heaven, while those who cannot afford church services are destined to go to hell, which is, sometimes, not an afterlife experience, but simply the streets of Comala. Father Rentería declares Miguel free from his guilt and sins, including murder and rape. Immoral Catholic priests make Comala a place full of anxious ghosts. The novel discusses the religious concepts of guilt, sin and atonement. This theme is reminiscent of Martin Luther and his anger at the Catholic Church for selling indulgences as a way to lessen one’s eternal punishment for sins.
The themes of destruction and self-destruction combine the ideas of suffering, violence, and death in the novel. “After all she has suffered in this life, no one would want her to pass away without the last rights and then continue suffering in the next life” (p.58).This violence refers to both characters and places. Despite once being a fertile and positive place, due to Paramo’s rage, it became a dark, unproductive and uninhabited place. Due to their destructive greed, the landowners are ready to kill, and all these violent actions lead to larger crimes. Death as an obvious measure of physical, moral, spiritual and emotional destruction is present throughout the novel. Death is not only a final destination, but a primary factor triggering quest, actions, and challenges. Characters, like Juan die, but they keep narrating from beyond the grave and wandering in the miserable world of Comala.Self-destruction and suffering fill the pages of the book with sighing, deadly whispering, sobbing, crying, screaming for help; unable to find resolution. Characters suffer either silently or communicatewith others such as priests, who provide atonement only in exchange for financial compensation.
The novel revolves around the supernatural. The ghost town and paranormal events are typical toComala. The darkness generates hideous screaming and horrific voices that do not allow the characters to enjoy even the rising of the sun. “The sun was shining behind his back, a weak sun that had just come out, and was distorted by clouds of dust” (p. 63).It is not surprising since the souls of the dead have found the doors of heaven eternally closed due to the lack of atonement. The ghostly conversations are ugly and disturbing, as the souls interrupt each other, their words overlap, and ultimately they refuse to listen to each other. Every ghost is interested in its own salvation. At the beginning, the protagonist is unaware of the supernatural of Comalaand talks to Damiana Cisneros, while the latter is dead.
The insanity is another theme closely associated with the themes of religion and the supernatural. The female characters in the novel seem to experience madness more than the male characters. The women of the novel, such as a random beggar and Pedro’s wife, believe in existence of children and ex-spouses. Madness is just a means for Rulfo’s characters to escape from the dreadful existence and destructive reality. It even becomes difficult to identify if the echoes of the ghosts exist, or if they are just the result of the characters’ sick imagination. The fragmentation of the self, others, memories, hope and conversation are inseparable from visual hallucinations, wrong auditory perceptions due to crazy nature of the reality experienced by mad women and men. The readers ponder if mental impairment cause immoral actions, greed and crimes, or the latter lead them to moral and physical destruction.
Rulfo, J. (1994). Pedro Páramo.Trans. Margaret Sayers Penden. New York: Grove Press.