Pedro Páramo Berger Journal #3
As a reoccurring image, idea, or object, motifs construct symbolism in a story; they contribute to how readers interpret, react to, and comprehend the text at hand (Boorman). Throughout the novel Pedro Páramo, Rulfo integrates the motifs of water and sound in order to accentuate the Mexican culture’s cyclical nature of life and death. The presence of water and sound represent the lively past of the town Comala, whereas the lack of these two images suggest the town’s present, empty state. In addition to conveying life and death, Rulfo includes water and sound as a subtle indication to the readers of their location on the story’s timeline.
In order to depict the flourishing activity of Comala’s past, Rulfo illustrates water imagery in Pedro Páramo because of its signification of life. In the time of Pedro Páramo, Comala seems like a lively place. Dolores, Juan Preciado’s mother, recalls the town being a place where “the town trembles from the passing carts. They come from everywhere, loaded with niter, ears of corn, and fodder” (Rulfo 46). The heavy rain helps the crops burgeon, allowing for vendors to sell them on the bustling streets of Comala, thereby justifying water’s representation of life. The vibrant energy of the town that Dolores remembers originates from the plethora rain. Additionally, the presence of water symbolizes life after death. Due to Catholic influence, most Mexicans believe in the idea of an afterlife. Whenever a person dies, they begin a new life in one of three spiritual realms: hell, purgatory, or heaven. In Pedro Páramo, typically, whenever a character dies, water presents itself, as seen in the deaths of Juan and Susana. Only moments after acquainting himself with his grave, Juan hears Dorotea, the person he shares the grave with, exclaim, “You hear? It’s raining up there. Don’t you hear the drumming of the rain?” (61). The rain after Juan’s death represents the beginning of his new life in purgatory, along with other town members, as they await their final resting place in heaven or hell. Similarly with Susana, the night she learns of her father’s death, she only heard, “the sound of the rain blotted out all other sounds” (89). In addition to symbolizing her father’s death, this fragment indicates the mental death of Susana. Whenever Rulfo mentions her after this point, Susana rarely speaks or moves, spending most of her days sleeping. All in all, the water motif present in Pedro Páramo embodies the concept of life in Comala as well as in the characters.
Conversely, the lack of water imagery epitomizes the death found present-day Comala. Within the first pages of Pedro Páramo, Rulfo introduces the absence of water during Juan’s journey to the town. Expecting to uncover the green, prospering town that his mother remembers, he instead discovers a ghost town that “sits on the coals of the earth, at the very mouth of hell” (6). The unbearable heat implies water’s absence in Comala, symbolizing the death of life in the town and in the people. Both Susana and Juan experience immense heat before their demise in the novel. A short while before her death, Susan awakens from her sleepy state exceedindly uncomfortable, “She was sweating. She threw the heavy covers to the floor, and freed herself of the heat of the sheets” (101). A short while later, Father Rentaría appears, preparing Susana for death, knowing that her time approaches. Juan too experiences agonizing hotness moments before his death, “The heat woke me just before midnight. And the sweat. The woman’s body was made of earth, layered in crusts of earth; it was crumbling, melting into a pool of mud. I felt myself swimming in the sweat from her body…” (57). When Juan goes outside to free himself from the heat, he hears the murmuring, which ultimately leads to his demise. As seen in both of these instances, the sweltering heat foreshadows the death of characters. Overall, the Comala that Juan discovers embodies an unbearably warm temperature in order to depict the town as dry and lifeless, thereby representing its death as well as the death of its inhabitants.
Similar to water, Rulfo juxtaposes the motif of sound and its absence in order to the symbolize life and death of Comala and its inhabitants. The presence of sound indicates vivacity in the town. Voices appear in different ways in the past and present of Comala. Dolores Preciado fondly recalls to Juan her past memories of the lively town, “… Every morning early the town tremblers from the passing carts. They come from everywhere, loaded with niter, ears of corn, and fodder. The wheels creak and groan until the windows rattle and wake the people inside” (46). Arming himself with his mother’s memories, Juan sets out to encounter this hidden oasis. Upon arriving in Comala, the lack of noise surprises Juan, “Empty carts, churning the silence of the streets. Fading into the dark road of the night” (46). The scarcity of sound demonstrates to Juan and the readers Comala’s transformation into a ghost town. Despite not experiencing the same liveliness that his mother remembers, Juan discovers a different type of sound. Rather than hearing these noises, he senses the echoes around him. However, instead of symbolizing life, these sounds foreshadow death approaching. In Juan’s final moments before his demise, he describes his interaction with the voices:
“I began to sense that whispering drawing nearer, circling around me, a constant buzzing like a swarm of bees, until finally I could hear the almost soundless words ‘Pray for us.’ I could hear that’s what they were saying to me. At that moment my soul turned to ice. That’s why you found me dead” (59).
Therefore, instead of signifying life, the voices surrounding Juan bring him to death. Yet, considering the Mexican circular view of life and death, the voices could also represent the beginning of Juan’s new journey in the afterlife. On the whole, sound, as well as its absence, portrays the concept of life and death throughout the novel Pedro Páramo.
In addition to embodying life and death, Rulfo includes the motifs of water and sound as an indication of time to readers. Comala during Pedro’s time implies a sense of liveliness through the abundance of liquid and noise. On the other hand, the town that Juan finds seems like the antithesis. The deficiencies of water and sound indicate the emptiness of Comala. Throughout the novel Pedro Páramo, Rulfo frequently neglects to include dialogue tags, making it challenging for readers to determine the time frame of the fragment. For instance, in fragment twenty-five of the novel, he begins with the phrase, “This town is filled with echoes. It’s like they were trapped behind the walls, or beneath the cobblestones” (41). Damiana Cisneros presents herself first in the scenes, creating difficulty for readers. This particular character appears in fragments of the past and the present. In order to indicate the time to readers, Rulfo hides the clue in the opening statement. By recognizing the key word “echoes”, readers can insinuate that the scene occurs in the present. In the end, the themes of water and sound operate as points of recognition for the reader, allowing them to establish the fragment’s location on the timeline of Pedro Páramo.
Overall, the cycle of highlight Mexican culture’s belief of life and death, Rulfo inserts water and sound imagery throughout the novel Pedro Páramo. The abundance of noise and liquids present in the fragments denotes the feeling of liveliness in Comala and within the characters as well. The omission of these two motifs conveys an opposing imagery. They indicate the emptiness and lifelessness of the town. In addition to portraying the cycle of life and death, Rulfo integrates details of water and sound as a point of recognition for readers, reminding them of the time in which the fragment takes place.