- The Fiction of Juan Rulfo: Irony, Revolution and Postcolonialism by Amit Thakkar
Juan Rulfo is a well-studied author about whom many critics have eagerly written, provoked by the plethora of themes to be found in his internationally popular works. Amit Thakkar’s new critical investigation, The Fiction of Juan Rulfo: Irony, Revolution and Postcolonialism, which is thematically divided into six chapters, continues the series of criticism in a careful analysis of Juan Rulfo’s El llano en llamas (1953) and Pedro Páramo (1955). In his study, Thakkar reaffirms previous criticism from a post-colonialist perspective, and also demonstrates how Rulfo uses centripetal and centrifugal irony to engage the reader and allude to the socially problematic discourse of post-Revolutionary Mexico.
The first chapter of the text serves as an extended introduction for the reader, in which Thakkar discusses the context of twentieth century skepticism in which Rulfo’s works were published, and clarifies a working definition of irony. The critic eagerly expands on this foundation in the second chapter, analyzing Rulfo’s short stories “Nos han dado la tierra” and “El día del derrumbe” to demonstrate how Rulfo uses bathos and catachresis in his formation of centripetal irony. Thakkar also indicates how both stories actively engage the reader due to Rulfo’s break with traditional epic and comic forms in his “rejection of established narrative norms” (40). Thakkar concludes the chapter with a comparison of Rulfo’s works with Machado’s Memorias póstumas de Bras Cubas, in which he argues that Rulfo’s use of an ironic tone rather than a satirical one is a decisive factor in the international popularity of his texts.
The third chapter introduces Rulfo’s use of centrifugal irony to discuss post-revolutionary rhetoric within the theme of national unity, specifically in the spheres of ethnic or racial relations, the family, and the rural community. The critic reminds his reader of the irony’s social context by analyzing various [End Page 129] social reforms of the post-revolutionary state, and uses three different works by Rulfo (Pedro Páramo, “Acuérdate,” and “La Cuesta de las Comadres”) as evidence of the specifically anti-nationalist irony. Thakkar plays with the problem of hierarchal relations of the rural community and also repeatedly returns to the undoubtedly popular theme of violence in Rulfo’s fiction, focusing on the concept of the “normality of everyday violence” (64). As a point of transition, the critic suggests that Rulfo’s use of violence represents not only the turbulent relationship between the post-Revolutionary urban state and the rural community, but also the continuation of the colonialist trend of violence within the patriarchal rural society.
Thakkar delves further into the effect of a surviving colonialist perspective within the urban-rural relations of post-Revolutionary Mexico in his analysis of the story “Luvina” (in Chapter Four). The critic juxtaposes the civilized urban “Self” and the barbaric rural “Other” of the Mexican peasantry in the post-Revolutionary government’s condescending attempts to “civilize” the countryside. Thakkar argues that Rulfo gives the Other a voice which “empowers the reader to question the colonizing discourse from the Other’s perspective” (97). The critic pinpoints the parallel empowerment of the fictional lower class, which culminates in the rejection of the symbolically urban narrator and his ironic transformation into the “very lazy, drunken fatalist that he was supposed to eradicate” (92).
In the fifth chapter, Thakkar turns to Pedro Páramo and focuses on the role of Padre Rentería in an analysis of the post-Revolutionary battle for patriarchal authority between the church, state, and rural cacique. Thakkar presents the state and church’s contrasting visions of the priest (greedy liar versus righteous martyr) and the manner in which Rulfo indicates their shared failure to address the true problem of the cacique’s manipulative power. Thakkar argues that Rulfo rejects and criticizes both stereotypical visions of the priest by creating his own vision (Padre Rentería). Thakkar reminds us that Rulfo’s priest is not greedy, as the state would claim, but rather...