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Lesbian Lovers

everybody’s got one good book in them; they should write it and shut up. a kid from my alma mater, who walked around with a dog-eared copy of the catcher in the rye, would say, when he wasn’t singing jesus christ superstar.

juan rulfo was such a writer. he wrote two amazing books, a collection of short stories and a novel that still has latin americans amazed. he is the undisputed master of the mexican language, writing highly complex stories in a colloquial voice. the complexity of his stories are due to his masterful (yes, i’ve used complex twice and master twice…i am obviously not rulfo.) use of untrustworthy narrators. for those who love literature and the craft of weaving a good yarn, his work is an inmensely pleasurable read.

talpa, a story about pilgrimage to see the virgin of talpa, make its way into most anthologies of latin american literature. immediately after the opening scene of the story, where the narrator’s sister-in-law breaks down crying on her mother’s shoulder, the narrator confesses that they have killed her husband. they took him on a pilgrimage to talpa so that he would die.

after this initial confession, the narrator tells the story, in so chronological an order, but still largely chronological from the moment of leaving zenzontla (their hometown) to their return. soon after beginning the telling of the story proper, the narrator states that the brother was already dying…his body was covered in pustules and carbuncles that would get hard and burst, spilling out blood and puss. the narrator further states that the idea to go to talpa was not that of the narrator and the wife but of the brother/husband. the narrator acknowledges that no one really believed he was going to survive; they knew he was too far gone. but, clinging to the last vestiges of hope, they went anyway.

guilt and religious obligation play a large roll in the story…and throughout the story rulfo employs religious imagery, mainly to point out the fallen nature of the people in the story.

needless to say, natalia has not been with her husband for a long time. the narrator confesses to having known this. some night, after beginning the month long journey on foot to talpa, the narrator and natalia hook up…day by day they would drag the brother/husband to talpa; night by night they solace themselves in the dark with their warm bodies.

needless to say the brother makes it talpa, though about halfway through the journey he decides he wants to go back to zenzontla. natalia and the narrator won’t let him…he’s come this far and they need him to go and finish the pilgrimage. so, they drag him to talpa. they arrive at easter and join the procession of pilgrims; the brother in one last delirium begins a death dance (the narrator uses language that casts him as a christ). he dies and is trampled by the other revlers. the narrator and the wife bury in a well. return to talpa, she to cry, he to tell the story.

it is not until the end that the narrator acknowledges his gender…one little pronoun. two of my brighter students (both girls) proposed that the narrator was a woman and that the relationship was a lesbian one. how else to explain the extreme remorse felt by the narrator.

though they were wrong, i was quite impressed by their argument. they had, in fact, read the story carefully trying to find gender markers. now, i’m not so impressed with my students, though. (well, these two girls did a good job.)

we discussed the story at length. one of the options for the essay on the midterm was discuss the role of religion and guilt in the story. we had, in fact, spent too much time on this because it was an essay option on the test. we discussed the fact that the narrator was untrustworthy…that guilt and remorse colored everything he said…that we should not take the assertion that “i took my brother to talpa so he would die…i killed him” at face value.

of course, everyone but two wrote about talpa. and most of these not only believe that the narrator wanted to kill the brother, but they believe that the affair, contrary to the story, had begun before the trip and was the true reason for the trip.

i’ve got to get these essays back to them.

 

Comments

(I was getting self-conscious having the only “readings” at right. Is Schade’s translation any good?)

oh, i’ve got tons of recs…

it’s just that i’ve got 3 conferences in the next month and i need to keep up the pretense that i care about my students…this means i rarely have time to post anything.

after the beginning of november this will change.

Oh, believe me, I understand. You & Chris both are competing for busiest sem. ever awards. In contrast, I’m sitting about waiting for HR people to call. I’d much prefer to be working.

to answer your question…yes, it is a well done translation.

in a week or two i’ll post a link to eye of the heart: short stories from latin america.

it’s a great collection and shows that lat am is so much more than garcia marquez

do you mean you’ll abandon the pretense of caring about your students after the first of november?

what a beautiful description of this story. thank you!

well, i take no responsibility for anything i say. nor do i know what i meant…especially since i was hoping to finish grading those essays by today and haven’t.

now, i just don’t want to make a fool of myself…as i try and say something about the virgin of gudadlupe.

So what’s going on at Harvard that Juan Rulfo and lesbian lovers is such a popular Google?

i assume that they are that part in the semester of their lit survey class. and that students @ harvard don’t understand this story either.

they may even be hoping to surprise their prof with a queer reading of the story