How the novelsPedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo and The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende expose the systems of control embedded in Catholicism
Pedro Paramo and The House of the Spirits both contain many references to Christianity, and make many statements about the systems of control instituted by Catholicism. By using a town’s priest as a symbol of religious control and leadership, Juan Rulfo and Isabel Allende have both exposed the ways that religion seeks to control its believers. One of the many ways religion seeks to control its followers is by instituting the idea of an afterlife which is only obtainable if during one’s current life you follow the religion’s edicts to the letter. Also, monetary requirements as well as simply confessing your most guarded secrets to the Church further place the institution at the center of one’s life. Both authors use the priests in conjunction with religious practices as ways to expose how Catholicism controls its adherents.
In The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, Father Restrepo, “was blessed with a long, incriminating finger” (2) which he used to point out those who has transgressed against the church. Since being singled out is a cause of public humiliation, to avoid this, one will do anything to appease Father Restrepo and thus, the Church. Furthermore, Nivea de Valle who was an ardent modernist wished for women to have the right to vote, but was chastised by her priest’s words of, “putting women on an equal footing with men- this is in open defiance to the law of G-d” (3). Catholicism uses tradition to justify its treatment and to control its believers.
Though many believed that marshal punishment is cruel, under the masquerade of religion it is tolerable, “he himself was a firm believer in the value of a good thrashing to vanquish the weaknesses of the soul” (2). Christianity uses religious tradition and the word of G-d in addition to implementing physical abuse as systems of control to those who worship under its belief system. Apart from controlling actions, Catholicism seeks to control time itself. The day is referred to as, “Holy Thursday” (1) a link to Christian events which are times when religious adherents flock to their place of worship to do as the Church officials have previously dictated.
Even to those who have no religious beliefs what so ever, such as Severo del Valle, the church is needed to accomplish aims in life, such as his desire to gain political office. “Severo del Valle was an atheist and a Mason, but he had political ambitions and could not allow himself the luxury of missing the most heavily attended mass on Sundays and feast days when everyone would have a chance to see him” (3). While Catholicism directly controls some through decrees and tradition, others are controlled indirectly by religious ideals. Ferula sacrificed the freedom of life to be a religious devotee and to care for the less fortunate.
“She took pleasure in humiliation and in menial tasks, and since she believed that she would get into heaven by suffering terrible injustice, she was content to clean” (42). Ferula’s whole youth and freedom was controlled by religious ideals of the meek inheriting the earth and the promise of a better afterlife. The Catholic Church attempts to be present in all aspects of daily life by controlling the passage of time as well as what believers are allowed to do. Catholicism uses many traditional, in addition to social institutions to control society.
Death is a large part ofPedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo, since much of the novel deals with how you can leave purgatory and enter heaven. Comala is purgatory as well as hell in this novel, “up- and downhill we went, but always descending. We had left the hot wind behind and were sinking into a pure, airless heat” (5). The setting shows that this town is the embodiment of what occurs if one does not obey the church’s decrees. Juan Rulfo crafted a world plagued with the results of being controlled by the Catholic way of life inPedro Páramo.
Even in death, if one was deemed unworthy to enter heaven by the church, no amount of prayer can possibly lead to their salvation, “No, I won’t give my blessing. G-d will not smile on me if I intercede for him” (25). Religious rights which can only be given by the priest must be purchased at great cost since the Church as a governing and religious institution needs money to survive. If one sins or even conversely leads a perfectly moral life they are still restricted by monetary means in their access to the kingdom of heaven. Furthermore, one must confess their sins to the church in order to be spiritually pure, though this practice does more to give the Church and ear in everyone’s personal life then to give the confessor spiritual cleanliness.
“What do you think I should do with you, Dorotea? You be the judge. Can you pardon what you have done?” “I can’t, padre. But you can. That is why I’m here” (74). Father Renteria recognizes that by saying she is forgiven nothing is really accomplished which is why he asks is she can forgive herself. This practice simply lets the Church know what is going on and is another way to control since knowledge is power. The Priest acknowledges his inability to show or even grant her the ability to enter heaven and escape purgatory, “Well, you won’t go to heaven now. May G-d forgive you” (74).
Since the members of this town were never granted absolution because they were unable to meet the church’s demands, including how one should live their life or how much you should pay the church, they were all left to suffer eternally in Comala. The rich were cruel and the poor were saints in Juan Rulfo’s novel, but no one was able to satisfy the insatiable hunger for human lives that the church possesses. Even in death, the church sought to control Christians by letting their story repeat for eternity. Since everyone in Comala was sentenced to spend eternity in purgatory, no one was able to save the others. Being that no single person could follow the church’s expectations to the letter, no one was able to reach the promised reward of heaven in the novel. The Church only was able to control the lives of its adherents and was unable to fulfill its promise of granting an afterlife in heaven.
The House of the Spirits as well asPedro Páramo illustrate worlds where Catholicism dictates the pace and activities of life. In The House of the Spirits, nonbelievers and believers alike are drawn to the church to either fulfill spiritual obligations or to simply not be ostracized by the community. The church was the controller of time itself as well as how people interacted because if you fell on Father Restrepo’s bad will, you would be excommunicated and be a social outcast. Similarly inPedro Páramo, the supposed result of not adhering to the principles of Catholicism was an eternity in purgatory.
If you were rich but cruel you could not fulfill the commandments of being righteous, but if you are poor and law abiding, you would then be unable to afford the cost of church rites. Since it was impossible to obey every rule the Church would decree, you were at its mercy hoping you would be afforded salvation. One’s existence is wrapped up in pleasing the church and bending to its will hoping you would be given the chance to enter heaven. The priests, who served as the religious proxies of the church, expose how both novels illustrate the systems of control embedded in and perpetuated by Catholicism.