In Juan Rulfo’s novel Pedro Paramo, the symbol of rain and water is a representation of both the creation of life and love and destruction and loss of hope.
Pedro Paramo takes place in a dry and barren land where time has become cyclical and the future offers no hope for change. However, it has not always been that way, since many of the characters remember a time when rains fell on a land that was blessed with abundance, when people were happy, and dreams of a better future were possible. This overwhelming sensation of a paradise which has been lost provides an explanation for the feeling of disillusion in the novel.
Rain is nourishment for the earth and is known as the water of life. This is found often in the earlier chronological events of the 3rd person narrative when Pedro Paramo is young. Often it is raining while Pedro fantasizes about Susana making these rainfalls positive. Rain drops can symbolize heaven’s tears and lightening can be seen as heaven’s anger. This storm is a representation of hope for the future in this land because the sins of the people are able to be forgiven. During this time rain is associated with a positive feeling of abundance, joy and satisfaction.
It is not long before a change occurs in the associations that are connected with the image of water. At this point Pedro Paramo is thinking of the day that Susana leaves, and it now becomes evident that the positive phase of the water-imagery has come to an end. “The windowpanes were misted over and raindrops were threading down like tears… I watched the trickles glinting in the lightning flashes, and every breath I breathed, I sighed. And every thought I thought was of you, Susana” (Pg. 15). Where earlier images full of color and light reflected the happiness Pedro experienced in the company of his beloved, these drops of water are associated with the tears produced by the overwhelming sense of her loss. Water will now be seen throughout the rest of the novel with a negative connotation.
Shortly after this introduction to rain as a negative symbol, it is used to introduce the death of don Lucas Pedro’s father. It begins with a description of falling water, and the drops that overflow onto the floor foreshadow the spilling of blood which is to follow. The death of don Lucas is a crucial point in the novel because it is at this time that Pedro takes over his family’s affairs, including the execution of those who attended the wedding where his father was killed.
For a while, the water-motif ceases to appear; however, as he speaks with Dorotea in their common grave, Juan Preciado mentions that it is raining. This serves as a stimulus which produces a return to the third person narrative where Fulgor Sedano is watching the rain on a cloudy morning. At the end of this passage Fulgor predicts, “We’ll have rain for a good while” (pg. 65), which then turns into the flood. At this point in the novel the rain has become a symbol of the destructive influence of Pedro Paramo which falls on the land and its people.
On the one hand, Fulgor Sedano speaks as a farmer who is grateful for the rain which falls on the newly plowed ground; however, when he speaks to the rain it is also as though he is encouraging the actions of Pedro Paramo. His reference to the newly plowed ground is a gruesome reminder of those who have been killed, and then buried, so that this evil power may continue to prosper.
By now Pedro has been able to re-establish contact with Susana San Juan, and so that his control of her life will be complete, he has instructed Fulgor Sedano to kill her father, Bartolome San Juan. As Susana struggles with the madness which has resulted from the loss of her first husband, the constant sound of rain forms a counterpoint to her thoughts. Someone comes to announce that her father has died, and like Pedro Paramo’s influence, the rain continues to fall as though it will never end. Finally, a day comes when the rain stops. However, the threat which the rain represents has not ended, since it has now been replaced by the wind. This is the wind that brought the rain, and it therefore contains the same destructive potential as before.
With the loss of his power in the Mexican Revolution, it is evident that for Pedro Paramo all hope of change has vanished, and the early moments of happiness which were reflected in the water-motif are now nothing more than a bitter memory. Two incidents connected with water near the end of the novel clearly illustrate this. The first occurs when Pedro’s son, Abundio Martinez, drinks a bottle of alcohol to drown the sorrow caused by the death of his wife. Moments later, he stabs Pedro Paramo in a drunken rage. Water has been used to represent the negative influence of Pedro Paramo, and in this act of revenge it is as though Abundio has purged himself of all the evil that he had inherited from his father.
Without will and without the unifying power of love, Pedro Paramo has become, as his name suggests, nothing more than a sterile pile of stones. By choosing the name Pedro Paramo, and by ending the novel as the main character disintegrates into a pile of stones, Rulfo has suggested that what his character represents, Pedro: stone, Paramo: desert, has become a part of the dry, barren, wasteland of Comala.