In this case the speaker is the teacher who previously taught in the town of Luvina, speaking to the new teacher who is about to travel there. The reader does not discover this until midway through the story, however. The narration occurs in first person except in moments where an omniscient narrator intervenes with some general details about the scene. The story begins with a description of the terrain in which the town is situated. The sounds of children playing can also be heard. Because of this the reader knows that the two men are not currently in the town of Luvina.
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The first novelty in "Luvina" is its surprise beginning. From the darkly beautiful and resonant title, we might assume that the eponymous subject is a woman and that some exotically romantic love tale is in store for us. With the opening line we realize, however, that Luvina is not a person but a place. As we read on, moreover, we find out that Luvina is not an attractive spot but a decaying rural scar whose desolate physical environment invades the human spirit, racks social existence, and reduces its inhabitants to passive and fatalistically cynical old men and women.
As the narrator himself laments in his final summation, " San Juan Luvina. That name sounded to me like a name in the heavens. A dying place where even the dogs have died off…. And that gets you down. The narrative setting is a cantina, a bar somewhere on the road approaching the hardscrabble ridge that bears the name Luvina and where Luvina the town is also located. Seated at a table, beer glass in hand, a mature fellow who once spent some 15 years working there is chatting with a younger man now headed for the same place, presumably on a similar mission.
He describes to him the harshness of the milieu—the bare, rocky soil, the relentless, ashy wind, the yearly storms that for a few days "whip the earth and tear it away. Halfway through his soliloquy, the nameless narrator recounts an episode amounting to the only significant physical action in the story. The episode functions as a three-page flashback within what is itself an extended flashback.
The story actually begins with an objective third-person narrator providing a physical description of the tall, craggy cerro called Luvina. In the third paragraph the story shifts to the nameless man at the bar table, whose engaged, distinctive, third-person voice dominates the remainder of the piece as he talks about Luvina, the village.
Here and there in the course of the first few pages the original omniscient narrator returns and reminds us of the more immediate surroundings—the sounds of a nearby river and of rustling almond trees, the children at play just outside the barroom door, the advancing night.
Early on the unnamed speaker orders another round of beers from the bartender, a man named Camilo. The objective viewpoint soon recedes, however, and it makes a brief comeback only on the last page to inform us that the raconteur has slumped over the table and fallen fast asleep.
These narratives within narratives resemble what is sometimes known as the hall-of-mirrors or Chinese-boxes effect. With only one of these viewpoints the piece would have been static and flat, a mere sketch, however lyrical and poetical, of a particular time and place.
On the other hand, we are denied access to the speech of the young traveler, whose queries and comments are relayed to us by the older man. Rulfo surely sensed that adding yet another voice would have hurt the delicate balance and unity of tone he had achieved in the story.
Still, we can infer that the young man, too, will follow in the footsteps of the elder and end up similarly wasted. In this regard the narrative content and procedures of "Luvina" bear noting. The story consists mainly of description, not action, and what action there is is subsumed by and incidental to the descriptive materials. This, of course, goes against our established notions as to what short fiction usually does. To tell a story is to relate what happened. By contrast, in "Luvina," for the most part, not much happens.
What we see happening is an older man reminiscing to a younger one about a godforsaken village. He is also an educated man who speaks in correct Spanish and who, in the culminating scene toward the end, is addressed by one of the dazed inhabitants as "professor" "teacher" in the English translation. This little debate with several stolid elders is, in fact, the climax of the piece, its emotional and structural high point, in which the man earnestly, passionately tries convincing the men to pack up and abandon Luvina.
But the oldsters know better. They understand that the fabled government is indifferent to their plight and that its officials remember them only when it needs to bump off a wayward bureaucrat. The old men even defend the dark wind by asserting that without it the sun would suck up all of their blood and body moisture. In so doing, Rulfo definitively broke with the deadweight of conventional nineteenth-century linear realism, although it was never a vital or legitimate tradition in Latin America.
Still, Rulfo is the furthest thing possible from a regional writer, for through his suggestive art a local countryside takes on universal resonance. The precarious economy and fallen humanity memorialized by him in "Luvina" could just as well be noted in many other places on earth, in the decaying, deindustrialized Rust Belt cities of the Northeast of the United States , for instance.
Luvina by Juan Rulfo, 1953
Cuento breve recomendado: Luvina, de Juan Rulfo
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