Though the two books, The Makioka Sisters and Pedro Paramo appear to be a part of two entirely separate worlds, some connections can be seen throughout the works. Junichiro Tanizaki uses The Makioka Sisters to tell the tale of four beautiful sisters who’s lives are encompassed by a world of tradition and propriety. While at the same time Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo is exploring these same ideas of obligation and in the best term, formalities. This is the key to these two works, formalities. Each culture and time is experiencing pressures and obligations due to the characters’ belief in observing formalities and traditions.
Both books open to a dilemma that plagues the characters and can be tied back to the observation of formalities. The Makioka family is desperately seeking a husband for the third sister, Yukiko. Sachiko explains “In…hopes of finding Yukiko a worthy husband, they had refused the proposals that in earlier years had showered upon them. Not one seemed quite what they wanted” (9).
This prestigious Osaka family presumes that they must adhere to every formality to its highest degree in order to uphold their reputation and honor. A suitor has yet to meet what they believe must be their standards. The head of the family, Tatsuo has been displeased with the men that have sought Yukiko’s hand, he believes that the “old and once-important family” cannot afford to take in a man who might humble or disgrace “the dignity of the Makioka name” (8).
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The family is weaving itself into a web of pain and humiliation through their insistence to comply with the precedence of exalting and sheltering the Makioka name at any cost, even that of love and happiness. Juan Preciado is also being thrust into a dilemma when he makes attempts to follow through with empty civilities.
Rulfo opens this story with Preciado traveling to the small, desolate village of Comala. After the death of Preciado’s mother, he decides to uphold the promise he made to her by visiting his estranged father, Pedro Paramo, whom he never knew. Preciado admits, “I didn’t intend to keep my promise. But then I began to think about what she told me, until I couldn’t stop thinking and even dreaming about it, and building a whole world around that Pedro Paramo. That’s why I came to Comala” (1).
Preciado is brought to this insufferable village because of an empty promise that he made to his dying mother. This drew Preciado to Comala, but that wasn’t what required him to come. Early in Doloritas’ marriage, she decided to go to visit her sister, and hiding behind formalities, she refused to return to Paramo without being summoned. Even though Comala was her home and Paramo her husband, she refused to break any conventional idea that she should come home to a man that had not sent for her. Thus she submitted to the silence from Paramo in Comala and carried on her life alone. If Doloritas had broken the mold and simply gone back to Comala even without being sent for, there might not be any trip for the grieving Preciado to make.
The relation of formality to the plot has been established but there are examples of this concept through out both works. The Makioka Sisters is filled with endless accounts of formalities and pretenses. The character affected the most by formalities is Taeko, the youngest sister. Taeko is a modernized version of the Makioka family. She is portrayed early on as a defiant girl who is treated differently than her demure, respectable sisters. Taeko is the one whom the formalities are most oppressive to and she is the sister who is the most offensive towards such pressures. She is in a constant battle to break away from traditional morality. Tanizaki uses Taeko’s character to make the pressures of formalities that are a part of the Japanese culture apparent to the reader by relating her complications in a plausible conflict. Every person in the Makioka family is experiencing the tension being placed on them from the outside world’s ideals about tradition and decency, but to this world Taeko is seen as a blemish on the Makioka name rather than the animated, loving sister that she is. She follows none of the formalities set upon her by her class and culture. She smokes, philanders, disobeys the main house, and pursues a career of her own.
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Taeko’s battle with formalities is relative to the main plot because her “misbehavior” is jeopardizing Yukiko’s prospects for a husband. The family believes “There was yet another reason for Yukiko’s difficulties: ‘the affair that got into the newspapers,’” (11).
Because of Taeko’s behavior, an affair was uncovered and revealed in the local paper, causing public disgrace for the Makiokas. The Makiokas must now decide if they are to uphold the ideals of righteousness and morality by kicking Taeko out of the family or it they will ignore the formalities which state they are to disown her. Though the other family members, especially the second eldest sister Sachiko, wish to forgive and forget, their culture and inner desire to abide by their traditions tear at the sanctity and honor of the family. Even when Taeko becomes deathly ill, “…gradually the symptoms of dysentery became clearer. Even then we could not decide what to do-we had turned her out, after all…”(439).
The restraints that are placed on them in the ideals of propriety state that they can not openly show any sympathy for Taeko, not even any affection. The Makiokas are punished by these formalities which run rampant through their lives and they don’t even know why they are forced into complying, they only know that that is the way things are done in good Japanese families.
Pedro Paramo is also filled with the blind conformity that can be seen in The Makioka Sisters. When Preciado first arrives in Comala he notices that there is something very odd about this out-of-the-way village. The people are mere shadows and the houses are empty, weed-ridden shacks. As the story progresses, Rulfo paints the picture of a town consumed with fear and in the bondage of formalities. All of the people in Comala have died and now their spirits have inhabited the town. Death is not an escape from the obligation of formalities for these souls. Rulfo writes, “… the town is full of spirits, a whole throng of wandering souls that died in sin and can’t find any way of getting pardon,…”(51).
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The souls of Comala have died in sin and believe that they must inhabit Comala until they can find enough people to pray for them to get our of purgatory. Even Preciado’s ghost says, “I began to sense a muttering coming nearer and circling round me like a swarm of bees, till finally I could make out a few words: ‘Pray to God for us.’ That’s what they were saying to me. Then my soul froze. That’s why you found me dead.”(58).
The ghosts of Comala have killed all of the inhabitants, and even though the people of Comala were sinless people, they are still convinced that without the ceremonial pardoning of sins done by a priest, they may not rest after death.
An excellent example of this scenario can be seen in Preciado’s coffin-mate Dorotea. Dorotea was a woman who was a drunkard and a “Madame” to Don Pedro’s son Miguel, but often came to Father Renteria to confess her sins. Her confessed repentance had no affect on her sinful ways, Father Renteria professes, “Dorotea, who was always waiting there when he opened the doors of the church. She smelled of alcohol.”(71).
The reason that Dorotea is among the tormented ghosts of Comala is because she has not received her last rites or final prayers before she died and as seen through this scene at the church, though she is a sinful person, she insists on following through with the proper procedures outlined by the church. Father Renteria’s words to her “Judge you own actions…How many times have you come here begging me to send you to Heaven when you die?” shows how he directs her to be true to herself and purge her own soul. But Dorotea responds “I can’t Father. But you can. That’s why I came to see you.”(72).
Dorotea, like the other restless souls can not pass on to the after life until they have received their ceremonial last rites and thus they plague Comala looking for people to pray for them so that their souls may find peace.
The Makioka family as well as the people of Comala have become victims of merciless formalities that ran their lives. The relation of this concept of formalities and cultural traditions between the two books Pedro Paramo and The Makioka Sisters shows that some aspects of life are shared in every culture and no people can escape the pressures of blind conformity.
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