The Dead Man - By: Horacio Quiroga

An unnamed farmer is working in his banana plantation as usual, clearing space with his machete. Satisfied with his progress, he decides to rest before finishing.  As he usually does, he plans to cross a barbed wire fence and stretch out on the nearby grass.  This time, however, things go terribly wrong.  He accidentally trips and falls, landing on the ground.  He is in the position he intended but notices that his machete is in a strange position: half of it protrudes from his shirt under his waist.  Trying to look around, he realizes that the other half of the machete has pierced his abdomen.

Incredibly but inexorably, he calmly assesses the situation and concludes that his life has come to an end.  He sees that is so badly wounded that he is now dying; to all intents and purposes he is really already a dead man, as there can be no remedy.  He thinks about his life, as he drifts in and out of consciousness.  Nevertheless, it is hard for him to accept such a sudden and senseless end.  He knows that death is inevitable, but he thought that he would have a normal lifespan, that he would have time to prepare for death.  He has expected a full life, with its share of hopes, dreams and problems.  Instead, he is suddenly dying – simply because of an accident, a moment of petty carelessness.  He realizes that nothing about him has changed, that his surroundings have not reacted to what for him is a cataclysmic event.  He resists the horrible thought.  Nothing has changed – his own banana plantation is the same.  He knows it well, after working on it for so many years.

The midday calm approaches.  He sees the distant red roof of his house and the nearby woods.  Although he cannot turn to look, he knows that in other directions lie the road to the new port and the Parana Valley.  Everything is the same as always – the sun, the air, the trees.  He thinks that he will change the fence.  It cannot be possible that he will be dead.  It is supposed to be a regular, normal day.  He can even see his horse sniffing at the barbed wire.

Suddenly, he hears whistling.  He cannot see in that direction but knows that it is the youth who passes by every morning at the eleven-thirty, crossing the bridge on horseback, going to the new port, always whistling.  He does not call out for help, thinking perhaps that it is useless or that he is too weak to be heard.
The farmer knows the distances in every direction because he measured them himself when he put up the fence.  It is still his natural place, his normal surroundings – with the grass, the anthills, the silence.  Nothing has changed.  Only he is different.  He realized that he can no longer relate to his fields or his family.  He has been abruptly yet naturally torn away from the life he had known.  Within two minutes of the accident, he truly is dying.

Although he becomes very tired, he resists the transcendence of the moment.  Everything is so normal; it seems impossible to him that he has had such an accident, especially because he is so experienced a worker.  He even thinks about getting a better machete.  He is just so tired from his labors that he needs a short rest.
As he looks at the things that he has plants, he ponders everything that is normal around him – grass, tress, sun, air, his sweaty and cautious horse – and insists to himself that he is merely exhausted, that he is only resting.  A few more minutes have probably passed.  He knows that his family will come at a quarter to twelve to get him for lunch.  He always hears his younger child before the others, calling out for papa.  He imagines that he hears the sound now.  It seems like a nightmare that all this has happened on such a trivial and typical day.  He remembers other days when he felt so tired, returning home from a hard morning in the fields.

He thinks that he can use his mind to leave his body now, if he wishes; he can look down at himself, resting in the grass, amidst his usual surroundings.  He is just so tired.

His cautious horse sees him lying there.  The animal wants to go around him and the fence, for better grazing, but that is normally forbidden.  The horse hears the voices of the family approaching now.  Because the man does not stir, the horse grows calm and finally decides to move, passing by the body of its owner stretched out, just a shape on the grass.  The man is finally, fully and eternally at rest.

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Such a beautiful and haunting tale.


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Intro to Latin American Humanities
Edited by: Ana J. Caldero-Figueroa and Lester Sandres Rapalo
Published 2010 by Kendall Hunt Publishing Company
Dubuque, IA

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