The short story "Nos han dado la tierra" ("They Gave Us the Land") is a dismal portrayal of the Mexican government's land reform in the mid-20th century. A group of men are given a barren wasteland by an official, and as they walk through it they discuss how completely worthless it is.

But near the end, it's suddenly revealed that one of the men is carrying a hen under his coat:

I hadn't noticed Esteban very closely. Now that he's speaking I notice him. He's wearing a coat that reaches down to his navel, and under his coat something that looks like a hen's head is peering out.

Yo no me había fijado bien a bien en Esteban. Ahora que habla, me fijo en él. Lleva puesto un gabán que le llega al ombligo, y debajo del gabán saca la cabeza algo así como una gallina.

When pressed, Esteban explains why he is carrying the chicken:

I brought her along to take care of her. Nobody was left at my house to feed her; that's why I brought her. Whenever I go anyplace very far I take her along.

la traigo para cuidarla. Mi casa se quedó sola y sin nadie para que le diera de comer; por eso me la traje. Siempre que salgo lejos cargo con ella.

My question is – what relevance does this chicken have? Is it meant to show the poverty or loneliness of the men somehow? Why include it in the story at all?

English quotations from The Mexico Reader (2002), 468–69. Spanish from Toda la obra.

1 Answer 1


It serves to demonstrate the loneliness that the men, Esteban in particular, feel because of the Revolution. The men feel lost and disillusioned, and Esteban feels alone and isolated. The presence of the hidden hen is to show that Esteban wants to show compassion to something or someone in the aftermath of the Revolution. The hen is his own, from his yard, and Esteban dearly protects it as the men make their trek. He holds the hen by its legs to prevent it from hitting its head on the rocks.

The hen is Rulfo's way of making a subtle jab at how the Revolution promised the peasants fertile, arable land, but instead delivers only a dry wasteland, which is essentially worthless for farming (which was the whole reason the Mexican Revolution occurred).

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