The following is a student response to The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, written and submitted by Thomas Weston. Thomas was born in Caracas, Venezuela and is in his last year of study at San Diego State University. He is pursuing an undergraduate degree in cellular biology and plans to work in scientific research.
If you would like to submit a Student/Reader Response for publication consideration here at A MISSING BOOK, just email me with JGR RESPONSE in the subject line.
On The Devil to Pay in the Backlands
“The devil in the street in the middle of a whirlwind” is a phrase that Riobaldo repeats several times throughout Rosa’s novel, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands. He even says that the phrase can be used to describe much of his life. It holds meaning for Riobaldo because of an ongoing struggle that I believe he is having with himself, whether or not the devil exists. It is important, you see, for Riobaldo to know this because, in his mind, the existence of the devil would surely mean that he really did make a pact with him and therefore has sold his soul away. So, after much thought, he has condensed his ideas into one image. The following paragraphs will deconstruct this loaded sentence and provide an explanation for how it perfectly describes the way Riobaldo thinks of the devil and his existence.
First, we will tackle the matter of the whirlwind. Well, what does a whirlwind look like? From the outside, a whirlwind can be described as a mass of destruction and chaos in constant motion. This is represented in Riobaldo’s life as the mass of Jagunços which he is a part of as they make their way across the sertão. Riobaldo repeats the phrase twice when he is describing the battle scene in which his men take on Hermogenes’ men in a knife fight. His language even describes a scene chaotic as that of a whirwind: “The whole place was a howling mass of bloodthirsty men, wrestling and rolling, arms and legs flying like those of a runner”.
But what is in the middle of a whirlwind? Well, nothing really. If you’ve ever let yourself be passed by a whirlwind, (as I did many times as a child) you would notice that for a brief moment, when you are in the middle, there is calm. It is interesting that at the very heart of this mass of chaos there simply lies nothing. Continue reading