When society thinks of a person of meaning, it usually thinks of some heroic figure, waging a war or assisting comrades in need. However, in “Plum Plum Pickers,” Raymond Barrio transforms Manuel Gutiérrez, an ordinary, lowly apricot picker, into a man of purpose and pride. Through well planned writing, terse sentences, and intense symbolism, Barrio describes Manuel as both a worker, mechanical and crude, and a true man, proud until death.
Barrio starts his story focusing on Manuel, setting the reader in a vast apricot field. He is trapped within the trees as if they were the “blackest bars on the jails of hell” (40). With such strong symbolism used from the very start, Barrio already creates an image in the reader’s mind that Manuel is suffering unbearable torture. He then describes Manuel as a brute in a series of short sentences describing Manuel and his actions, many of which do not use verbs. Barrio uses these sentences to directly convey powerful emotions and thoughts. He truly makes it seem as though Manuel is a “refined wreck of an animal” (40) as he deliberately strips whatever human qualities that Manuel has. Manuel does not even have a proper name throughout the introduction.
Barrio’s sentences are not only used for description, but also for manipulating the reader’s emotions when appropriate. Through simple one word paragraphs, Barrio transitions abruptly through hours in a workday in a mere second. The declarations of “Lunch,” Midafternoon,” and “Ended” (40) are given the ability to warp the reader’s sense of time, making Manuel’s work seem all the more monotonous and excruciating. It is as though anything up until that point does not matter, that anything Manuel does has no impact on the world. The sentences also break his structured, traditional writing and increase with intensity as the story goes on. As Manuel rests during his lunch break, his one moment of peace, Manuel is reminded of “the trees,” “the branches again,” “the briarly branches,” “the scratching leaves” (40). Barrio’s sentences also reestablish the fact that Manuel is working in a hellish environment.
Although Manuel seems helpless, Barrio makes Manuel more of a human than those of higher status of him. Barrio attacks the images of the successful Robert Morales and his rich, guilt-free employers in the same manner that he degrades Manuel through his short sentences that stir up thought. Morales: “A real robber. A Mexican general. A gentlemanly, friendly, polite, grinning, vicious, thieving brute. The worst kind” (40). The shameless employers responsible for hiring such a hideous man: They were honest, those güeros. They could sleep at night. They fulfilled their end of the bargain and cheated no one” (40-41). People that do seem to have purpose, that have more important tasks than picking apricots, are not superior to Manuel. Manuel may appear to be a brute but he demonstrates that he is more of a human than his fellow workers and his superiors by defending his honor.
Manuel’s defiance is shown in a “stupid, accidental, dangerous way” (41) but he stands for his rights unlike everyone around him. Through his defiance, he makes a discovery that Barrio believes rivals even Don Gaspar’s discovery of the Californian coast. He discovers that “men are built to experience a certain sense of honor and pride” (41). Barrio’s choice of character shows that nothing prevents people from being human, that even the lowliest of men can be human so long as they have their dignity.