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Satire and Political Purpose in the Novels of Jose Rizal* C.W. WATSON More than a century ago, future national hero, Jose Rizal, attempted to put the Spanish colonial presence in a bad light. While in Europe, Rizal wrote two future classics, the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo, through which Rizal made known his views towards colonial and religious oppression, his hopes for his country and his place in the then revolution in the works. While achieving modest success in Europe, the Noli
  5 Satire and Political Purpose in the Novels of Jose Rizal* C.W. WATSON More than a century ago, future national hero, Jose Rizal, attempted to put theSpanish colonial presence in a bad light. While in Europe, Rizal wrote two futureclassics, the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo , through which Rizal madeknown his views towards colonial and religious oppression, his hopes for his countryand his place in the then revolution in the works. While achieving modest successin Europe, the Noli , a triumph in satire, had limited impact in the Philippines whenit was published in 1884, much to Rizals dismay. The Noli merely earned him atoken filibustero status and a place in the watch list upon his return but wasinconsequential in terms of raising political consciousness. No reform forthcoming,Rizal retreated to Europe and wrote the sequal. Equally satirical and politically sharp,the Fili took on the same laughably absurd character and situations but was of darker humor and more violently tragic resolutions, reflecting Rizals final recognitionof the futility of his role as a poet. Rizals first novel, Noli Me Tangere, was published in 1884; by thenRizal had already been living for four years in Europe. The purpose of thenovel was very simply to raise political consciousness in relation to thecurrent state of affairs in the Philippines. Rizal and his fellow studentsfrom the Philippines studying in Spain had tried to disseminate informationabout their country through journalism and public debate, an enterprisereferred to at the time by the term propaganda taken in its srcinalsense of publishing information, but their success was relatively limited(Schumacher, 1973).Paradoxically perhaps, the freedom which they found in Spain tocriticise and publish their views meant that in the context of all the other political debates which were raging at the time, not least of which werethose concerning Cuba and Puerto Rico, the issues relating to thePhilippines tended by comparison to attract less attention. Where thepoints they were making did, however, hit home was in the Philippinesitself where the periodicals from Spain carrying the news of the activitiesof the students were carefully scanned by both secular and religiousauthorities who were quick to identify the names of potential subversivesor  filibusteros . Rizal was very soon put on their list. *This is a slightly revised version of a paper srcinally presented at a conference entitled TheEnd of Spanish Empire: History, Discourse, Representation held at the Institute of RomanceStudies of the University of London in December 1998. A fuller version may subsequentlybe published along with other papers of the conference.  6 C. W. WATSON  That the authorities were taking note of him  they had read for example his early essay El Amor Patrio (Bonoan, 1996)  was in its waya minor achievement but what clearly irked Rizal was their failure toappreciate what it was he saying and respond constructively to hiscriticisms. To achieve this larger purpose he realized that what he neededto do was to shock a European, or at least a Spanish audience, intopaying closer attention to the abuses that were being perpetrated withthe collusion of the colonial government, and it was from this realizationthat there arose the decision to write a political novel which would becontroversial and compel the state to act. When it first appeared the novel was reviewed in the Spanish presswhere it had a mixed reception. Conservative reviewers, as might havebeen anticipated were dismissive, but among the Filipino community inSpain it was extravagantly praised. In the Philippines itself, into whichcopies were smuggled it was a minor sensation. Not long after itspublication, Rizal returned to Manila to see his family and to test thepolitical waters. He seemed genuinely to have hoped that the colonialgovernor might have been persuaded to stand up to the religiousauthorities, the friar orders, whose frailocracy he had castigated in thenovel. In the event it was made clear to him that this was a vain hopeand that he was running a political risk by remaining in the Philippines.He returned to Europe in 1888 and in addition to working on severalprojects designed to formulate a sense of Philippine identity by ahistorical and ethnographic recuperation of the pre-Hispanic character of Filipino-Malays, he worked on his second novel El Filibusterismo , a sequelto the Noli , published in 1891. Again the intention of the novel was to draw attention to thecalamitous state of affairs in the country, but the tone of this novel isconsiderably bleaker than the first. It is not simply that the second novelends on a note of failure and the triumph of evil over good  that was alsothe case with the Noli  but there is no suggestion of redemption of anykind, no central characters with whom the reader can positively identify,no hint of an alternative to the brutality and abuse which have beendescribed; even the humor is blacker without the lighter touches of thefirst novel. By the time of writing this second novel, then, Rizal appearsto have despaired of the efficacy of political opposition and exchangedthe role of critic for one of prophet.  7 SATIRE AND POLITICAL PURPOSE IN THE NOVELS OF RIZAL Despite the difference in tone, however, the two novels are very alikein structure and style. But before considering these similarities it may beuseful to recall in outline the plots of the novels. The Noli relates the returnof Crisostomo Ibarra to the Philippines after a long period of study abroadin Europe. He has high hopes of marrying his childhood sweetheart MariaClara, daughter of Captain Tiago, the mayor of the town in which Ibarrasfamily lives. Ibarra also hopes to put his talents to improving social andeconomic conditions in the Philippines. On both counts his hopes arethwarted by the representatives of the religious orders, the friars, whoappear to control everything which goes on in the provinces and are a lawunto themselves, vicious, corrupt, immoral and the major cause of injustice in the country as depicted in the Noli . Try as he might to overcome the difficulties that face him, Ibarra isultimately defeated. His fiancée retires to a convent, and he himself throws in his lot with Elias, a revolutionary who had previously tried in vainto win Ibarra to the cause of revolution. The novel ends sombrely withElias' death and Ibarras disappearance. He later emerges as theanarchist-revolutionary Simoun in El Filibusterismo .Now clearly at one level, as several commentators have pointed outIbarra is Rizal and his ideals and aspirations as well as his social positionmirror those of Rizal himself. Furthermore, the conflict with the clergy inwhich Ibarra becomes embroiled resembles the situation in which Rizalsown family was caught in its confrontations with the friar-owned estatesin his hometown of Calamba. This similarity between Rizal and Ibarra can,however, be overemphasized, and a useful corrective to that criticalapproach is to bear in mind how much Rizal was influenced by the formand structure of the European novel of the time. Again this is fairly well-trodden critical territory and there has been a lot of discussion of Rizalsliteracy influences. He was an avid reader and we have the evidence of his letters, his diaries and his library itself to testify how familiar he waswith French novelists from Victor Hugo to Zola, with Dickens and of coursewith contemporary Spanish authors. In particular, critics have noted thesimilarity of the Noli to Galdos novel Doña Perfecta : in both cases thehero leaves the sophisticated urban metropolis to pursue his engagementto an innocent and beautiful girl in the province comes adrift after confrontation with the Machiavellian intrigue of the clergy. The parallelsare clear and the influence seems obvious.  8 C. W. WATSON However, it is worth recalling, as Rodolfo Cardona does in his editionof  Doña Perfecta , that the theme of the educated representative from themodern, rational and progressively-oriented metropolis coming unstuckin the mire of rural superstition and backwardness is a common one inthe Spanish literature of the time and offers an instructive contrast towhat is sometimes taken to be the more usual novelistic theme of thetime: the difficulties encountered by the provincial ingenue as he tries tomake his way in the labyrinths of urban sophistication and deceit.For Rizal and his compatriot, Pedro Taverno, who had written a similar novel, Ninay  , two years previously, the scope offered by this allowed themboth to expose the ignorance, superstition and clerical tyranny which stillprevailed in the Philippines and to make the same criticisms as their Spanish contemporaries in Spain of oppressive and autocratic religiousinstitutions.If, however, it is Galdos and a Spanish tradition which can bedistinguished in the Noli, it is Alexander Dumas of  The Count of MonteCristo who so evidently left his mark on the plot of the Fili . Just as EdmondDantes is transformed into the rich and powerful figure of the Count of Monte Cristo, so Ibarra is metamorphosed into Simoun, the rich andinfluential jeweler, friend of the Manila elite who like Dantes plots hisrevenge on those who had destroyed him and his hopes. But if in MonteCristo there still remains traces of Dantes, there is nothing in Simoun toremind us of the once noble character of Ibarra. Simoun plots anarchyand terror and rejects reform in favor of bloody revolution, and in theintervals of his plotting the reader is introduced to vignettes of student lifein Manila and examples of abuses in the provinces. In the end, however,readers are left without the conventional satisfactions of melodrama;Simoun commits suicide and the abuses of power remain unchecked. The conclusion of the novel with its pessimistic destruction of not onlySimoun but of the characters who represent enlightenment ironicallytherefore vindicates Simouns view, that structurally there is no hope for the Philippines without massive political and social upheaval. To concentrate on the plot of the novels is, however, to miss Rizalspurpose: the story is there simply as a hook to engage the reader initially;the substance of the novels is intended to make the reader reflect and,ideally, act. To that end Rizal in fact builds up his novels like a bricoleur,putting them together with bits and pieces which come to hand, not
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