Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Discussion Notes: "The Flood in Tarlac"


This is my analysis of Gregorio C. Brillantes' "The Flood in Tarlac," for which he won First Prize for Short Story in English in the 1987 Palanca Awards. For my Short Story class in Ateneo de Davao.

One-Sentence Summary: "The Flood in Tarlac" traces the events leading up to the massacre of a middle-class family in a subdivision during a flood.


Characters: Dr. Jose Caridad (main), Maripaz Caridad, Bobby, Jocelyn, Sidro Malabanan, Luis Sumulong, Placido; Nonoy Concepcion, the dog, village guard, maids; off-story: Atty. Tancinco, brother-in-law, father-in-law, Susan

Notes on Characters and Characterization: Brillantes is known for his use of meaningful names for his characters, though he does it unobtrusively. For example: Dr. Jose Caridad - "Jose" signifies Joseph, the protector of the family, and "Caridad" refers to charity, a trait the character exhibits despite the gruff demeanor (p. 366). Likewise, the farmers also exhibit traits attached to their names: Malabanan (defender) is the speaker, Sumulong (attacker) is aggressive, and Placido (peaceful) is silent throughout.

By following the inner thoughts and conversations of Dr. Caridad, we get a picture of him and his family. The Rotary Club, the types of cars, and the subdivision surroundings (p. 358 to 359) point to a middle class family. Grumblings concerning Bobby and his handling of the car and his choices of music point to a son in the teenage years. Likewise, Jocelyn's persistent badgering about a party also fixes her age and her concerns.


Maripaz Caridad, though, deserves special mention. Throughout the story, her name is consistently "Maripaz Caridad", never "Maripaz" or "Paz." This evokes a sense of detachment which may indicate Dr. Caridad's growing lukewarmness towards her, a fact confirmed in one his uncontrolled judgments (p. 365). Her dialogue indicates she is more concerned with status and relationships.

Plot: The plot is simple and straightforward. Things simply happen, out of the control of the protagonist. Up until the last moment, so close to the end of the story (p.372), he does not actually spring to action. Yet it's still a riveting read because of the rising tension that Brillantes applies through the use of language. We know something bad is going to happen. Throughout the story are ominous elements of foreboding (title, opening paragraphs, p.361, p. 362, p.364, p.367). Like spectators to an impending train crash, we can't keep our eyes away. This is a Story of Inevitable Disaster.

Structure: The story is divided into three parts.

The first part (p. 358 to 364) is the meeting with the farmers, which indirectly sets the reason for the confrontation. In this part, Dr. Caridad simply wants to get rid of the farmers, not for any reason of malice, but because he's tired.

The second part (p.364 to 367) is the family dinner, which establishes the Caridad family life. The conversations are trite but authentic, striking a chord with readers of the same social standing. This shows us how much Dr. Caridad stands to lose. Indeed, it ends with a very ominous beat.

The last part (p.368 to 373) details the unravelling of events in which Dr. Caridad is swept up.

Point of View and Tone: The point of view is Omniscient Limited, the camera strictly focused on Dr. Caridad and his reactions to the events around him. But the tone is detached and unsympathetic, almost like a newspaper story, and this is reinforced again by the names ("Dr. Caridad", "Maripaz Caridad"). This tone is in keeping with the story as one of inevitable disaster.

Setting: Considering the source of the conflict -- land disputes -- the setting is appropriate. It is reflective of the mood of the times in which it was written, perhaps even prescient, in light of the Hacienda Luisita incident much later on. Significant also is the specific location, the Caridad house, in which it all happens. The house is meant to be a bastion of comfort and security, but it and all things in it are swept away by sudden violence.

Other salient points: (1) Were the attackers the three farmers who came to Dr. Caridad earlier? We never really now. It's probable, but it's not definite. (2) That the assailants should come in the middle of a flood -- in a banca, no less! -- stretches credulity, but it's somehow apt nonetheless. (3) Dr. Caridad's final reaction is somewhat surprising. Why was he concerned more with the attack on his home than the murder of his family? But this seems to be in keeping with the theme of the story.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. We discussed this story in our Fiction class. =)

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