Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Setting and Plot in "Flood in Tarlac"

Take-home exam for Engl 105, Part 3.

Discuss how the elements of setting and plot work harmoniously in the characterization in "The Flood in Tarlac."

"Flood" follows Dr. Jose Caridad on that fateful day that his entire family is killed in an unexpected assault during a flood. The focus is primarily on Dr. Caridad, an average middle-class fellow, and on his reactions and motivations to various events leading up to the tragedy.

The passages which describe Dr. Caridad's house firmly establish his standing in society. It's situated in a subdivision, Fortune Village; it's a two-story affair, gated, lined with bougainvilleas, and it has its own private (albeit anemic) security guard. There's a family pet, too, a German shepherd. As the story progresses, we see additional details: wrought iron chairs, wicker settees, air conditioning, individual rooms for the children, maid's quarters, a suitably large dining room... Clearly the doctor is of the upper middle class, and one with middle class concerns.

The house reflects Dr. Caridad in a way that is also meant to symbolize him. The house is big, lived-in, roomy, comfortable, and welcoming to friends, just as Dr. Caridad is warm (when he wants to be) and generally content with his family life (despite irritations common to most families); but it is also fenced and gated, and therefore aloof to the concerns of the world at large. The latter characteristics give the illusion of security, both for the man and the house, one that is soon to be shattered by unwelcome visitors.

If there is a general correlation between the house and its owner, the motivations of Dr. Caridad as he goes through the day round out the details of his character. In this manner, both setting and plot complement each other in portraying the protagonist.

The first part of the story has Dr. Caridad meeting with the farmers. He doesn't really want to. Already, it's an intrusion into his Sunday privacy. His primary motivation at this point is to get rid of the visitors, revealing his aloofness.

The second part of the story has Dr. Caridad dealing with his family. There are nettles here and there -- the status-conscious wife, the shallow children -- but for the most part, Dr. Caridad tolerates and buries himself in this familiar hubbub. This is Dr. Caridad's comfort. He is nominal king of his domain.

The last part of the story is the flood and the assault. The house is unable, after all, to withstand the onslaught of the flood, in much the same way as Dr. Caridad is unable to protect his family. What ensues is panic, followed by a desperate action. Dr. Caridad ultimately survives, just as the house is left standing; but everything of value within the house has been swept away, just as Dr. Caridad, too, may be no more than just a shell of the man that he once was.