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.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Filipino Tragedy: Act One

Tragedy, as we regard it, is any senseless and unfortunate event, but it's a definition that's insufficient. Deep down, tragedy is story -- a tale of reversal of fortune, of a hero brought low by his own failings or by the fickleness of fate. Tragedy is story, story becomes drama, and drama deserves audience.

Hear, then, this tale of a Filipino tragedy. Here, there are neither kings nor gods, neither queens nor vixens, only mortals and their quiet desperations. Here, it's played out not in a theater but in broadsheets and tabloids. Only fitting, one might suppose, because it is a Filipino tragedy.

Act 1. The curtain opens. We meet a man: a decent man; a brother; a husband and a father. For a man such as this, the living is just barely enough and so he works doubly hard. Hours before the start of his shift, he ferries passengers in a van for a little extra income. He is proud of his van, his very own, the product of his toil. No hired hand he.

Admirable as he is, he is not, we are to learn, the protagonist of this story. On a humid Wednesday night in May, when our story starts, fate does him a cruel turn. A robber, disguised as a passenger, holds a gun to his nape and mercilessly, pulls the trigger.

Were this any other story, it would already be at its end. But this tragedy is just beginning. You see, the murdered man, one Supt. Jovem Bocalbos, is not merely a hapless driver but a ranking officer of the law.

So the questions begin. Why does the constable moonlight as a lowly cabman? The answer is simple: because this society could not afford to keep him on the level of dignity which he and his family deserved. The answer is simple, as simple as a slap on the face of the society which he served.

Was it with a twinge of guilt, then, when his superiors explained his actions? "It is largely caused by the inadequacy of their salaries and benefits. Many of them are compelled to take on odd jobs while off duty." Were they trying to justify Bocalbos? Or themselves?

But Bocalbos does not need to justify himself, least of all to us. This is, after all, the age of the New Filipino Hero. Though he may not have labored in foreign desert sands or sent home precious dollars, he is firmly of the type. Work is the sacrifice of the New Heroes, and it's on their backs that the country remains afloat (never mind that the powers-that-be might claim that honor.) Occasionally, heroes become martyrs.

Thus we come to the end of the first act. The New Hero lies in state, our great men scramble to make belated amends, and society wonders. The curtain falls on his grieving widow and three orphans. They are the protagonists of the tragedy.

No, there won't be any Act Two or Act Three to this piece. I originally intended it for Metro Post, but it didn't make the deadline for last week. Then I realized I got depressed writing it (and even just thinking about the next two parts, I just decided to drop it altogether. But since this bit is already here....