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.


Use of language in "Visitation of the Gods"

Take-home exam for Engl 105, part 1.

Show how the use of language helps in the development of the theme of "The Visitation of the Gods."

"Visitation" is an examination of the state of Philippine public school education, and by extension, Philippine society. It shows a system built more on relationships than on competence. This portrayal occurs on two levels. On the more panoramic scale is the festive unfolding of events of the visit itself. In more detail, serving to dramatize the tension, is the brewing conflict between the idealistic Miss Noel and the boorish Mr. Sawit. Like a camera shifting focus from background to subject, the author manages to alternate seamlessly between the two.

When the focus is on the background, the language of the story pulls back to take on the characteristic of reportage. The author moves from detail to detail, painting picturesque portraits of the preparations, the anticipation, the arrival, and the party. On these scenes, the account is more objective as it focuses less on the characters and more on the events.

On the other hand, that objectivity on these scenes is not complete. The narrative takes on a sardonic cast with its use of playful exaggerated metaphors, e.g., "longhandled brooms ravishing homes of peaceful spiders", "classroom walls unperturbably blank", "lorded over by a stuffed Bontoc eagle." The story is replete with such figures. In many ways these metaphors point back to the theme -- of lecherous inspectors ravishing teachers, of blank students suddenly called to rehearsed performances, of spiritually empty figures in authority. These details, so effectively hidden in the background, reveal the author's sentiments in the story.

Another impish touch are the liberal and seemingly trivial parenthetical asides, always meant to add a dash of humor or color. As the story introduces the teachers, the names are always followed by their assigned subjects, a detail which would be immediately recognizable by anyone familiar with the system. This lighthearted approach belies the seriousness of the subject, and in so doing condemns the situation with its sarcasm.

The narrative takes on a more personal hue when its camera is focused on Miss Noel. The author sometimes slips into the workings of Ms. Noel's mind and does so sympathetically, heightening the reader's identification with the protagonist. ("Miss Noel...thought utterly unbecoming and disgusting the manner in which the principal's wife...", "Is this what she had been wasting her years on?")

Most of the characterization of Miss Noel, though, is effected through the description of her actions and her dialogue. As she vainly searches for Mr. Ampil, we see her to be a woman of compassion. As she fences verbally with Mr. Sawit, we see her to be a woman of integrity and competence.

The scenes with Miss Noel are portrayed more conventionally, again another stark contrast with the manic hullabaloo of the visitation. This is intentional, I think: in a stage full of buffoons, Ms. Noel is the only serious character, the only one the reader can really identify with. And so when the heroic Miss Noel finally dances close to despair, we, too, have some idea of its depths.