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Noli Me Tangere
Not gonna lie: I was starting to fall asleep reading this book. I started reading it over winter break. School started again and I was busy with other projects. I left off halfway through the book but decided to restart at Chapter 25 titled “At the Philosopher’s House” because it is by far my favorite chapter in the novel. There were many characters and events going on at different places up until this chapter. And it was refreshing to read a segment that focused on only two characters.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing for Rizal to have many characters and to include all the activities going on with those characters. There’s good and bad that comes with this choice. The bad is that that having many characters and including side-stories for minor characters make it hard to follow the novel. It is difficult for readers who don’t have time to read on a daily basis (I’m one such reader and later on, I’ll be looking up a list of the characters to refresh myself). The good, is that readers really get a sense of the environment and a sense of what goes on in the community. It allows readers to be aware of the social dynamics and the politics that occur. Depicting the politics is key in this novel because Rizal’s goal was to make people aware of “the social cancer” in the Philippines (I’m careful to not say that his goal was to get people to revolt because some sources will say that he didn’t intend for the Philippines to detach from Spain).
Having only 2 characters in the chapter is one thing I really liked about it because readers can see a more intimate discussion between the characters. That’s the other thing: in many previous chapters, there was a focus on describing the different classes, the different people, the minute details of daily life (like the way the table was set for dinner and the artifacts that were hanging on the wall). All interesting descriptions that reminded me of Charles Dickens (which is a bad thing in this case, because when I think of Dickens, I remember reading this long chapter that was all description and I wanted to kill myself by the third page but I couldn’t because I had to make note cards for the weekly quiz in my AP English class. I read somewhere that Dickens sometimes wrote long description paragraphs because he got paid for each word.)
This didn’t happen in Chapter 25. Chapter 25 was action-packed with soundbites. Like I mentioned before I went on a tangent about Dickens, there are only 2 characters in this chapter. The two characters were Juan Ibarra and Old Tasio. Basically, Ibarra came to Old Tasio’s house to ask for advice about building a school. Ibarra wanted to build a progressive school where children would not be scared to learn (because the current school forced the teacher to spank children). Old Tasio warns the idealistic Ibarra to play it smart. In the midst of what generally occurred in conversation, I saw some concepts and phrases that I want to take note of:
p. 162 Old Tasio is talking about Baybayin, which was the Tagalog script (which is syllabary, according to Hector Santos’s web page called Literacy in Pre-Hispanic Philippines) before Spaniards conquered the islands, named the islands the Philippines Islands after the Spanish King Philip, burned our books written in Baybayin, and got everyone to learn the Roman letters. I got excited to read this piece because the dialogue gave specific details about Tagalog, the dialect which is what the Philippine national language is based mostly off. The detail comparing the Tagalog “h” sound to the “h” in Europe and the “h” in Egypt was interesting but I’m not sure of how true it is (note: check it out). Rizal was known for being conversant in many languages. He even translated written pieces from other languages. So we would be inclined to think that the detail about the “h” sound has some validity to it. Also, note that the English translation of the novel uses the word “hieroglyphics” to refer to the Tagalog script. Since the script is actually syllabary, the use of the word “hieroglyphics” is incorrect. I don’t know if this mistake came from Rizal or Harold Augenbraum, the translator for the English translation I am reading. Or maybe it’s not a mistake–maybe it’s what people thought of the script during Rizal’s time and Augenbraum merely carried it on to the English translation. (For more information on Baybayin, you can also go to Nordenx’s blog.). It would also be interesting to look into the problems of translation.
p. 164 Old Tasio tells Ibarra after Ibarra asks him for advice: “… the first advice I will give to you is to never come to me for advice again…because sane people…will think you are crazy too. People believe that madness is when you don’t think as they do, which is why they take me for a madman.” Old Tasio then goes on to talk about how he thinks it is to his benefit when he says, “And I’m grateful for that, because, well, the day on which they restore my reason is the day they deprive me of the small bit of freedom I’ve purchased at the price of a reputation as a sane person.” Old Tasio is such a badass. What a rebel. Yea Tasio…
p. 166 Strong words against the Spanish government. Old Tasio says, “The government is convinced that it relies on them, that if it maintains itself it is because of them, that if it lives, it is because they allow it to live, and the day it falters, it will fall like a puppet without a stick. The government is terrified of raising its hand against the people and the people of the forces of government. And out of that comes a simple game that seems like what happens to frightened souls when they visit lugubrious places. They take their own shadows for ghosts, and their echoes for strange voices. While the government has no real understanding of this country, it will not get out of such a relationship. It will live like those idiotic young men who tremble at their tutor’s voice, though they seek his approval. The government has no dreams of a strong future. It is only an arm, the parish house is the head, and their inertia allows them to be dragged from one abyss to another. They end up as a shadow, they disappear as an entity, they are weak and impotent, and they entrust everything to mercenaries…”
Whew…long and complicated quote. Where to start? To me, the important thing to understand is the analogy. The main analogy here is the tutor-student relationship. It’s important to remember that Ibarra came to Old Tasio to come up with a solution for education in the town school. Ibarra wants to build a school where students would not be afraid to learn. However the chapter develops into a discussion about government. Rizal ties the two situations to the big idea of fear. He says here that it is fear that prevents people from doing anything, just as it is also fear that prevents the children from learning.
Also, I was confused as to which country Old Tasio was talking about: the Philippine or Spain? He used the phrase “mother country” and “our system of government” so I was unsure which country he was referring to since Old Tasio is Filipino. From what I know of Rizal and the historical context, I’d say “government” is referring to Spain.
p. 168, Rizal has Ibarra say, “I will concede that government doesn’t understand the people, but I believe the people understand the government even less. There are useless functionaries, even evil ones, if you will, but there are also good ones, and if they are unable to do anything it is because they come up against an inert mass. The population that barely participates in the things that concern them.”
This part is important to me because I was looking at a list of things that Filipinos are known for and one item on the list said, “laziness.” I hate that this characteristic is tied to Filipinos.
p. 169 Rose and kupang (a type of tree) analogy. Old Tasio likens Ibarra to a rose or kupang as a way to tell Ibarra that he needs to “find support and develop humility” because as they speak, Ibarra is “alone and highborn.” Tasio tells Ibarra that “the tree canopy of your family attracts lightning” to refer to the event of Ibarra’s father being murdered by a priest (His father was killed because of the progressive ideas which he upheld. The priest called him a heretic because he refused to attend church and pay respects to the priest).
Tasio introduces the idea to Ibarra by saying that with roses, “the wind blows, it shakes, and it bends as if it were trying to protect its precious charge. If the stem were to remain upright, it would break, the wind would scatter the flowers, and the buds would rot.” At the end of the chapter in p. 170, Tasio goes back to the rose analogy and tells Ibarra (who is frustrated and impatient with the politics he will have to play), “If all that happens, if your enterprise fails, you will have to be consoled by the thought that you have done as much as you could, and even then, something will have been won. Put in the first stone, sow the seeds. After the storm is unleashed, perhaps some grain will germinate, survive the catastrophe, save the species from annihilation and serve thereafter as the seed for the children of the late sower…an example can give heart to others, who are only afraid of beginning something themselves.” Here, Old Tasio refers back to the idea that people are too afraid to take initiative.
I think part of the reason that this section speaks to me is because I feel an obligation to go back to the Philippines to do something that would help everyone else who don’t have the good fortune that I have. I haven’t been back to the Philippines in 11 years, so I don’t know the people and the environment. What I’ve heard makes me afraid that if I try to do something, nothing will happen because it comes back to the idea that whoever you want to help should help themselves first. It goes back to the idea that “If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day but teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”