Comparisons with the Noli are impossible not to make. Paralleled with it, El Fili has been labeled dark, serious, gloomy—and rightly so. While both highlight the injustices of Spanish rule, the first book does so alongside a colorful portrayal of Philippine high society. The sequel, on the other hand, dwells more on the community’s dark underbelly. This marked change is of course most prominent in Ibarra, whose disillusionment climaxes in his transformation into the vengeful Simoun. Whereas before he considered the government as the necessary evil, in El Fili he saw revolution and bloodshed as indispensable to the cause: “…if I have done evil it was with the objective of doing good, and the end justifies the means.” But as Padre Florentino says in the last chapter, “The glory of saving a country is not for him who has contributed to cause its ruin.”
This conversation comprises only one of many similar ones in the novel (again Stevie’s copy). Characters wage a battle of ideas throughout. Most discussions I found unremarkable and dragging (though I don’t dispute their function)—except for Isagani’s debate with Padre Fernandez. In it the student argues his convictions against a superior even as the latter heaps blame on the Filipino character. In it the student tells his teacher, “What we are, you have made us.”
This conversation propelled Isagani to favorite character status in my books. But despite his ideals he ends up foiling Simoun’s revolution because of love, only to regret it afterwards. Incidentally Isagani closely resembles Barthes’ idea of the lover: suffering from an offense by Paulita, “everything that surrounded him appeared to be under the saddest and blackest colors…” but after one smile “…it seemed to him that all the clouds, all the dark thoughts which before had besieged him, dissipated like smoke, the sky filled with light, the air with song, and flowers covered the grass by the road.”
During conversation with Maki over beer last night, he conjectured that perhaps this Isagani complex answers for the Philippines’ constant struggle with nationhood: perhaps the Filipino character is too much of a lover (a poet) to birth someone like Simoun. If nothing else I found this is a most interesting reading. Of course it may also be seen as an expedient excuse, but—if it’s at least even partly true—I think it’s not such a bad reason after all.
‘Beer is a good thing, and I heard Padre Camorra say this morning that the lack of energy noted in this country is due to the inhabitants drinking so much water.’
Spanish will never be the common language in the country; the people will never speak it because for the ideas of its mind and the sentiments of its heart there are no words in that idiom.
Resignation is not always a virtue. It is a crime when it encourages tyrannies. There are no despots when there are no slaves.
‘When I have white hair like that…and my vision goes back to my past and I see that I have worked only for myself, without doing the good that I could or should for the country that has given me everything, for the citizens who have helped me live, then, Señor, each white hair would be a thorn and instead of glorying in them, I would feel shame.’
What was going on within Isagani’s soul was indescribable: wrath, jealousy, humiliation, resentment, raged inside him. There was a moment when he wished the theater would collapse; he had violent desires to laugh uproariously; to insult his beloved; to provoke his rival; to create a scandal; but he contented himself with sitting quietly and not looking at her at all.
‘The state is more corrupt when there are too many laws.’
Education is disastrous, absolutely disastrous for the Philippines.
In the Philippines it is a known fact that patrons are needed in everything, from the time one is baptized until one dies, to obtain justice, secure a passport or exploit whatever industry.
Why independence if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?