07 June 2012


Character Connection 35

This Character Connection post is in service of my June Giveaway. If you'd like to read more about the character I've chosen to feature, you can enter the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

My first choice, after finishing F. Sionil Jose's Ermita (Option 14 in the giveaway), was Ermi Rojo herself. I had this great idea of comparing her to Scarlett O'Hara ("Talking love and thinking money. How feminine.")--and I so would have, had I actually read Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind to give my thesis some credibility. =P What I've ended up doing is writing about one of the many men in Ermi's life--the one I (and I daresay she) like the best.

Ermita: A Filipino Novel
by F. Sionil Jose

[Ermi's] hand rested on his shoulder. "You have to go to school, Mac. Soon. You know that better than I. Not just for yourself or your parents, but for me because someday . . . someday I may need you. I am alone, Mac. You know that. No real relatives, no friends except you, your sister, and your parents. Go back to school, be somebody. I know you will be someday . . ."

"I will," he said. "I told Father that, but not with your money."

"Because of the way I make it?" Her hand was no longer on his shoulder . . . "There is no dirty money, Mac. We discussed that a long time ago, remember?"

If you were in Mac's place, what would you do? Your family, who have been loyal servants to the wealthy Rojo family for several generations, have just been turned into the streets. You have no savings and no extended family to ask for help. Your middle-aged father who cannot read anything more complicated than a street sign, has debilitating headaches which keep him from holding down the only jobs he is qualified to do. Your mother is looking for employment as another family's servant, but no one is hiring. Your sister is barely into her teens. You have dropped out of school to work as a waiter full time, but your salary will buy your family only one good meal a day. The owner of the restaurant will let you sleep in his storeroom, but understandably draws the line at non-employees spending their nights there, too. 

Then the girl who has lived with your family since you were both ten years old--a kind of sister to you, but also something more--says that she has found a flat that everyone can move into at once. And your family can now afford it because she has just sold herself to the most elite brothel in town.

Would you take the money?

Mac is not about to tell his family to sleep in the big national park where Manila's homeless usually end up, just so he can have a clean conscience; but his moral dilemma doesn't end with letting Ermi be the breadwinner. He gives an inch . . .  which is enough for her to ask him for a mile. For soon she is making enough money to send him to uni. She remembers that he has always wanted to be an engineer and she offers to pay for tuition, books and everything else he needs. 

Again, if you were Mac, would you take the money?

I'm not going to say what Mac chooses because I want you to enter the giveaway for this book to read the book yourself, although it kills me a little not to be able to discuss the long-term effects of that choice and what it means to his character. You see, it was while rereading Mac and Ermi's scenes over and over (especially the one in the very last chapter of Ermita) that it occurred to me that it is not Ermi alone who is the allegory of the Philippines, but Ermi and Mac taken together.

And now you may be wondering about his name. Born right after the liberation of a shell shocked and grateful Manila, he was named after General Douglas MacArthur (who has a cameo in this novel!); and in many ways, he is indeed a son of the Liberation and of American empire. And did you notice that he has no surname? It might seem like Jose's way of saying Macarthur inherits nothing from his own father, but this is not true. For that father who never knew what the Scottish "Mac" means is himself named Arturo.

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Image Source: Ermita by F. Sionil Jose


Introverted Jen said...

Yay! I had a hunch about where his name came from! Are you proud of me? I tend to gravitate more toward the European theater than the Pacific in my WWII reading.

"Talking love and thinking money" sums up Scarlett O'Hara alright. You might be on to something here.

My post is up!

Enbrethiliel said...


Very proud! =D

I'm definitely more of a Pacific Theatre girl . . . but then again, I live here! I became fascinated with literature set in this period after I visited the island of Corregidor and saw how real all that history was.