Santos, Bienvenido N. (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Bienvenido N. Santos 1911–
Filipino short story writer and novelist who lives in America and writes in English. See also Bienvenido N. Santos Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.
As the leading fictional spokesman for his fellow expatriates, Santos sensitively captures the pain of their homelessness. Scent of Apples includes stories selected from a 25-year span of writing, and its American publication has provided wider access to his work.
The imagery of return … [is consistently present] in the fiction of Bienvenido Santos. Yet, how the sense of humaneness which is Santos' trademark elevates this return into ritual, without becoming sentimental, is in some ways best illustrated from his poetry…. Appropriately, the voice of Bienvenido Santos' fifty poems, entitled The Wounded Stag (1956), is elegiac, scraped raw by havoc—yet heroic in its acceptance of the need to be responsive, to be responsible. It is the sound of endurance, denying that it must drop into silence unheard. Consequently, there is dawning vigor in each dying phrase.
In his introduction to this collection, Manuel A. Viray identifies three specific periods in...
(The entire section is 1317 words.)
Thematically, the novels of Bienvenido Santos share a natural affinity with his three volumes of short stories. His concern, consistently, has been with man's imperfect attempts to satisfy an innermost need to belong to others—to be able to say of a family, a community, a culture, a kind, that these are his. However, although the anguish of incomplete attachment is common to characters in both Santos' novels, the narrative surfaces of these two works make a striking contrast. Villa Magdalena is densely textured, highly organized, and unpredictable. In style, The Volcano, is open, direct, unsophisticated; in structure, straight-forward except for conventional flashbacks and shifts in angle of vision....
(The entire section is 1271 words.)
[Brother, My Brother] is a collection of 23 stories, depicting the life of the Filipinos at home…. [In his introduction] Leonard Casper calls this volume "a painful journey" to man's heritage….
"Early Harvest" and "The Naked Eye" which both use the war for background are less interesting than the others. "Early Harvest" is told from the first-person narrator point of view. Selmo is the narrator, the eye-witness who gives the reader a close-up of incidents…. Selmo here recaptures the Christmas of 1941 when the Japanese come to [his] barrio….
["Early Harvest"] is too obviously contrived and the constant shifting of tone impedes its flow. Although the story uses the...
(The entire section is 1274 words.)
When war broke out, the U.S. Office of Education asked [Bienvenido Santos] to tour America and lecture about the Philippines and Filipinos. This he did, meeting along the way fellow countrymen surviving in distant places … and many Americans who called him and his compatriots "you lovely people," thus causing him to change the title of the book [to You Lovely People] from the originally planned "The Hurt Men."
For the men and women to whom Bienvenido Santos gave a voice … [in these short stories] are indeed hurt. Santos uses his own voice and that of Ambo … to tell of these hurts. There is the hurt of spending a cold Christmas alone in a school dorm, without the warm Filipino...
(The entire section is 300 words.)
The difficulty of reconciling the Filipino dream of solidarity with the American dream of individualism, of unity risking and enriched by diversity, is implied in the mestizo form of You Lovely People. Many of its episodes are self-contained; others, with Ben at the circumference or Ambo (Pablo) at their center, provide a kind of continuity compatible with change…. Santos deliberately keeps center and circumference subservient to the circle of Pinoy compatriots—such is the book's socioesthetic. Both Ambo and Ben exist in that purest of compassions: shared suffering, as concelebrated offering.
In all of Santos' fiction, this compulsion to belong consistently raised images of departure and...
(The entire section is 892 words.)
Most of Santos' fiction examines the problems of progress and nationalism in the Philippines since 1945, but in this collection ["Scent of Apples"] he deals with those problems indirectly, through the stories of Filipinos who find themselves stranded in the United States. These stories form a loose suite, alternating between two narrators in order to portray two different generations of exiles. Ben, the first narrator, is an autobiographical figure, and the group of "hurt men" in his circle of poker-playing college friends—sons of landowners and professionals—who have been caught in wartime Washington….
These privileged young Filipinos remain self-absorbed until Ambo, an old gambler, introduces...
(The entire section is 385 words.)
The stories [in "Scent of Apples"] have their settings in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Kalamazoo and many other cities of the Midwest—places where Filipino men, who have left families and communities behind, make precarious American lives. To protect themselves against brutality, they befriend one another and try not to forget Filipino manners, establishing a civility in skid row…. Mr. Santos's writing is very delicate, very fine, gently rendering "the hurt men," or "the boys," as they jauntily call one another….
The later stories are about pairs of friends who watch over one another. Western literature ought to have more such writing in praise of friendship, a strong...
(The entire section is 360 words.)
Santos, Bienvenido N. (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)
Bienvenido N. Santos 1911-1996
(Full name Bienvenido Nuqui Santos) Philippine-born American novelist, poet, short story writer, autobiographer, memoirist, and essayist.
The following entry provides criticism on Santos's works from 1975 through 2001. See also, Bienvenido N. Santos Criticism.
Santos is best known for his short stories and novels that explore the Filipino-American experience. Critics praise his sensitive and poignant portrayals of Filipino immigrants in the United States struggling with loneliness and alienation. These works have earned him a prominent place in Filipino American literature.
Santos was born on March 22, 1911, in Manila, Philippines. In 1941 he received a government scholarship and studied at Columbia University and Harvard University. He received his M.A. in English from the University of Illinois. During World War II, when the Philippines were invaded by Japan, he worked for the Philippine government in exile in Washington, D.C. In 1955 he published his first collection of short stories, You Lovely People. In 1961 he was appointed dean and vice president of the University of Neueva Caceres in the Philippines, a post he held for five years. He taught at several universities, such as Ohio State University and De La Salle University in the Philippines. With the serialization of his novel The Praying Man (1982) in the Philippine-based magazine Solidarity, Santos garnered much critical controversy. The novel focuses on political corruption in the Philippines, and it was banned by the government of Ferdinand E. Marcos. Santos went into exile in the United States; in 1976, he became an American citizen. He received several awards for his work, such as a Guggenheim fellowship in 1960, a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in 1958, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1982. Santos died on January 7, 1996.
Critics have subdivided Santos's work into two categories: those works that explore life in the Philippines, and those focused on the Filipino immigrant experience. In the former group are such novels as Villa Magdalena (1965), The Volcano (1965), and The Praying Man. In The Volcano an American family living in the Philippines struggles to survive the Japanese occupation during World War II and rising anti-American sentiment after the war. The latter category includes works such as The Man Who (Thought He) Looked like Robert Taylor (1983), Memory's Fictions (1993), and the short fiction collection You Lovely People. In these works, Filipino immigrants are torn between their new lives in America and their nostalgia for their old lives in the Philippines. For example, in “The Day the Dancers Came,” an old Filipino man named Fil is excited to show a troupe of Filipino dancers around his adopted home of Chicago. When the young dancers ignore him, he feels disconnected from his roots and alienated from his new life. In the autobiographical Memory's Fictions, Santos chronicles his own experience as a Filipino immigrant and his difficulties adjusting to life in the United States.
Santos is considered an important voice in Filipino American literature. Reviewers commend his fiction, poetry, memoir, and essays as a powerful exploration of the Filipino immigrant experience. They identify and discuss the recurring thematic concerns of his novels and stories, such as loneliness, alienation, and the corruption of innocence. Yet some critics have derided stylistic aspects of his fiction, particularly his nonlinear narratives. Whatever the critical consensus on his work, he is viewed as a significant author of Filipino American literature.
You Lovely People (short stories) 1955
The Wounded Stag: Fifty-Four Poems (poetry) 1956
Brother My Brother (short stories) 1960
Villa Magdalena (novel) 1965
The Volcano (novel) 1965
The Day the Dancers Came (essays) 1967
Scent of Apples: A Collection of Stories (short stories) 1979
The Praying Man (novel) 1982
Distances in Time (poetry) 1983
The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor (novel) 1983
Dwell in the Wilderness (short stories) 1985
What the Hell for You Left Your Heart in San Francisco (novel) 1987
Memory's Fictions: A Personal History (memoir) 1993
Postscript to a Saintly Life (autobiography) 1994
Letters (correspondence) 1995
SOURCE: Reyes, Soledad S. “Death in Life in Santos's Villa Magdalena.” In Reading Bienvenido N. Santos, edited by Isagani R. Cruz and David Jonathan Bayot, pp. 219-44. Manila, Philippines: DLSU Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, which was originally a lecture delivered in 1975, Reyes examines the central themes of Villa Magdalena and places the novel within the tradition of Philippine literature in English.]
In 1965, Bienvenido N. Santos published his first novel, Villa Magdalena,1 which one critic considers a “proof of the dimension of Santos's art.” Prior to the publication of the novel, Santos had already been identified as a short story writer whose forte was re-creating vividly the plight of the Filipino expatriates in the United States. In You Lovely People and The Day the Dancers Came, he had written of Filipino exiles abroad—Ambo, Fil, Celestino Fabia, and a host of other characters estranged from the country of their birth.2 There was compassion in the delineation of characters, poignancy in the reenactment of events and lyrical tenderness in the evocation of sights and sounds. There was general competence in technique.
In perspective, Villa Magdalena is no mean feat for a writer whose writings have long been associated with an area of experience narrowly limited to that encountered by Filipinos abroad. In the novel, Santos tries to show that he too can deal with realities confronting contemporary Philippine society as well.
The novels of the 1960s should be seen as parts of a pattern that characterizes modern Philippine literature in English. It is the almost obsessive search for the self in a world where various forces collide with frightening regularity and with tremendous impact on the national and individual psyche. As literary attempts to define the so-called Filipino sensibility, these novels encompass large segments of society against which certain recurring character types act out their roles. Moreover, the novels seek to reflect some of the principal preoccupations which are intimately related to this quest for national identity.
As early as the 1920s and 1930s, Filipino writers had been exhorted to deal with recognizable Philippine experience. Thus in the 1930s, writing in English already exhibited this preoccupation with native experience. The writings of Arguilla, Daguio and even da Costa attest to this. But in general, what was produced were mostly vignettes of Philippine life—tales, legends and short stories which because of their nature could not contain a sustained, exhaustive examination of aspects of lived life. There was a proliferation of literary pieces whose only claim to fame was their exquisite perfection of form (Arguilla's early stories or even Rotor's collection) and not very much else besides.
In what is generally considered as a fertile period in Philippine writing in English (the 1960s), some writers attempted to go beyond a superficial study of native material. Constantly drawing on the most advanced technical innovations, even as they self-consciously explored the different facets of reality, the writers seemed to have succeeded in fusing manner and matter. Consequently, ample proof was offered that the writer had not only made himself a part of Western literary tradition; he had also made himself a vivid reflector of society at crossroads straddling the worlds of tradition and modernism.
A vast panoramic view characterizes these novels in English. In point of time, it could be a whole era (Ty-Casper's The Peninsulars), the first half of the twentieth century (Nick Joaquin's The Woman Who Had Two Navels or Santos's second novel The Volcano). Almost always, at least two generations are involved. The world where the events happen has also been magnified. It could be as wide and as diverse as two continents—Asia and America—as depicted in Gonzalez's The Bamboo Dancers or The Pretenders by F. Sionil-Jose.3 When set in the Philippines, the novels inevitably feature the teeming city of Manila or a whole province as in Polotan's Hand of the Enemy and Gonzalez's A Season of Grace.4
Villa Magdalena is not an exception to this general rule. The events covered in the novel span three generations, and include a motley of characters drawn from different segments of society. Dotting the temporal landscape created in the novel are interweaving patterns of trends, movements, beliefs and perspectives, dizzying in their diversity and complexity. There are the Spanish elements that have survived into the present period. There are the influences exerted by the American colonizers. There are the effects, mostly disastrous, of the short-lived Japanese period. All these the novel seeks to capture in its imaginative representation of life.
EDUCATION OF THE HERO
The story opens as Alfredo Medallada prepares for his flight to New York via Tokyo. He is a business executive of a flourishing leather company and is married to Nora Conde, the niece of the owner, Don Magno Medallada. The latter has specifically ordered him to contact Isabel, another niece, and later on to proceed to New York to confer with an American expert on the problem of getting rid of the strong unpleasant smell that clings to the finished products made from leather. Throughout the story, there is a consistent reference to a constantly shifting series of events in the past juxtaposed with the present situation.
The story is told from Alfredo's point of view. It is his consciousness which registers various impressions of the different characters and events in the novel. It is he who serves as a filter through whom the various forces at work in the lives of the characters are revealed, even as they themselves help to mould the central sensibility. If the central character is to be found in Alfredo, the narrator of the story, the central symbol (in the maze of confusing symbolic details in the story) is to be found in the title itself, Villa Magdalena, which appears in the novel as the mansion where the Condex and the Medalladas live. These two—Alfredo and Villa Magdalena—stand at opposite poles. How they become inextricably fused as the story ends is the gist of the novel.
Toward the end of the novel, Villa Magdalena is described in the following manner:
There was still something grand about the Villa even if it stood in the shadows and decay seemed to have set in, in corners and posts bruised by the pathways of termites and in the age scratched on the faces of those who still live here, the loyal menial who could only echo back the words that came to her, and in the stubborn dreamer of riches, or where war had touched a garden wall and death and loss left their marks on the bodies and minds of those who had lived there.
This vivid description of the mansion can be taken as a summary of everything that has transpired in the novel. The mansion takes on an additional function as a witness of all that is to be chronicled in the lives of its inhabitants.
In the same way, Alfredo looks back at the past from the dizzying heights of success that is now his. With bitterness, he admits that his life has so far amounted to nothing. All his life he has lived with illusions which he has tried to pass off, at least to himself, as the only realities worth living for.
I fed on illusions for as long as I could, but I didn't call them by their name; they were what I lived by in the harried and heavy air I breathed; the little chinks of brightness in corners that made me happy that I had eyes to see, otherwise how could I have lived through it?
Alfredo Medallada's education starts in a barrio in Pampanga where his father is an ordinary tenant-farmer. Life is hard and the family has to live in debt season after season. The farmers complain against the landlords who are interested only in more profit while the peasants have nothing to live on. But they realize that they can do nothing to correct the imbalance. Alfredo's father spends his time reading the Bible, searching for something that will free them from this life.
He preferred reading his Bible and pretending he knew more about the hidden meaning of the words of God's favorites, as he called God's disciples, to adding more nipa thatch to our leaking roof.
He finally leaves for Manila (the promised land for many provincianos) and takes his family along with him. In Sulucan, the family is readily accepted by the people who come mostly from Pampanga.
By fetching water for the neighbors, Alfredo's father is able to earn a few centavos. There is much kindness but not much money in Sulucan. Seeing the impossibility of sending his son to school, he approaches the great Don Magno Medallada who comes from the same town. In order to impress Don Magno, Alfredo recites several passages extolling the virtues of truthfulness, piety, and courage. The rich man agrees to support the bright boy (who has also come with glowing recommendations from Mr. Gatbonton, the acting principal) through high school and college.
At first Alfredo is treated as an ordinary servant. His chores are those of a houseboy—scrubbing the floor, cleaning the windows, running errands. Later on, during his college years, he serves as the driver and messenger of Don Magno. Much later, the boy known as Pedong in Sulucan will become Don Alfredo Medallada. The rooms he has occupied through the years are indications of his gradually rising importance in the Villa. From the dark store room, he is assigned one of the guest rooms. From the guest room to the most important room in the house is just a step away.
He is initiated into another world at Villa Magdalena, where poverty and hunger do not rear their ugly heads. What Alfredo finds instead are the problems, difficulties and neuroses of the rich. Inevitably, his life becomes hopelessly entangled with the desperate lives of the inhabitants of the big house. He becomes a witness to the realities of birth and death, loyalty and betrayal, bitter clashes of personalities, disillusionment and tragedy. In most of these events, Alfredo finds himself being drawn closer, as the years pass, to the maelstrom, until in the end he discovers himself in the unenviable position vacated by the much hated Don Magno Medallada.
As an ordinary servant, he witnesses the birth of Elisa, the child of a loveless marriage between the handsome and aristocratic Doctor Vidal (a Spanish mestizo) and the beautiful Conde, Isabel, an heiress in her own right. Alfredo looks on as the marriage gradually deteriorates. The husband gambles continuously and the wife shamelessly pursues later the much younger Sol. Betraying his naivete, Alfredo refuses adamantly to believe that a Conde woman can stoop so low, despite Sol's disclosure of his relationship with the married woman. Alfredo accidentally finds out the truth and he feels “sick, unable to shake off the trembling.”
Later on, Sol and Isabel elope to Tokyo even as Dr. Vidal is dying of leprosy in the hospital. Elisa is left in the Villa. The truth is withheld from both her father and herself. One morning, the doctor is found dead in his room and an autopsy reveals that he has committed suicide, for he has been a doomed man afflicted with both tuberculosis and leprosy. With Vidal dead and Isabel in Tokyo, Elisa is left in the Villa.
In spite of the recent death and the scandal, life goes on in the mansion. Life inextricably involves the bitter feud between Don Magno and Doña Asuncion, the invalid sister of Doña Magdalena. Don Magno's wife, Dona Asuncion made no secret of what she thought of Don Magno, “a mere interloper, an upstart from a remote village who was now bent on going up in the world on the strength of his marriage to a wealthy woman” (p. 60). With anger and condescension, she follows him about, constantly reminding him that Villa Magdalena is hers and her sister's and can never be Don Magno's. She tells her sister that he married her for her money. In the clash of two persons she loves most, Doña Magdalena can only cry.
When Don Magno loses his temper and cries that he is the master of Villa Magdalena, there is no stopping Doña Asuncion as she heaps all forms of abuse on her brother-in-law.
You're not my master. Villa Magdalena is not yours. Find out for yourself. Everybody knows that Villa Magdalena was built on our money. You were a pauper, Magno, you were a nobody, have you forgotten that?
Despite his monogrammed shirt, silk underthings, the ubiquituous title Don and all the trappings of wealth, Don Magno has not learned to use a linen napkin during meals. He continues to wipe his hands and his lips on the edge of the table cloth.
But among the characters in the Villa, it is Don Magno who really educates Alfredo in the ways of the world. He professes to love his wife and yet he indulges himself in a retinue of young and beautiful mistresses. Alfredo is his willing accomplice in his marital deceits, as he willingly carries messages to and from Don Magno. Later, after his graduation from college, he is trained in many aspects of the tanning business. At first he feels uncomfortable for he is the old man's protege and he is afraid that the other people connected with the business will resent him. Later, however, his fears are resolved:
There was no envy, no hatred towards me because everybody took for granted that I was taking over some day. Instead, now I found employees going out of their way to be nice to me.
This makes Alfredo feel very, very good; he is immensely pleased.
At this point, Alfredo is willing to play along. He owes absolute gratitude to the old man for after all it was the Don who gave him the chance to escape poverty. He closes his eyes to Don Magno's crooked business transactions. He remains silent even if Don Magno ignores all his efforts and gets all the credit for Alfredo's brilliant economic strategies. He even brushes away the persistent questions and suspicions in his mind:
Questions, questions, mostly questions arising from fear that there might be in Don Magno's powerful mind things that were contrary to my own personal interests … Meanwhile, I didn't care what sort of a tool I was getting to be as long as there was hope in what I considered then the only thing that mattered in my life: Nora. I loved her truly.
The first time he saw Nora, while he was still an ordinary servant, he knew that he loved her, or so he said to himself. As he steadily gains influence in the firm, his love for her remains despite Nora's deliberate rejection of Alfredo. She apparently does not care for him. She showers all her attention on Nick, a rich, handsome playboy. This is a classic case of romantic love between a poor man and a rich girl. He himself admits that she represents everything he wants in life—beauty, wealth, and social position. In short, she is what he would like to be. He indulges in self-pity as he compares himself with her sophisticated and rich admirers. He does not belong, at least not at this point.
The slums of Sulucan were still about me; peasant was clearly written on my face. I wanted to run to my room and hide.
Alfredo turns his attention to Manang, a pretty cigarette factory worker he meets in Sulucan. They have an affair that at first promises to make him forget the rich girl. But somehow, Manang's love cannot take the place of Nora's love.
Then one day, Nora unaccountably enters his room and gives herself to him. They have to get married right after her graduation because she fears that she might be pregnant. War breaks out. The leather company fares badly since there are no contracts to be signed. Even the family's ship, the S. S. Don Magno is confiscated by the Japanese. Then a two-fold tragedy strikes Villa Magdalena. Doña Asuncion dies and Doña Magdalena loses her mind. Doña Magdalena's illness has probably more impact than Doña Asuncion's death, for it is during her fits of insanity that Dona Magdalena acts out a role comparable to the Furies, perpetually hounding the guilty inhabitants of the Villa.
What started out as a passionate affair has been quenched. Love between Alfredo, now a top-ranking executive in the leather firm (this is after the war) and Nora, still childless, has dwindled to indifference. In the throes of lovelessness, Alfredo takes notice of Elisa, now a beautiful young lady studying medicine. Elisa has an affair with him even though she suspects that he still loves Nora. Because of the furtiveness of their affair, Alfredo is suddenly assailed by doubts:
The old questions came up again, scratching like hard fingers that left slivers of blood on the flesh: who knew, who saw, as in the past, the secret shadows struggling in the deeper darkness of Villa Magdalena? When we stood under the lights, could they tell on our faces, were there marks on our cheeks, the faintest odor on her fingers? Did the old man know?
The past comes to a halt as soon as Alfredo arrives in San Francisco. He is informed by Nora through a letter that she has decided to run away with Nick. She says:
It was as much a life of lies, living with you, pretending love where there was none, and never had been. I married you … well, I thought I was going to have a baby, but apart from that, I wanted to hurt Nick. I knew he had a girl, but I didn't know till later that they were living together, that she was going to have a baby. I hated him. I wanted to hurt him so much, I thought that the only way was for me to give myself to you and forget him.
In this emotional letter (perhaps the first time that she elects to tell the truth), Nora reveals her motives in marrying Alfredo. Like Don Magno, Nora Conde has used him to satisfy her lust for vengeance, without foreseeing the pathetic results of her impetuous action.
Isabel and Nora, both beautiful Condes, have taken the easy way out, fleeing with their lovers, hoping against hope that the past will never overtake them. Ironically, Nora ends her letter by saying that he should spare Elisa the truth about her and Nick. Elisa, as far as Nora is concerned is the “only remaining Conde who has not sullied the name.” Alfredo is informed that Elisa has died of a strange car accident. His only chance at real happiness is now gone.
As the novel ends, every living Conde and Medallada returns to Villa Magdalena to mourn for the dead. What started as fight from the Villa and everything that it stood for, inevitably ends in return to the same place. The disconsolate Isabel expresses the firm hold the Villa has over them:
Oh, Villa Magdalena will be full of us, the living and the dead and the dying, we shall all be together. We shall all get used to one another and no longer ask, who is living, who is dead. Nothing shall separate us ever until the roof of the Villa and its walls fall upon us. From now on, no more flights for us. We have come to stay, Don Magno. All of us.
Alfredo realizes that unlike Dr. Vidal, Elisa's father who chose to commit suicide rather than face shame, he will go on living, travelling over the world in endless flight. His last gesture is to ask the servant to open all the windows, for the house has been shut up like a tomb. And once more, he feels the “cool breeze, fresh and sweet, like the touch of a new season.” He can now breathe freely again.
Alfredo Medallada's education is complete. From the simple Pedong from Sulucan, he has, by dint of sheer luck, become Don Alfredo Medallada. His rise to fame and fortune has been abetted by his willingness to be molded into the image of his patron and benefactor, Don Magno Medallada, whose mantle he now assumes. From the naive, inexperienced Pedong, he has changed into the knowledgeable, influential, ruthless member of the upper class. He should therefore be happy for his ambition has been fulfilled.
And yet as the novel ends, Alfredo is sick—emotionally, physically, spiritually. For the truth of the matter is that this long agonizing process of witnessing and being involved in countless lies, duplicity and treachery is not an education that brings about self-knowledge.
A CRITIQUE OF PHILIPPINE SOCIETY
Santos presents both the dying aristocracy and newly rich in a bad light. Both groups of the upper class suffer from some moral and psychological guilt. Don Magno and Doña Asuncion, in their unique ways, offend the sensibility of any self-respecting Filipino. As types, they represent the worst traits of the moneyed class—rotten idealism, uncalled-for arrogance, unbridled lust, manipulation of people, and other excesses to which Alfredo is a passive witness and later an active participant.
Nothing is held sacred in the novel—not the politicians, the denizens of gambling joints, the crooked generals of the army, the corrupt business community, prostitution, the frivolous way of the rich, even the kind of excessive passion they feel. The poor are also held in ridicule. The laziness of the farmers, their appalling conformity to the status quo which has oppressed them from time immemorial (note the kind of man Alfredo's father is), their overwhelming fanaticism and superstition which enable an illiterate preacher like Maestro Buan to amass millions of pesos from his faithfuls' weekly contributions. He has become so rich that he is able to buy the vacant lot adjoining Villa Magdalena and build a magnificent cathedral there:
The new owner was the titular head and founder of a religious cult known as the Faithful. Its members never referred to him by his real name, Modesto Buan, but by the reverent title Ama or Father. It was a past growing religious sect and many of the converts come from Sulucan and other districts along the waterfront and from farms outside the city, all over the archipelago, among the peasants, the laborers, the unemployed.
It is among these people, where pessimism abounds, that Ama has successfully introduced his religion. This religion is the only way out for the poor people.
In the novel, there is only one place where Alfredo feels happiness. This is Sulucan, a place of dirt and squalor. The place is vivid and bathed in light as Alfredo sees it again one Christmas eve after he has escaped from the oppressive atmosphere in the Villa:
The streets leading to the chapel were lined with vendors selling suman, puto bumbong, empanada, and cuchinta, truly Christmas fare. What if the cake stuck to the roof of your mouth and you had difficulty washing it off with tea and you had to remove it with your finger, turning away from the pretty girl laughing away at your predicament? … It was all right, your girl friend enjoyed it, and the walk in the half-dark streets towards the church was a precious memory.
He returns once again after living in the Villa for a couple of years. At first everybody is different. He has become a...
(The entire section is 9923 words.)
SOURCE: Bresnahan, Roger J. “The Midwestern Fiction of Bienvenido N. Santos.” Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature Newsletter 13, no. 2 (summer 1983): 28-37.
[In the following essay, Bresnahan discusses the Midwestern locales in Santos's work and investigates how landscape affects his fiction.]
At first it might seem odd to examine the treatment of Midwestern places in the work of a Filipino author who has been only intermittently and temporarily in the Midwest. Yet there is a quality to Bienvenido Santos' writing which makes geographical place a felt presence without becoming the central focus of the narrative. It is a quality which is present not just...
(The entire section is 2739 words.)
SOURCE: Grow, L. M. “Modern Philippine Poetry in the Formative Years: 1920-1950.” Ariel 15, no. 3 (July 1984): 81-98.
[In the following essay, Grow examines the poetry of three Filipino poets: Santos, N. V. M. Gonzalez, and Carlos Bulosan.]
In the dawn I shall talk to you of the Homeric sweep Enfolding mountains and the sounding sea(1)
Modern Philippine poetry in English originated in the 1920's and began to come of age in the 1930's. Although at the outset the poetry was overly sentimental and imitative, by the mid-1930's several poets had developed their art to a promising degree. Then advancement of...
(The entire section is 5978 words.)
SOURCE: Vidal, Lourdes H. “Echoes and Reflections in Villa Magdalena.” Philippine Studies 35, no. 3 (1987): 377-82.
[In the following essay, Vidal traces the development of Santos's major themes—alienation and corruption—in his work.]
Two themes recur in the fictional works of Bienvenido Santos: the alienation/nostalgia of the exile and the loneliness/corruption of the poor boy searching for himself in the world of the rich. These themes are fully developed in two pairs of novels published almost twenty years apart. Despite the time difference, the novels maintain a continuing development into the varying manifestations of these two central themes. Each...
(The entire section is 2008 words.)
SOURCE: Puente, Lorenzo. “Split-Level Christianity in The Praying Man.” Philippine Studies 40, no. 1 (1992): 111-20.
[In the following essay, Puente perceives the protagonist of The Praying Man, Cris Magat, as a “split-level Christian.”]
In The Praying Man, Bienvenido N. Santos (1982, 5) attempted to explore “the dramatic possibilities of the idea of dwelling in the same man both the need to pray and the tendency to prey on others” [subsequent citations from the novel are indicated by the page numbers in parentheses]. His working title, 'Tis the Praying Man, a pun on “the praying mantis,” showed his intention of using the...
(The entire section is 3950 words.)
SOURCE: Manuel, Dolores de. “Marriage in Philippine-American Fiction.” Philippine Studies 42, no. 2 (1994): 210-16.
[In the following essay, which was originally a lecture delivered in 1993, Manuel delineates the role of marriage in the work of Santos, Jessica Hagedorn, and Linda Ty-Casper.]
What does marriage signify in Philippine-American fiction? A number of stories and novels, spanning several decades, can be read as addressing the question both directly and indirectly. The answers constitute a discourse on the economy of marriage, an attempt to determine whether the institution is by nature productive or destructive, fertile or sterile. In working out the...
(The entire section is 2809 words.)
SOURCE: Grow, L. M. “The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor.” In The Novels of Bienvenido N. Santos, pp. 61-76. Quezon City, Philippines: Giraffe Books, 1999.
[In the following essay, Grow regards The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor as one of Santos's most successful novels.]
Santos once singled out [The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor] as his favorite among the novels he had written (in Grow, Interview).1 Among the reasons Santos specified is that “It's a sad story, but I think it's very funny in parts” (in Grow, Interview). If so, it is funny only to the aficionado of...
(The entire section is 5578 words.)
SOURCE: Ty, Eleanor. “A Filipino Prufrock in an Alien Land: Bienvenido Santos's The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor.” LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory 12, no. 3 (2001): 267-83.
[In the following essay, Ty finds parallels in the characters of Solomon King in Santos's The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor and J. Alfred Prufrock from T. S. Eliot's “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”]
The bigger, brighter cities held him longer, New York, Washington D.C., Chicago. He thought it would be Washington to the very end until that day he came running to Chicago, where he had been earlier in his younger...
(The entire section is 6994 words.)
Viray, Manuel A. “The Poetry of B. N. Santos.” In Reading Bienvenido N. Santos, edited by Isagani R. Cruz and David Jonathan Bayot, pp. 153-61. Manila, Philippines: DLSU Press, 1994.
Provides a stylistic and thematic analysis of Santos's verse
Additional coverage of Santos's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Asian American Literature; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 101, 151; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 19, 46; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 22; DISCovering Authors Modules: Multicultural Authors; Encyclopedia of...
(The entire section is 101 words.)