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
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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...
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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 in his Midwestern stories but in his New York locales, his Washington, D. C. locales, his West Coast locales, and his Philippine locales. Yet the setting is not altogether incidental in his fiction. A case might be made for a quasi-Midwestern mentality in the writing of Santos and other English-language Filipino authors of his generation: the literary models offered to aspiring writers in the Philippines by their American teachers in the twenties and thirties were those which had currency in the United States at the time. Thus, it has often been observed that Philippine short fiction holds haunting reminders of Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis. It is more modest to examine the Midwestern locales of several of Santos' stories to see how...
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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 Philippine poetry was halted by the Japanese occupation of World War II and by chaotic conditions in the first few post-war years. It was not until the 1950's, therefore, that the poetry finally matured. This curve of development in Philippine letters can be traced in the early works of three of the greatest Philippine writers of the modern period: Bienvenido N. Santos, N. V. M. Gonzalez, and Carlos Bulosan.
A man who got his start as a writer by penning love letters for friends2 might naturally be expected to turn next to poetry: of an unpromising sort. This could even more confidently be predicted were we told that the models for his works were, in the beginning, Longfellow, Poe, and Bryant....
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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 pair depicts the two themes using appropriate fictional devices.
The 1983 The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor and the 1965 The Volcano depicted the feelings and problems of the exile: the first, in America and the second, in the Philippines. Two sides of the same nostalgia and alienation were presented.
The 1983 novel told the familiar Santos story of the Filipino in America. Solomon King drifted from one job to another and from one affair to another. Believing himself dying, he retired from his job as supervisor of operations in the same company where he had started as a hog butcher. He traveled all over America visiting old friends and lovers. He also made transient...
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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 mantis as a primary symbol for the “idea” (p. 5). Santos's idea of the “man-mantis” corresponds to a type of personality called “split-level Christian.” The term was coined by the Filipino psychologist, Jaime Bulatao, S. J. (1966, 2) and refers to a person in whom two or more thought-and-behavior systems which are inconsistent with each other coexist.
This note aims to show that Santos's characterization of Cris Magat as a “split-level Christian” succeeds in fleshing out “the dramatic possibilities of the idea.” This characterization creates, and is consistent with, the principal symbol of the praying mantis, the praying and preying insect (p. 1). This note examines Santos's characterization of Cris Magat...
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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 equation of value, the fiction of Jessica Hagedorn, Bienvenido Santos and Linda Ty-Casper quickly brings many factors to the surface. The meaning of marriage depends on where the protagonists have located themselves, and whether this act of self-positioning is conceived in terms that are geographical, racial, cultural or emotional. It depends on the type of redefinition of social and gender roles that takes place in the act of marriage and union, and whether that redefinition is seen as positive or negative. The movement of this relocation can be situated within a larger process in Asian-American literature that Shirley-Geok-Lin Lim has noted: “the paradigm of conflict and ambivalence reflected … which finds expression in internalized...
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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 whimsicality. The admirer of Dickens' eccentrics might see the novel in this light, but it seems to me much more likely to strike the reader as a very disquieting story—much more akin tonally to Kipling's “The Gardener” than to, say, Tom Jones. It might even be classified as a tale of at least suspense if not terror—and Santos' own remarks about his creation pinpoint the reasons. Speaking of Filipinos as a whole, he has remarked,
We still retain some of the vagueries of the past, you know. There is very strong in us a kind of belief, a superstition, you know, like for instance in the whole book you find evident there a superstition that some people may be extensions of other people or also the belief...
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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 days. Fate must have spoken as it always did in his life. Chicago became home where the years came and went. Perhaps there would be time to return. Who could tell? All he knew now, the hour was late.
—The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor (153-54)
In Bienvenido Santos's The Man Who (Thought He) Looked Like Robert Taylor, Solomon King decides impulsively to retire from his job as butcher and go “discover America” (13) when he hears of the death of the Hollywood actor, Robert Taylor. All his life, he has believed that he and Robert Taylor share a mystical connection because of a series of coincidences and because he thinks he resembles the star. Though...
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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 World Literature in the 20th Century; Literature Resource Center; Reference Guide to American Literature, Ed. 4; and Short Stories for Students, Vol. 19.
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