Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Dogeaters is a wild ride into the underbelly of Manila society. It is also a clever tour de force that illustrates American and Spanish influence with energetic detail. One of the central themes of the novel is reality versus fantasy, and the novel poses the question of what will be revealed if pretense and deception are stripped away.
Hagedorn explodes pretense in the ruling class, bitterly satirizing the profligacy and waste of a corrupt regime. She also exposes the depravity and desperation in slum towns such as Tondo, home of Joey and Uncle. Morality on both these levels has been sacrificed, to greed in the first instance and to survival in the second. If any scenario among the many varied episodes displays human warmth and caring, it is the guerrilla contingent of Daisy and her cousin Clarita, with whom Joey finds refuge in the mountains. Removed from Manila, this community of supporters is also a long way from the aggression, deception, and depravity that are common features of city life, high and low. Joey’s wasted life thus shows the possibility of transformation and resilience in exile. Rio is also hopeful in her pragmatic exile. That she and her artist mother will succeed away from Manila is assumed.
Dreams are a central feature of the novel; together with radio serials and film plots, dreams are manifestations of the fantasies in which all the characters indulge. Joey’s dreams while he is transported to the mountains...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
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The Evils of Colonialism
The Philippines is an Asian country that historically has been conquered by nearby Islamic nations, colonized by Spain and controlled by the United States. It has been desired and fought over because of trade, religion and its strategic location militarily. Dogeaters portrays a country trying to overcome the oppression of its colonial past. It exposes the negative effects that colonialism has had on the nation and its people. In the Philippines, colonialism has alienated the people from their culture, their history, each other and themselves. It has opened the door to corrupt leaders who exploit the people and pervert the truth.
The characters in Dogeaters are searching for their identities on a personal level as their country is simultaneously seeking to define itself. The 1950s post-colonial Philippines is a country of eighty dialects and languages. The characters’ sentences are mixtures of English, Spanish and Tagalog. The people themselves are a cultural mix of past colonizers and natives. They are Freddie Gonzagas, visitors in their own country, who believe in “dual citizenships, dual passports, as many allegiances to as many countries as possible at any one given time.” They are Rio Gonzagas who only feel at home in the “no man’s land” of airports, trying to escape the past by reconstructing the present. They are half black, half Filipino Joey Sands who must prostitute themselves to foreigners in order to survive. They are Lola Narcisas, hidden somewhere in a back room, a tiny, dark, silent grandmother listening to Tagalog soap operas. They are a country prejudiced by the ethnocentric views of people such as Father Jean Mallat whose condescending history of the Philippines appears in snippets throughout the novel or U.S. President William McKinley who tells the world the Philippines “are unfit for self-government.”
In Dogeaters, religion is an oppressor, and a tool of colonialism contributed by Spain. The Catholic church is a hypocritical institution whose only achievement is guilt. Rio and Pucha feel guilty for sneaking into movies that the Archdiocese has condemned. General Ledesma’s wife believes her ascetic life will atone for the sins her husband commits on behalf of his country and Joey feels the need to confess for his country when he witnesses Senator Avila’s assassination. Baby Alacran participates in a...
(The entire section is 2915 words.)