Introduction

Dogeaters is a political and historical tale of the Philippines, enacted on a world stage, whose characters are both human and symbolic. It is a spectacle, a parody, a fantasy, a farce, a roman à clef, and a bildungsroman. It is a postmodern, satirical, allegorical, realistic, stream of conscious, dramatic narrative that is at times pornographic. It is an indictment of colonialism, dictatorship, and religion. It is angry, sad, poignant, repulsive, violent, disjointed, and funny. Its themes explore colonization, exploitation, reality, sexuality, politics, religion, and the search for identity. Its characters include mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, political leaders, movie stars, porn stars, pimps, prostitutes, generals, and guerrillas. There are three main narrators and two minor ones who have different versions of the truth. The timeline is disjointed and unstable, making use of flashbacks and flash forwards. It is a chaotic tale of a third world “banana republic," set in a former United States colony whose people both emulate and revile America. The novel is a mixture of the history, memories, and images of life in Manila during the Marcos regime. Dogeaters is a hectic cacophony that challenges the boundaries of the traditional novel.

Dogeaters is the first novel of Filipina-American author Jessica Hagedorn. It was published in 1990. In 1998, Hagedorn turned the novel into a play that was performed first at the La Jolla Playhouse and then at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre in 2001. Most of Hagedorn’s work focuses on the identity struggle of Filipino Americans trying to assimilate into American culture without having to relinquish their roots. Although Dogeaters is considered the best known and most widely taught novel about the Philippines, many were offended by its title, an insulting slang expression for Filipinos. The pejorative term was coined by American soldiers during the Philippine-American War. It is a reference to indigenous dog-eating tribes in the Luzon area of the Philippines. The author defends the title, however, calling it “a fittingly harsh, confrontational title” for a novel that portrays a turbulent period in Philippine history.

Summary

Dogeaters is a fragmented, fast-paced, multicharactered novel that demands extreme concentration on the reader’s part. The first half of the book, entitled “Coconut Palace,” is a wild panache of seemingly unconnected narratives, beginning with the privileged adolescent cousins Rio and Pucha Gonzaga attending films and listening to the radio serial Love Letters. The plot shifts to the powerful and politically influential Alacran household, from which oldest daughter Baby elopes. A third shift focuses on the sordid life of Joey Sands, a drug abuser and prostitute who lives in a seedy shack with Uncle and works in a gay bar called CocoRico. The final shift is to the lower-middle-class courtship of Romeo Rosales and Trinidad Gamboa, who meet at a theater. All Manila societies are thus represented.

Rio and Pucha get their weekly manicure and pedicure at Jojo’s New Yorker, and some of the narrative threads begin to come together. It is revealed that Rio’s father works for Severo Alacran, with whom he and General Nicasio Ledesma are obligated to play golf on weekends. Description of the austere life of the general’s wife precedes the sordid profligacy of Joey Sands. Following an assignation between Joey and a male lover, the scene shifts to the elegant mauve bedroom of Rio’s mother, where Rio watches the mutual flirtation between her mother, her cross-dressing seamstress, and her manicurist, whom Rio’s father scornfully refers to collectively as “The Three (dis)Graces.”

A beauty contest assembles all the politically powerful in Manila, who falsely pretend pleasantries to one another. After winning the contest, Daisy Avila lapses into deep depression, impulsively marries and then leaves a foreign playboy banker, and retreats to...

(The entire section is 729 words.)