“Footnote to Youth” Themes

The main themes in “Footnote to Youth” are the ignorance of youth, the phases of life, and fear and inaction.

  • The ignorance of youth: The story portrays youth as a time of ignorance and inevitable rash decisions, as well as romanticism and “dreamful sweetness.”
  • The phases of life: Villa highlights the cyclical nature of life by emphasizing the characters’ ages and drawing attention to the symbolism of the moon.
  • Fear and inaction: Dodong and his father both demonstrate an inability to prevent their own or others’ suffering, largely through fear and a sense of helplessness.

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The Ignorance of Youth

In “Footnote to Youth,” Villa paints youth as a state of being that must necessarily triumph. When Dodong leaves the house one night in order to try to contemplate existence, he stumbles and falls short, unable to answer his own question about “why life did not fulfill all of Youth’s dreams.” The story’s narrator then surmises that perhaps it simply “must be so” in order for youth to retain the “dreamfully sweet” quality that defines it. Earlier in the story, Dodong’s drunkenness on this ignorant, dreamful sweetness, and on the newfound agency one discovers in youth, is what leads him to make rash life decisions. It is only after he is faced with the gravity of his situation as a young father that he realizes he has greatly overestimated his maturity and wisdom. While youth is marked by ignorance, however, it is also a force which the narrator believes is difficult to combat. Interestingly, the narrator marks “Life” as separate from “Youth,” describing life as something that begins only after the dream of youth has ended. This implies that the sweetness and dreams that define this romantic phase of life ultimately cannot be sustained. When Blas makes the same decision as his father, Dodong finally realizes that one cannot escape the ignorance and idealism of youth, just as one cannot escape the harsh realities that follow.

The Phases of Life

Many important scenes in “Footnote to Youth” concern wisdom, the cyclicality of life, and life’s changing phases. By frequently emphasizing the age of its characters, the story notes the shifts in perspective and position that come with age. For example, Dodong thinks of himself at seventeen as “not young anymore” and insists on marrying Teang. His father, meanwhile, thinks that seventeen is too young of an age at which to marry. Ironically, Dodong’s pride in his supposed maturity is upended during the birth of Blas, as he becomes ashamed of his “youthful paternity.” Eventually, when the eighteen-year-old Blas comes to him with plans of marriage, Dodong thinks of him as very young. These shifts in Dodong’s perspective are brought about naturally through aging, as he comes to possess knowledge of the many difficulties of life—difficulties that Blas is not even aware of yet.

With Blas’s announcement of marriage, Dodong is put in the same difficult position his own father was, repeating an apparently inevitable cycle. Although he now carries knowledge of what will happen when one chooses to marry young, he struggles to communicate it. Instead, he looks at his son with nothing but pity, as the difference in their understanding is something that can only be learned through time.

This cyclicality of life is further explored through the symbol of the moon, as it appears during crucial moments of judgment and reflection. When Dodong informs his father that he is marrying Teang, he notes that his father looks old under the decrescent moon. Later in the story, Dodong reflects on his life under the moonlight but fails to grasp any wisdom. Finally, when Blas informs Dodong of his plans to marry, Dodong notes that the moonlight is “cold and white.” Like the moon itself, life possesses a cyclical rhythm and many changing phases—some of them more illuminating than others.

Fear and Inaction

Throughout the story, there are multiple instances of characters suffering—instances which are observed by Dodong but are permitted to continue or escalate because of fear and inaction. This is in part reflected through the women in the story. For example, at different points in the story, Dodong notices both his mother and Teang...

(This entire section contains 859 words.)

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overworked with household chores. He wants to give them some comfort and reprieve but refrains from doing so, either out of tiredness or embarrassment. Teang also privately expresses deep regret over how their married life has turned out, but she chooses not to express her unhappiness lest she upset Dodong; she merely fantasizes about a different life.

This theme of fear and inaction is best symbolized by Dodong’s father’s diseased tooth, which Dodong’s father would rather allow to fester than let the town dentist pull out. Dodong sympathizes with his father for this—sympathy that runs deeper than it initially appears. Out of fear of conflict, Dodong’s father allows Dodong to marry young, even after voicing hesitation and disapproval over his son’s decision. There is reason to think that Dodong understands this softness and fear of conflict in his father, as he deliberately chooses to tell him and only him, outside the earshot of his mother. When Dodong’s father tells Dodong to inform his mother of his decision, Dodong refuses—and his father gives in to this refusal. There is, therefore, a kind of helpless sympathy running through the story, especially between father and son. In time, Dodong is faced with the same reckoning: he watches helplessly as his own son makes the same mistake he did, not wanting to interfere with Blas’s decision or upset their relationship. After all, Dodong himself thinks he “would not be any bolder than his father.”