N. V. M. Gonzalez Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although N. V. M. Gonzalez traveled widely and taught the craft of writing on several continents, his principal rapport was always with the farmers and fishermen of his homeland. For such folk, social change over the centuries has been minimal, and their daily lives are attached to unvarying natural cycles. In each of his collections of short stories, Gonzalez found a deceptively simple style appropriate to the tempo of frontier life and the peasant mind-set.

Many of his first stories in Seven Hills Away (1947) seem more like sketches, reproducing the quiet, sometimes desperate, static lifestyle of the Philippine kainginero. On the small islands of Romblon and Mindoro, south of Manila, the landless frontiersman regularly leaves the village barrio in search of land. The wilderness is his if he will clear it by slash-and-burn techniques; yet it can never be cultivated well enough, by these primitive means, to support a large population. The first and last stories in the collection establish an outward movement from a growing settlement by pioneers anxious to find one more uninhabited horizon. Even as the stress falls on small-scale self-reliance, however, the fulfillment of ancestral patterns in the process of pioneering becomes dramatically evident. The animistic minds of the kaingineros tell them that nature is unfriendly, but they meet each setback with a stoic lack of surprise and complaint. The style of these stories is...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The paradox of N. V. M. Gonzalez is that he gained an international reputation for himself at a variety of intellectual centers, while identifying constantly with the uneducated but folk-wise peasant in the Philippines. His humor is far more subtle than that of Carlos Bulosan, for example, and his social criticism, though very real, is never doctrinaire, never polemical. For the pure portrait of the Filipino as frontier farmer—the dream of every landless tenant during centuries of oppression from Spanish overlords and now from estate holders who are his own countrymen—readers turn to the deceptively simple fiction of Gonzalez. Recognition of the honesty of these peasant images made both the author and his work necessary guests in many lands.

A 1949 Rockefeller Fellowship led to publication of Gonzalez’s stories in a number of distinguished American “little magazines”: Sewanee Review, Literature East and West, Hopkins Review, Pacific Spectator, Literary Review, and Short Story International. Gonzalez’s work also appeared in such anthologies as Stories from Many Lands (1955), Mentor Book of Modern Asian Literature (1969), Asian PEN Anthology (1966), and Asian-American Authors (1972), and, in translation, in anthologies in several countries.

Gonzalez’s tight control of form, contrary to florid Malayan-Spanish traditions, his reliance on a narrative’s ability to convey its own meaning without intrusion by the author, and especially his ability to find English constructions that, to the Filipino ear, retain resemblances to the native vernaculars of his characters: All these qualities have influenced numbers of younger writers, who occasionally refer to him as the Anton Chekhov or Ernest Hemingway of the Philippines. For his influence as a writer of fiction, as an essayist, and as a workshop director, he received the Republic Award of Merit (1954), the Republic Cultural Heritage Award (1960), and the Rizal Pro Patria Award (1961), thus fulfilling the earlier promise shown when, in 1940, his first novel won honorable mention in the Commonwealth Literary Awards contest, and, in 1941, his collection of stories, then called Far Horizons, shared first prize in the same annual contest.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bayuga, Rosy May. “Gonzalez’ Sabel: A Brown Madonna.” Philippine Studies 45, no. 1 (1997): 124-134. Concentrates on Sabel, the woman protagonist of The Bamboo Dancers.

Cabaños-Lava, Josefa. “Rhythms in Fiction.” Literary Apprentice 19 (1955): 59-70. An essential, in-depth analysis of the themes and structural components of The Winds of April and A Season of Grace.

Casper, Leonard. “N. V. M. Gonzalez.” In New Writing from the Philippines: A Critique and Anthology. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1966. An incisive treatment of Gonzalez’s short stories and novels by the preeminent critic of Philippine literature in English.

De Jesus, Edilberto, Jr. “On This Soil, in This Climate: Growth in the Novels of N. V. M. Gonzalez.” In Brown Heritage, edited by Antonio G. Manuud. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila, 1967. Presents a historian’s perspective, demonstrating parallels between Philippine society and Gonzalez’s novels as subsistence farming has become industrialized.

Gonzalez, N. V. M. “Notes on a Method and a Culture.” General Education Journal 4 (1962): 87-94. An excellent analysis, revealing of the author’s approach to prose fiction.

Guzman, Richard P. “‘As in Myth, the Signs Were All Over’: The Fiction of N. V. M. Gonzalez.” Virginia Quarterly Review 60 (Winter, 1984): 102-118. A lucid explication, particularly of characterization and style.

Tiempo, Edilberto K. “The Fiction of N. V. M. Gonzalez.” In Literary Criticism in the Philippines, and Other Essays. Manila: De La Salle University Press, 1995. A thorough, extended critique by one of the foremost prose writers of the Philippines.

Zuraek, Maria Elnora C. “N. V. M. Gonzalez’ A Season of Grace.” In Essays on the Philippine Novel in English, edited by Joseph A. Galdon. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila, 1979. Comments on the two meanings of grace: a period of postponement or second chance and regeneration through sanctification by natural forces.