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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The theme of human alienation from both the natural environment and the social environment is common in modern literature; however, for any reader conversant with the life of Carlos Bulosan this does not reduce his story’s expressive quality. Although Bulosan’s never-specified “he” character is Everyman, the man’s universality does not detract from the realization that the story is an outpouring of Bulosan’s own depression, even despair. A member of a several-decade-long wave of immigration from the Philippines, Bulosan lived in the United States from 1930 to his death in 1956, but never took up American citizenship. His personal alienation and even brutalization are depicted graphically in his quasiautobiographical America Is in the Heart (1946). His feelings of loneliness so touchingly presented in “Silence” are also articulated in the selection of his letters entitled The Sound of Falling Light (1960), edited by Delores Feria, and biographies by Susan Evangelista and P. C. Morantte.

“Silence” is unusual for a Bulosan piece in that it expresses no discernible social protest. Because of the prevalence of social protest themes in his writings and because of his brief stint as a labor leader in the early 1950’s, most of the critical commentaries on Bulosan’s works have been Marxist. A Marxist reading of “Silence,” however, would be difficult to sustain. Several details in the story indicate that its protagonist is not affluent (for example, his carpet is “threadbare”), but he has enough money to purchase new curtains every day for six months, and there is no hint of want—for example, he is never hungry. The man is certainly not representative of the downtrodden masses: He has no encounters with police, bosses, social arrangements, or government, and there is no hint of class struggle. The one socially significant allusion in the story is entirely positive: “He had rented a little room near a park where young men and women of many races were always shouting in excited voices over their games.” Here there is no segregation, no oppression, no...

(The entire section is 528 words.)