Sunday, February 20, 2011

Another Unhappy Marriage?


Nick Joaquin gives us another look at marriage in our second short story for February: The Summer Solstice.

I wasn't actually going to introduce this as a story about marriage--although, after May Day Eve, of course that is what it looks like. What I wanted to do was mention Joaquin's fascination with the way pagan and Christian traditions have fused together in Philippine culture, to the point that they are as impossible to tear asunder . . . kind of like a husband and wife. =P

Obviously, the text itself bears out the marriage imagery, with Lupeng and Paeng's union becoming a kind of microcosmic expression of the tension between the cult of the Tadtarin and the devotees of St. John the Baptist.

In the May Day Eve discussion, Emily described the story as "another depiction of an unhappy marriage"--which rather surprised me. I've always seen Lupeng and Paeng as an ordinary couple: no longer ecstatically in love, perhaps, but not likely to separate, either. She's very restless in this story, and maybe she has been restless for a long time but just doesn't know it until she sees their driver uncharacteristically afraid of the wife he usually beats on a whim. It awakens something subversive in her--and then the attentions of the shallow Guido, who claims to find the old and overweight Tadtarin beautiful, make it worse.

Meanwhile, in space of three days, the celebration of St. John's Day, which is the "masculine" festival of the story, is swallowed up by the celebration of the Tadtarin, which Joaquin seems to say is the former's feminine counterpart. They are in a marriage in which there are only two options: the female submitting to the male's whip . . . or the male crawling on the floor to kiss the female's feet.

Not that it's much to worry about. I'm sure that by the next day, all the "possessed" couples are back to "normal."


Emily J. said...

Perhaps the scene where Lupeng forces Paeng to kiss her foot stood out as particularly disturbing because I had just finished reading Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night in which Harriet carries on and on about wanting a marriage of equals, not just an equality of class, money and education, but also of psychology, so that one partner never resents or envies the other. Lupeng and Paeng may have a very typical and functional relationship, but it doesn't seem to be one of mutual respect. The primal Tadtarin festival seems to draw out Lupeng's natural strengths, while Paeng seems to be the type of man who can only be powerful by denying the strengths of others, rather than the type who can lead because he recognizes the value of his entourage - the opposite of the real John the Baptist, who readily recognizes One mightier than he. Perhaps the same sort of power play is what is going on in North Africa right now.

I would not like to be sharing their breakfast table, although I can easily imagine that you are right, E, about them going back to life as usual.

Enbrethiliel said...


Emily, now that you bring it up, I wonder whether Paeng actually is mirroring St. John's deference to One mightier than himself--the "One" in this case being Lupeng. And how it plays out is quite a reversal of what Christianity is all about. Maybe a direct reversal of what we see when the sinful woman washes Jesus feet with her tears.

In the Gospel account, we can guess that the woman's sin is of a sexual nature. But the penitent quality of her actions means that they are not sexual actions: the act is not meant to be a "turn on." In stark contrast, any sins Paeng might have committed against his wife are likely more social than sexual. (Forbidding her to go places, for instance.) Yet the only apology she will accept is a sexual one.