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How My Brother Leon Brought Home A Wife

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Autor: reviewessays 13 March 2011

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Analysis Paper:

How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife

By Manuel Arguilla

“How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife,” is a short story written by the highly acclaimed Filipino writer Manuel Arguilla. This award-winning story is a long-standing favorite in Philippine literature. To examine this piece, the author’s background must first be considered. Formalistic, historical, and sociological approaches can also be utilized to analyze the story further. Prominent symbols and their interpretations will also be discussed.

About Manuel Arguilla

Manuel Arguilla was born to Crisanto Arguilla and Margarita Estabillo in Barrio Nagrebcan in Bauang, La Union on June 17, 1911. The Arguillas were a humble, hard-working family who farmed the small piece of land they owned to make a living. In school, Manuel was a sharp student who showed promise of being a brilliant writer at an early age. He graduated as salutatorian of his high school and then left La Union to study at the University of Philippines, where he would eventually earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Education. Around the same time, he married fellow writer, Lydia Villanueva,

and moved to Ermita, Manila.

After college, he worked at the Bureau of Public Welfare and taught at the University of Manila. After working at the bureau for a few years, Arguilla was selected

to be the managing editor of The Welfare Advocate, the business’ newsletter. He served at the Bureau until 1943, when he was appointed to the Board of Censors. During this time, he was working at a Japanese propaganda agency and also as an agent of the Markings’ Guerillas, an anti-Japanese rebel movement. In 1944, the Japanese discovered Arguilla’s disloyalty and arrested him. A few months later, he was tortured and executed at Fort Santiago.

Arguilla is best known for the piece in discussion, “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife,” and over 50 other short stories, some of which include "Midsummer," "Heat," "Morning in Nagrebcan," "Ato," "A Son Is Born," and "The Strongest Man." His own life seemed to have influenced much of his work, as will be discussed shortly. Long after his death, Arguilla and his work is still celebrated for the authentic depiction of the lives of ordinary Filipinos, usually farmers and other rural folk. His short stories are simple yet seem to capture the complexities of the Philippine culture.

Formalistic Approach – Plot, Characters, Setting, Style and Theme

“How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” is a short story about Baldo meeting his brother Leon’s new wife, Maria. In the beginning of the story, Baldo picks up Leon and Maria at the edge of Nagrebcan, as one may recall, the barrio where the author was born and raised. Baldo notices at once how beautiful and fragrant his brother’s wife is upon their introduction. He discovers that she does not call Leon by his name, instead, by the name of “Noel” (Leon’s named spelled backwards). Baldo is a little confused at first. He wonders if their father would approve of this new name. He also notes that his

brother’s wife does not have the traditional name of “Maring” or “Mayang,” but rather, “Maria,” a name he decides is different, but beautiful nonetheless.

Baldo, Leon, and Maria go off to the family’s home in Nagrebcan. On the ride home, Leon makes his own observations as well. He sees that his father, who instead of sending Baldo with Castano and the calesa to pick them up, sends him off with Labang and the cart. Leon also notices that his father had instructed Baldo to take the route home through the fields, instead of on the main road. Leon seems a little confused and disheartened, but enjoys the beautiful stars with Maria on their ride home. Maria remarks that the stars are much bigger and brighter in Nagrebcan than in Ermita, the town where in his real life, Arguilla lived with his own wife Lydia.

Leon and Maria talk about the beauty of Nagrebcan, where “the air is clean and free of dust and smoke.” As they approach the family’s home, Leon sings, “Sky Sown with Stars.” Leon asks Maria if she misses the houses, the cars, the people and noises that come from the city but Maria answers that she is glad they are not there. She is nervous to meet Leon and Baldo’s father, but Leon assures her that he is gentle. They pass their neighbors on the way but Leon tells Baldo to make Labang run faster. When they arrive home, Leon and Baldo’s mother and sister, Aurelia, meet Maria. Baldo notices that all the women seem to be crying. He goes upstairs to where his father is alone in the dark and tells him of how beautiful Leon’s wife is and how Leon sang to her. Their father asks a few questions but then simply goes on to tell Baldo to water Labang. The story ends with Baldo recounting Maria’s beauty and fragrance.

Arguilla’s writing style in “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife,” is definitely very descriptive. He uses vivid imagery when depicting every scene in the story. The following lines are a good example of Arguilla’s descriptive style in this piece:

The sky was wide and deep and very blue above us: but along the saw-tooth rim of the Katayaghan hills to the southwest flamed huge masses of clouds. Before us the fields swam in a golden haze through which floated big purple and red and yellow bubbles when I looked at the sinking sun. Labang's white coat, which I had washed and brushed that morning with coconut husk, glistened like beaten cotton under the lamplight and his horns appeared tipped with fire. (p. )

By using such evocative language, Arguilla allows the reader to imagine and experience every color, shape, and texture in the story as closely as he had in his own mind. “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” is a first person narrative, with one of the main characters, Baldo, giving his own personal account of the story. Baldo narrates the story clearly as if to imply that it had occurred recently, not something that happened in the distant past.

When considering writing style, it is also important to note that Arguilla left “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” open-ended. In the final scene, the reader is only left with Baldo’s thoughts of Maria as he gives water to Labang. The reader never finds out what happens after Maria and Leon enter the house, or if Leon’s father ever decides to come downstairs. This is truly a stylistic preference. Arguilla certainly wants the reader to guess how the story ends.

“How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” seems to contain several underlying themes, most of which have to do with upholding traditional Filipino values. The importance of a close-knit family unit, including but not limited to seeking approval for major life decisions, seems to be a significant theme in this piece. These values will

be discussed in greater detail in another section. The reluctance to embrace change and romanticism also seem to be key themes in Arguilla’s story.

Historical Approach – After the Spanish and Before the Japanese

Thoroughly understanding “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” does not only entail reading the story and researching the author, it involves looking into the historical context in which it was written. Arguilla’s anthology, “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories” was published in 1940, so the story in question is said to have been written between 1933 and 1940. This seven year span is, in regards to Philippine history, in between the country’s Spanish and Japanese occupation. At this point in time, the Japanese had yet to colonize the Philippines and the country was still reeling back from its long Spanish rule.

If the reader places this story in its historical context, we can make several relevant assumptions. The reader could assume that Leon’s new wife, Maria, might be Spanish. Such an assumption would explain her “foreign, modern” name. It would also explain why Leon and Maria decidedly eloped instead of including Leon’s family in the celebration, or at the very least, introducing Maria to the family. Perhaps Leon knew that his traditional father would be very reluctant to bless his marriage to a Spanish girl. Again, these assumptions are only speculation. Maria could be a Filipino girl from the city. Her parents might have just given her the name Maria because they liked it.

Sociological Approach - Society, Tradition and Symbols

To examine this story using a sociological approach, one must consider the societal norms, traditions, and values of the Philippine culture. If there is anything the

Filipino culture is known for, it is probably the importance of a close-knit family unit. Filipino families are almost always known to love, respect, and take care of their families unconditionally. An implication of this value is making it necessary to seek approval from one’s family when undertaking a new career, relocating, or making other huge life decisions, especially considering marriage. Filipino parents, who also typically do not advocate divorce, want to know and approve of who their sons and daughters marry, and the potential spouse’s respective family. This cultural value is so important, Filipinos still practice it to this day.

In the case of Leon and Maria, Leon broke this tradition and eloped with Maria. After looking at the story using a sociological approach, the reader can understand why Leon’s family seemed to behave so mysteriously; why Baldo was so taken aback by Maria, why Leon’s mother and sister were crying, and most importantly, why Leon’s father appeared to be testing Maria. He/she can assume that his family behaved in response to Leon’s seeming indifference or disregard for his family’s values and traditions. The reader might even be lead to wonder if Leon’s father was in fact being bothered by his leg the night that Maria was brought to the house, or if he just was very resentful towards Leon, Maria, and their actions.

Arguilla used several prominent symbols in this piece. The first symbols in the story were used to personify Maria. As mentioned previously, Baldo realized that Leon’s wife does not have a traditional Filipino name like “Maring” or “Mayang,” which seems to suggest that Maria’s character is foreign to Baldo is possibly of Spanish descent. Her modern name implies her character is just that as well. In the story, Arguilla describes

Maria as wearing high heels and skirts. This might imply the ultra-feminine nature of her character or possibly her class in society. The fact that Maria is wearing high heels and skirts even to the country might allow the reader to ascertain that she is well-off and does not come from a laborer’s background. However, one can only speculate. She might just be dressed up so as to impress her new husband’s family.

Another symbol of importance is the song Leon sang to Maria on the ride home. In the story, Baldo notices that “Sky Sown With Stars” was the same song that their father used to sing with Leon when they would tend to the fields before Leon left Nagrebcan. The reader can interpret the symbol of the song as Leon’s connection to his roots. Even though he moved to the city and started a whole new life quite different from what he experienced growing up, he still sang a song he probably associated with his father and where he came from. Although his father might assume that Leon has changed and “lost his roots,” the fact that he even taught Maria the song shows that he still cares for his family and for his home in the country. A more general, but more significant symbol seems to contain the same meaning. The fact that Leon broke tradition and eloped but still wanted to bring Maria to meet his family shows that he realizes he did something against their wishes, but still desires to be connected with his home and with his family.

The last several symbols Arguilla used to enhance the story seem to play on each other. These were the symbols of the horse-drawn calesa versus the bull- hitched cart and the camino real versus the route along the Waig. All of these symbols imply the gap between it and the other in social status and class. The reader can associate the horse-drawn calesa and traveling on the smooth, paved camino real to a resident of the city, a

“civilized” citizen who enjoys higher social standing and class. In the same way, the bull-hitched cart and traveling on the rougher, beaten path along the Waig can be associated to a farmer or laborer, or someone of lower social standing. The language Arguilla used when describing such symbols support their implied meanings. For example, when expressing the lowly route along the Waig, Arguilla wrote,

Now the shadows took fright and did not crowd so near. Clumps of andadasi and arrais flashed into view and quickly disappeared as we

passed by. Ahead, the elongated shadow of Labang bobbled up and

down and swayed drunkenly from side to side, for the lantern rocked

jerkily with the cart. (p. )

Arguilla used words like “bobbled,” “swayed drunkenly,” and “rocked jerkily” to suggest that the ride home was not easy or luxurious, but difficult and turbulent.

After the implications of the symbols have been perceivably determined, Arguilla’s piece can be understood a little better. The reader can guess that Leon’s father instructed Baldo to take Leon and his wife on the bull-hitched cart on the route along the Waig for a good reason. Perhaps Leon’s father knows that Maria is a modern city girl, who is probably accustomed to traveling by horse-drawn calesas on paved highways. He purposely gave Baldo those instructions to test how well his son’s new wife could adapt to their rural lifestyle, even though his own family seems to enjoy more upstanding benefits like the calesa.

My Own Thoughts

Overall, I think Manuel Arguilla’s short story “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife,” was a very interesting read. Reading about Arguilla’s life and using the

formalistic, historical, and sociological approaches to examine the story definitely gave me deeper insights into why he wrote the piece the way he did. I especially liked how he used the places he felt connected to in his real life as settings in this fictional short story. I found myself asking more questions and wanting to know more about the author and the story. I think Arguilla was a brilliant writer and really epitomized Filipino culture in this story.