Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Alfredo Salazar from Paz Marquez-Benitez’ "Dead Stars": A Character Analysis

(In which I pose another attempt toward reactivation.)

***

Paz Marquez-Benitez, in her masterpiece Dead Stars, did not only write about a love story. Most importantly, her writing reflects the time in which the literary work was written along with the language, the norms and the way people think. It serves as a literary time machine for readers as it enables them to understand how courtship, marriage and fidelity were viewed through the early 1900 standards. It renders a sound comparison between the past and the present, the existing modern culture and the fading, almost obsolete tradition. Although the comparison and contrast provides a good critical foundation, another highly significant aspect of this short story involves the main character, Alfredo Salazar, which, always applies to whatever era, hence the focus of this paper. His confusion, weakness and unreasonableness are innate flaws of humans. Perhaps one of the many reasons why this work is timeless is that readers never fail to see a part of them in Alfredo Salazar’s character, making the short story a rich source of serious ruminations on society, love and humanity.

People oftentimes give high regard to the society in which they belong. They try to adhere to the norms, traditions and culture of their society, though sometimes the conformity would require them to sacrifice a part of themselves – an opinion, an emotion or a decision. However, there are cases wherein the established norms and rules of society are the ones which should prevail. In Dead Stars, the main character, Alfredo Salazar, was torn between making two important decisions – to marry or not to marry. But just like other dilemmas, the crossroad in which he found himself in was not to be solved without harming anyone. He was engaged to Esperanza, his fiancée of four years. Theirs was undoubtedly a love that was true. But for some reasons, apparently on Alfredo’s part, a change of heart has taken place. He has fallen for Julia Salas, the sister-in-law of the judge whom his father had a meeting with. After spending several afternoons and conversations, he found himself slowly getting attached to her that he started losing concern for Esperanza. In the end, however, he married his fiancée and though their marriage was not an unhappy one, he still could not take the possibilities of a future with Julia off his mind. Until one day, their paths crossed again and he realized one painful truth that led him to liberation at last.

Human emotions are very intricate and delicate both at its lowest and highest. And so is love. When Alfredo was still passionately attached to Esperanza, he was overwhelmed. Taking the conversation of Alfredo’s sister, Carmen, and his father, Don Julian into consideration, readers can deliberately conclude that he was indeed in love.
. . . “Papa, do you remember how much in love he was?”

“In love? With whom?”

“With Esperanza of course. He has not had another love affair that I know of,” she said with good-natured contempt. “What I mean is that in the beginning he was enthusiastic – flowers, serenades, notes and things like that.’
The excerpt was a good manifestation of how change in men occurs. But since change is men’s “wine and bread” according to Angela Manalang-Gloria, it is as essential as living itself, and therefore the most important things to be considered after the transition are the causes, the way one deals with change and the consequences. Alfredo was aware of the cause of his change as what is shown in the following paragraph:

Why would men so mismanage their lives? Greed, he thought, was what ruined so many. Greed – the desire to crowd into a moment all the enjoyment it will hold, to squeeze from the hour all the emotions it will yield. Men commit themselves when but half-meaning to do so, sacrificing possible future fullness of ecstasy to the craving for immediate excitement. . .
Another significant reason as to his emotional wanderings could be the length of time n which he was engaged o Esperanza. As what Don Julian had philosophize, couples who were engaged for so long become too comfortable and familiar with each other that the spark of love that was felt at the time the romance was just starting to blossom would expectantly cool down – that it “argues a certain placidity of temperament – or of affection – on the part of either, or both”.

Another factor to be considered was the contrast of Alfredo and Julia’s personalities. Alfredo was “calm and placid” while Julia was lively and full of vitality. The difference between them must have excited him as he saw in her the things he lacked.

However, though aware he was of the possible reasons why he, as well as men, or even humans in general, succumb to acts or thoughts of subtle infidelity, his attitude towards what is moral and not becomes shadowed in the attempts to justify his own behavior. Stances about the argument he had with Esperanza regarding the latter’s anger toward Calixta’s cohabitation with the man she’s not married to, may vary. But again, one’s act was expected to adhere with what is the established morality in a certain society. Because of what seemed as a liberal notion, Alfredo was trapped in a situation where he has to defend himself and in the process, what was manifested was his greed.

“One tries to be fair – according to his lights – but it is hard. One would like to be fair to one’s self first.”
But the wedding materialized; He chose not to break his word probably in order to save himself, Esperanza and Julia from social ridicule. He felt that his moral and social obligations were already fulfilled upon choosing not to cause humiliation to them all. The way in which he chose to deal with his internal change was to consider the way in which the society will view the people involved. But perhaps he felt that in doing so he has deprived himself of fairness. So he became distant and unreachable to Esperanza although he stayed with her and treated her gently. He has developed the skill in being unaffected and somehow mastered the art of being detached.

After several years, he was sent by his profession in search for the elusive Brigida Samuy and into the hometown of Julia Salas. Upon seeing her and finding out that she never married, he started to notice that she lost something, even doubted if the loss was his. As he tried to find the answer, a great realization dawned on him.

Gently – was it experimentally? – he pressed her hand at parting; but his remained undisturbed and emotionless. Did she still care? The answer to the question hardly interested him.

. . . So all these years – since when? – he had seen the light of dead stars, long extinguished, yet seemingly still in their appointed places in the heavens.

Therefore, the love he thought he felt for her during the short summer they shared was not the love that was enough to break an engagement. Nor was it love in its strictest definition. Instead, it was desire that sprung from the coldness that slowly crept in his relationship with Esperanza due to their long-time familiarity with each other. It was excitement that was ignited by boredom and “the last spurt of hot blood.”

Alfredo symbolizes the greed and indecisiveness of men when it comes to dealing with the matters of the emotion. He had entertained the pull of an anonymous feeling. Anonymous since he never really ventured to understand it but he clung to it anyway. And in the process he lost a part of himself and deprived that part to Esperanza as well.

Had it not been for chasing the lights of an illusive love that was long dead, or worse, never was, would Alfredo be happier in his marriage? Is it fair to say that he has wasted the milestones of a blissful marriage with a woman he loved first all for the sake of an impossible whim? Considering the disappointment he manifested upon realizing what he lost, the answer, is yes.