Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Character Analysis of Belle and her Husband in Francisco Arcellana’s Divide by Two



(In which partitions are clarified.)


***

Theirs is apparently not a happy marriage, Belle and her husband’s. The bitterness within the context of their living together must be something almost akin to the relationship of Badoy and Agueda in Nick Joaquin’s May Day Eve for Belle and her husband live together but seem to inhabit different worlds apart from the home they share and the community in which they live. Inside themselves, a complex array of thoughts and emotions stir, torturing them all and complicating all their lives. Divide by Two by Francisco Arcellana is not just a peep into a moment of a married couple – it is a trickily structured short story, an artistic execution of the Iceberg Theory.

The story utilizes only one proper noun to address one of the important characters – Belle. But the story revolves around Belle, her husband and their couple neighbors. For better understanding and for clearer analysis, alphanumeric variables are used to stand for the other husband (X) and for his wife (Y). The focus is on Belle’s husband, the narrator of the story. By zeroing in on how he narrates the story, one takes a closer view of what really happens in their home, and what his real relationship with his wife is. Also, by understanding what he feels and thinks, one understands the meaning behind the title and the symbolisms manifested in the literary work.

The story is eighty percent dialogue consisting of mostly repetitive structure as regards to how Belle’s husband relates the story – I said, Belle said. Apparently, it wasn’t written to show who said what. The repetition gave itself away and that it wasn’t geared neither toward information nor clarification. Instead, it is to signify separation. They were two different beings, not united. Not one. Another example took place when he went to his room to get some clothes.
“He carried the blocks in the baggage compartment of their car. It took him all three trips. He had three boys with him to help.” I shook my shirt in the cooling air and walked in my room. “And I know where he got those blocks, too. There is a construction going on right now at engineering school. They have a pile of adobe blocks there as high as the Cheops. You can’t miss it. You see it from the bus line every time.”
Actually, he never referred to this room as “our room”. It was they – he and Belle – who were “divided by two.” (Casper, 1962)

Apparently, he isn’t paying attention to what Belle was saying. He keeps on asking her to repeat. His body feels exhausted and whatever Belle was saying doesn’t interest him as much as the sound of the piano music which Wife Y was playing did. In almost every movement or his change of loci, his sense of the house is marked by how clear he heard the piano music, The Turkish March from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11.
“Yes, I know,” I said. I walked into the window and stood there, looking over at their cottage. The piano music from the cottage came strong and clear. . . In my room, the strains of piano music didn’t reach sustainedly. . . I fumbled in the dark feeling with my fingers. In the darkness in the closet the strains of the piano came steadily, strong and clear.

“She is no Turk but she keeps playing the Turkish March,” Belle said.
Even his awareness of Belle is magnified by the piano music, or the lack of it.
I wondered why now the words kept ringing clear to me. Then I felt and sensed that the piano had been stilled. Suddenly the night was silent, suddenly the air was still.
But what Belle was trying to bring into his consciousness might have been of critical importance. The story jumpstarted abruptly, introducing the situation without further ado, a sign that the problem was of considerable intensity. Yet he took it as something close to hokum, if anything at all. When the piano music stops, he turned on his music player.
I rose from the lounging chair. I walked to the globe-traveler near the wall outlet, plugged the cord in and snapped the lid open. Belle followed me. I was playing the range disk for music when Belled leaned forward and snapped the lid shut.
Again, this scenario shows his indifference toward Belle. He doesn’t want to listen to his personal audio tracks. If he does, he could have done so even while the piano music was still on. Instead, he turns on his music player because the piano music stopped. What he might have wanted was a distraction, a reason not to listen to Belle. But Belle is quick in cutting him off from another source of distraction. And thus he is forced to listen.

Belle thinks ill of Wife Y and points out that that Wife Y must have hated her and her friendliness or Husband X’s friendliness toward her. But Belle’s husband doesn’t think it’s appropriate either.
“She doesn’t like me.” Belle said. “And she doesn’t like anyone to like me… when he gave me flowers from her garden, I don’t think she liked that.”

“Who would?” I asked. “Maybe the flowers weren’t such a good idea either.”

“He was only being friendly as I was,” Belle said.

“Oh, yes,” I said.
But again, he doesn’t want anything to do with Belle’s complaints, claiming that he doesn’t know them as much as Belle did. But Belle thinks otherwise.
“Oh, you do, too,” Belle said. “You ride with them too sometimes.”

“I did that only once,” I said. “I rode with them on the front seat. She tapped him on the thigh when she got off at Pavilion 2. That was the last time.”

“Did that bother you?” Belle asked.

“Not that in itself,” I said. “Only the demonstrativeness: as if to show that she is his and he is hers.”
This is a critical point. Readers are already aware of Belle’s friendliness toward Husband X as suggested by the flowers. But Belle’s husband somehow shows a little more room for thought as regards to the gap between him and Belle. If the “demonstrativeness” didn’t really bother him, there is no need to mention it. And then Belle criticizes Wife Y’s “demonstrativeness” in short shorts while “puttering about her garden”. To which her husband retorts that Belle herself didn’t follow rules of conduct when she went visiting the other cottages with Husband Y several times, to which Belle responds that it was just a fulfillment of neighborly duties. Then Belle points out that the other couple’s lawn is bigger than theirs. Because of this, the husband is again forced to pay attention. He looks out the window. It is eight forty-five and isn’t too dark to see the adobe markers. But what seems to appeal to his eyes are the specter-like presence of the flowers, which were already attributed to Wife Y. He reasons out that that might be so because she needed more land for her flowers. But Belle complains again, saying there is an unfair division of lawns. This time, her husband snaps and begins to insult Husband X’s intelligence.
"You mean the halves are not equal? The halves are not halves? I asked.

“What’s the matter with you?” Belle said.

“What’s the matter with him?” I asked. “Isn’t he a doctor of mathematics or something? A fine doctor of mathematics he’s turned out to be if he can’t even divide by two!”

“What’s eating you?” Belle asked.

“Maybe he should have brought a survey team with him and used a transit, a plumb line, and a pole,” I said. “Maybe he could divide by two then. Maybe he could even divide by ten.”
The husband can’t repress his annoyance anymore. And when he still won’t deal with Husband X, Belle threatens to settle the matter herself. Again, he is left with no choice but to approach Husband X, using a rather impersonal method. Using their dusty (apparently unused) typewriter, he write a note to Husband X.

AS he types the note, he can hear Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro from the other house’ radio-phonograph and he thinks “Mathematics and Mozart.” “Mozart and Mathematics.” The Turkish March and Marriage and Figaro were both Mozart’s, which were referred to as a predilection of Wife Y, and Husband X is a doctor of mathematics. Looking closely, he doesn’t seem to think of the juxtaposition of mathematics and music compatible.

Nata sends the note to the next house. By handing Husband X the note, they have passed the point of no return. When the inevitable comes, the two men decide to talk outside. There is a rather illogical state of verbal exchanges, mostly on Belle’s husband’s side. But they don’t talk much of the adobe blocks or the act of putting them there as boundaries. Instead, what takes place is an outburst of outrage coming from somewhere uncharted. And in the heat of the situation, Belle rises and declares war. And finally, it is Belle whom her husband needs to settle matters with, anyway.

It is worth noting that Belle keeps on seeing Wife Y as a nemesis while her husband always defends her. Belle’s husband didn’t seem to like Husband X but Belle keeps on defending him. It is an unfortunate situation, but it makes the distance between the husband and wife make sense. Whether it is difficult to point out which between the attraction between Belle and Husband X or the hidden desire of Belle’s husband toward Wife Y was stronger, it is of no doubt that the division of the two couple’s relationship is caused by their inability to set proper boundaries and infidelity. Divide by Two is indeed tricky, its symbolisms vast and multifaceted. However, one only needs to see how miscommunication and misunderstanding breaks human relationships to get a glimpse of what people should avoid. This, among others, could be the reason behind the story’s existence.

Casper, Leonard. (1962). Vision Indivisible. In Emerenciana Y. Arcellana (Ed.), Favorite Arcellana Stories (p. 213). UP Press. Philippines.