Thursday, August 25, 2011

Desire by Paz Latorena: An Analysis

(In which beauty and love are redefined.)


Paz Latorena’s
Desire was a powerful representation of social issues and evocative of people’s tendency to value external beauty over what’s within. It was full of emotional waves – rising, falling, intensifying then pacifying. The manner of narration was simple; the omniscient narrator told the story directly, fluidly. The characters are unnamed – only the personal pronouns he and she are indicatives of their identity, perhaps signifying the universality of the experience – that it happens or could happen to any male or female. This generality didn’t affect the narration, however. The picture the story painted was nonetheless vivid.

The central theme of the story is the title itself – desire. By definition, the word falls under two shades of meaning. The first one is an intense wanting for something while the other is refers to a strong sexual appetite. Latorena remarkably presented these two facets of desire through the story of a woman whose physical appearance was both a gift and a curse.

She was homely. A very broad forehead gave her face an unpleasant, masculine look. Her eyes, which were small, slanted at the corners and made many of her acquaintances wonder if perchance she had a few drops of celestial blood in her veins. Her nose was broad and flat, and its nostrils were always dilated, as if breathing were an effort. Her mouth, with its thick lips, was a long, straight gash across her face made angular by her unusually big jaws.
But nature, as if ashamed of her meanness in fashioning the face, moulded a body of unusual beauty. From her neck to her small feet, she was perfect. Her bust was full, her breast rose up like twin roses in full bloom. Her waist was slim as a young girl's, her hips seemed to have stolen the curve of the crescent moon. Her arms were shapely, ending in small hands with fine, tapering fingers that were the envy of her friends. Her legs with their trim ankles reminded one of those lifeless things seen in shop windows displaying the latest silk stockings.

Her face is nowhere close to a dream. But her body was a source of exotic aesthetic qualities. Which she hates, and with substantial reasons.

But she hated her body--hated that gift which Nature, in a fit or remorse for the wrong done to her face, had given her. She hated her body because it made men look at her with an unbeautiful light in their eyes--married eyes, single eyes.
She hates the body because of its effect on men. She hates it for it seemed to own her, and not the other way around, because nothing else about her mattered to men the same way that her body does. Men see her as a source of their desire – the desire to take that heavenly ensemble of curves and flesh.
Men looked at her face and turned their eyes away; they looked at her body and were enslaved. They forgot the broad masculine forehead, the unpleasant mouth, the aggressive jaws. All they had eyes for was that body, those hips that had stolen the curve of the crescent moon.
Latorena exposed men’s vulnerability in this part of the story. She presents them in an almost misandrist way – generalizing them into a pack of hormonally-enslaved creatures. It could have been controversial considering the conservative era when the story was written. Her generalization of men as being enthralled beautifully carved bodies was manifested by her usage of “single eyes and married eyes.”

This changed the perspective of the protagonist as regards to men as far as her body is concerned. She decides to hide her physique with the hopes of extinguishing the “unbeautiful light” it cast from the men’s eyes. She starts wearing loose dresses then. And she succeeded. But she still has one unfulfilled desire – the desire to be loved. For now the men no longer care for her. Without the body they adore, she was nothing but a “homely face” and a “mass of unshapely flesh”.

Thus the two desires were manifested. The sexual desire was embodied by the general male population while the feeling of intense wanting was symbolized by the protagonist’s desire for true love. In the modern society, it is still surprisingly happening, and with alarming intensity at times. For the women were known for their vulnerability and romanticism and men for their infidelity and idealism. It was an interesting Venn diagram showing that over time, the difference between the two sexes haven’t changed much, as also reflected by other literary works such as The Scent of Apples by Bienvenido Santos.

. . . Twenty years ago our women were nice, they were modest, they wore their hair long, they dressed proper and went for no monkey business. They were natural, they went to church regular, and they were faithful." He had spoken slowly, and now in what seemed like an afterthought, added, "It's the men who ain't."
Women, on the other hand, were usually presented as the waiting character as shown by classic romantic tales depicting a lady in distress waiting to be rescued by her knight in shining armor, or the slave girl dreaming for Prince Charming. Latorena’s protagonist was a waiting character, too. And while she was, she wrote and scribbled and her works found their way to a publication, and eventually captured the attention of a man from the West. They had a brief epistolary correspondence, for they soon decided to meet personally. Of course the man was shocked to see her. But he soon grew comfortable in her company due to her wit and sensibility. They quickly established a friendship that the homely girl enjoyed thinking that her appearance meant little, if anything to the man.

It was in their third meeting when she decides to reveal her hidden beauty, thinking that it would also matter little to him because he tells her he likes her. She is very confident that this man could be trusted. When he sees her, he’s in total awe. But he quickly regains his composure that gave the homely woman more faith in him.

She heaved in a deep sigh. She was right. She had found a man to whom her body mattered little if anything at all. She need not take warning. He had learned to like her for herself.
However, it's their fourth (and most probably the last) meeting, the woman again displays the body that cause men to be enslaved. And this time, she gets the biggest surprise – the shattering of a dream.
“I… I… love…” he stammered after some moment, as if impelled by an irresistible force. Then he stopped. . .

The small eyes that slanted at the corners were almost beautiful with a tender, soft light as she turned them on hi. So he loved her. Had he learned not only to like her but to love her? For herself. And the half finished confession found an echo in the heart of the woman who was starved for love.

“Yes…” there was a pleading note in her voice.

He swallowed hard. “I love…. Your body.” He finished with a thick voice: And the blue eyes flared with the dreaded, hateful light. . .
Beauty was one of the ubiquitous themes in literature as manifested by Edgar Allan Poe’s To Helen and Anacreon’s Beauty is a Woman’s Weapon, among others. Both show the significance of beauty and their admiration to a beautiful woman. Latorena, however, depicted beauty as an instrument of disillusionment and a bifacial thing. It wouldn’t have the same interesting dramatic impact had the protagonist possessed both an attractive countenance and physique. It’s the imperfection of the character that rendered beauty to the work.

Another important factor worth mentioning was the story’s being a transition literature. The presence of the White man, presumably an American, symbolized the Westernization of aesthetic standards, which is also currently predominant as shown by the predilection of people to admire attractive exteriors and façades various types of media. Latorena, didn’t just show one period of time, but her work was somewhat of a clairvoyant nature, extending to the present era when Exuperian philosophy of looking at real beauty was hardly adhered to.