Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dead Stars by Paz Marquez Benitez: An Analysis

Genre: Short Story
Circa: 1912

Before anything else, this is my favourite short story. The reason can be anything from the style, the romantic overture, the sadness that it evokes, the fact that it was written by a woman in 1912, and continues to be one of the best short stories in Philippine Literature. 

Alfredo Salazar- a thirty something man who is torn between two women
Don Julian Salazar- Alfredo’s father
Carmen Salazar- Alfredo’s sister
Judge Del Valle- neighbor who lives at the house on the hill
Dona Adela del Valle- Judge’s wife
Julia Salas- Dona Adela’s sister; Alfredo’s inamorata
Esperanza- Alfredo’s fiancée

 Dead Stars remains the quintessential love story.
At first glance, we are introduced to the protagonist Alfredo whose coming wedding moves the plot along. He is shown as confused, almost baffled by the way his life went.
His betrothed, Esperanza, now past thirty, the age which at that time is way past marrying age, can sense his changing demeanor towards her.
We also come to know that he is feeling this way because he meets a woman named Julia Salas. Here, the next scenes show the romance that materializes from the acquaintanceship.
Julia is fast in acknowledging why they feel so. “You have known me a few weeks, so the mystery”. Is it this getting to know stage that seems to boil the blood of past his prime Alfredo? And is this feeling of rush in one’s head  Alfredo’s equation of love?

But Alfredo‘s excitement wanes after four years of being engaged. He finds himself one day looking out the window wondering if he truly has any feelings left for Esperanza.
At the time of his confusion, he meets Julia Salas who seems to return his affection. So he flirts with her and she with him. How thrilling it is to meet someone new, a veritable stranger, mysterious and aloof.

How many times does Alfredo feel this way in the story?
To recall his past experience with his fiancée Esperanza by quoting Carmen, his sister, “ –at the beginning he was enthusiastic- flowers, serenades, note, and things like that,” when talking about Alfredo and Esperanza’s love affair.
And yet at the time he thinks love is “the eternal puzzle”.

It would be prudent for us to ask a few pertinent questions:
1.       Do you think Alfredo is unique in this situation?
2.       Alfredo has flaws and redemptive traits, what are some of them?
3.       What happens to his love affair with Esperanza? With Julia?
4.       Compare and contrast the two affairs by quoting lines as evidence. Which do you think is “real love”?
5.       How does Alfredo feel about Julia in the end?
6.       What is the meaning of the title?
To analyze further, let’s delve on the characters and how they help develop the story:
1.       Why does Don Julian answer “In love? With whom?” when asked by Carmen “Papa, do you remember how much in love he was?”
2.       Describe Julia. Is she a woman of extraordinary traits?
3.       Describe Esperanza. How does she compare with Julia?

From then on, he believes he loves Julia more than he loves Esperanza. For Esperanza, he only has affection, not the passionate feeling he has for Julia. But as they are bound by rules and mores of that generation, Alfredo decides against his heart, and marries Esperanza as promised.
Years pass and we find Alfredo still mooning for a lost love, a love that is never quenched and longs to be fulfilled. He searches for her in a distant town, a place he wants to find solace if he ever finds Julia.
He finds her. And in their reunion, he sees a different person. No, not because of lost youth, he finds her to be different from that person he perceived her to be all these years. And he is disenchanted. The illusion he harbors all these years are nothing but dead stars, long dead but emits light that seems real for the distance it has to travel, light being seen even if the source has lost its own brightness.

Love, what it is, what it can be, what people perceive it to be. If a man can only find love as something that will get him excited, then he is in for disappointment. He will never find true love if he doesn't know how to love somebody else other than himself.
Discontent-people often display lack of contentment with what they have. They usually struggle in life looking for things that will satisfy their urge for excitement, hedonistic pursuits and the like.

Dead Stars- are for all intents and purposes, dead or nonexistent. But because of the sheer distance that the light has to travel, we still see the light that came from it, even if it already faded away. So disilusionment, reminiscent of the past that doesn't exist anymore can be what dead stars symbolize.

At every turn, Paz Marquez Benitez startles me with her use of words. Words like whirling second, piquant perverseness, ghost of sunset sadness, unvexed orthodoxy of her mind, and a lot more.
This story takes us somewhere- ”Elsewhere”,  makes us wonder about choices,  regrets, and the definition of love.

Click here to view the complete short story.