An Essay on the Chieftest Mourner by Aida Rivera-Ford

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An essay on The Chieftest Mourner by Aida Rivera-Ford

The short story focuses on Filipino conventions during the wake of loved ones. It’s also a twist of Filipino stereotypes regarding social conventions such as the ‘kabit’ or the second wife/mistress, as compared to the first wife. The story is narrated in a somewhat unbiased, childlike tone but it’s actually flavored with insight and implicit descriptions that shows the protagonist’s maturity. There is a good balance of insight, as if to give the other characters a benefit of doubt and a seemingly unbiased narration. The narration was cleverly done; the events are divided through the protagonist’s recollection and as-the-event-happens retelling of the wake itself. When the story began, the protagonist is already in college, as specified in the text, she’s only in her freshman year which puts her age to 16. She reveals her close relationship with her uncle through her childhood memories of him which also reveals to us aspects of her uncle’s personality. One event that has significantly influenced her perception of the uncle despite her aunt’s words is what transpired after the uncle broke off with his first wife. A little girl shares a shot with her uncle and they share a common bond despite the slew of differences between them. It’s not directly stated that uncle’s ‘special lemonade’ is an alcoholic drink but it’s implied from her aunt’s reaction when she got back home. So what do they have in common? What bonds a little girl and a grown man together? It’s revealed here that the uncle is childlike, hence his affection for his niece and how easily they’ve bonded together. Her uncle is quite the poet; even the President pays a visit in his wake. He’s described as ‘…an extremely considerate man when sober…’ in the text, which also shows to the reader that he’s also quite the drunkard, which alienates him from his first wife. She tied him up in a chair while inebriated to teach him a lesson and also showed the extent of her exasperation. This event is what one could refer to as the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of their relationship. Afterwards, his uncle left her aunt. Her aunt is described although not explicitly that she’s on the heavier side, with passages from the text such as ‘…to offset the collective bulk of Aunt Sophia and myself, although I was merely a disproportionate shadow behind her.’ Her aunt still keeps tabs with her uncle, gossiping about his affairs and about his second wife. It shows that she still cares for him and obsesses over him even after their separation. In comparison to the second wife, this woman is shown to have more grace and class than Aunt Sophia, indirectly stated by the protagonist as well. ‘Something about her made me suddenly ware that Aunt Sophia’s bag looked paunchy and worn at the corners.’ When the protagonist saw the cluster of flowers her aunt left in the shape of a dove, she remarks that ‘I looked at Aunt Sophia and didn’t see anything dove-like about her.’ Yet when the narrator introduces the other woman, she describes her as ‘…a young, accomplished woman of means.’ We learn more about her in Aunt Sophia’s disparaging remarks to the other woman, nicknamed as the ‘la mujer esa,’. She describes the second wife as ‘…that horrid woman never allowed him to have his own way; she even denied him those little drinks which he took to merely aid him in his poetic composition.’ Those little drinks did more to affect his health than his creative process and the second wife saw to that. It reveals her commitment to the poet. Ultimately, the difference between this woman and Aunt Sophia is at the end of the story. The woman is spurred on by the family of the uncle to leave, under the pretense of eliminating potential scandals, what would the rest of the world think when they learn the poet’s mistress is in the wake as well? The way the protagonist describes the relatives, ‘…a horde of black-clad women, the...
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