Feminist Reading - the Bread of Salt

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I. Introduction

Throughout the course of history, there has been an evolution of courtship ideals. In the past, courtship had patriarchy present. Before, the males were always the one chasing the females. The men had to be the one to impress or chase after the girl. However, whenever a female tried to be different and be the one to court a man, it was considered a bad thing and society would deem her pathetic and desperate, and several other kinds of negative thoughts.

Now, on the other hand, several changes in the society about the importance of women and new ideas about gender equality have made the roles of men and women more diverse. Women are more empowered with the choice to court men, and some men even have their preference for women who make the first move. The expectation of women being the meek ones who had to wait around to be courted isn’t as strictly followed in the society anymore. However, there are still several who support the traditional ideas of courtship. There are still certain pictures of courtship wherein the patriarchy is still present, and an example of this patriarchal view can be seen in N.V.M Gonzales’ short story, where the courtship is evident between the male protagonist and Aida. In N.V.M. Gonzales’ “The Bread of Salt”, the male protagonist and the way he views his own masculinity and Aida’s femininity, as also seen in the story’s literary details and setting, reflect a patriarchal picture of courtship where the female is chased and objectified. An analysis of the ending of the story and how the characters’ social statuses affected the courtship will also be discussed. These are the aims of the critic with this paper.

II. Setting, Expectations of Gender and Patriarchy Within Courtship

Within a society, there is a view of masculinity and femininity- namely, the ideas of gender and gender roles that have been formed over time, through a stylized repetition of acts. In the Bread of Salt, the society has its own set of ideals for men and women to be molded into. As seen, for example, in the two daughters of Don Esteban: Josefina and Alicia. Their reputation among the characters is rather positive, especially among other, upper class women. This then, gives one an idea of what is good or worthy of praise in the story’s society.

Josefina and Alicia had gone to study music and while presenting, with Alicia on her harp and Josefina singing, the crowd applauded and sighed and wanted an encore afterwards. More on this aspect of music will be discussed later on, but this simply tells one that at least for women, their interest in the musical arts has a positive reception in the society.

Lastly, the protagonist also ponders on the success of the two girls in finding suitable husbands. It is important to note that he only wondered about their success there, and not perhaps, with their music or studies. …which the Buenavista Women’s Club wished to give Don Esteban’s daughters, Josefina and Alicia, who were arriving…The spinsters were much loved by the ladies…these ladies studied solfeggio with Josefina and the piano and harp with Alicia. …and the Buenavista ladies admired that…I wondered how successful they had been in Manila during the past three years in the matter of finding suitable husbands. …Alicia played on the harp and then, in answer to the deafening applause, she offered an encore. Josefina sang afterward. Her voice, though a little husky, fetched enormous sighs.

An important factor that can lead to the understanding of the societal ideas of gender may be the place where the society resides, or namely, the setting. The setting can be assumed to be during the time of the Spaniards, wherein they were powerful and admired, as well as wealthy. One part that shows this is when the main character wonders if he will spend the future in the service of the house of Aida’s grandfather, who is a Spaniard. Another is when he talks about how Aida has fair skin and bobbed dark brown...
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