The Chieftest Mourner

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  • Topic: Short story, Filipino women writers, Calapan City
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  • Published : January 8, 2013
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A Literary Analysis of N.V.M. Gonzalez’s “Children of the Ash-Covered Loam and Other Stories”

N.V.M. Gonzalez’s “Children of the Ash-Covered Loam and other stories” is a humble and comely collection of seven short stories that plunges deep into “the private and the public lives” of Filipino women and children bound to see life in a new light as events unfold. The world of the book is, as Francisco Arcellana puts it, is “the world of Mindoro and Manila: the world of theparaya and the anting-anting and anito-worshiping as well as the world of public lectures and TV and Cinemascope. The theme of the collection is the clash between the city and the farm, the impact of the sophisticate upon the primitive, the collision between reality and the unreal city. The subject is man and the life of man…” (Arcellana). The stories are rich, deep and massive in their delineation of the aspects of rural and urban living and especially the depiction the private and public lives of the main characters that are basically women and children. 

“No other Filipino writer has written prose more clear and clean and straight and direct and hard and pure as N.V.M. Gonzalez” writes Arcellana. His prose is a perfect vehicle of thought. A prose where texture has been added to structure and subtlety to strength. A collection of prose with an inner calmness, subtly and warmth but the effect is startling and powerful. Indeed, N.V.M. Gonzalez’s “Children of the Ash-Covered Loam and other stories” is one of the few Filipino stories of real power. 

Evident in “Children of the Ash-Covered Loam and other stories” is Gonzalez’s economy with words and focus on surface description. There is also a certain striking restraint in his prose style, sparseness of story, and flatness of narrative tone. However, the sparseness in place, descriptive detail and characterization of Gonzalez’s stories are balanced by his emphasis on dialogue and dispassionate approach of his narrators to consequential experiences. Indeed, N.V.M. Gonzalez’s prose style belongs to the minimalist school of writing.

In this literary analysis, I will only choose two out the seven short stories included in the collection to focus on. This decision stems from my belief that although each stories in the collection is distinctly N.V.M. Gonzalez’s, a closer reading of just a few of his stories would be enough to illuminate the point the author is driving at in this brief literary analysis of N.V.M. Gonzalez’s book. Moreover, the other five stories not covered in this analysis, although not critical commented on, will still be briefly mentioned along the way. This is to prove that I really read the entire stories in the collection and not just tinker on specific stories to deal upon. 

“Gonzalez' stories smell of ginger root and oils to appease the spirits and of a boy's hunger and curiosity,” writes Terry Farish. She commends Gonzalez’s remarkable use of Filipino words so perfectly woven into the English that his stories become, to use the words of Farish, “colorful paintings of Philippine characters and sensibility” (Farish). 

Many of Gonzalez‘s stories are nostalgic looks, through a boy's eyes, of rural life. In "The Morning Star," Gonzalez creates a quietly powerful woman who gives birth to an American soldier's baby. In "Children of the Ash-Covered Loam," the boy, Tarang, runs from his hut to see the pig's new litter. He strikes a tree trunk with his big toe, but the hurt is ‘not half as sharp as his hunger for knowing.’ This hunger is in all these stories (Farish). Also included are stories that have themes of migration, inter-island travel, and the perils of the sea. “The Sea Beyond” features a dying stevedore who has fallen off the reconverted minesweeper Adela. In “A Warm Hand,” the passengers of the Ligaya went ashore to seek refuge is a fisherman’s hut during a violent storm.

“Children of the Ash-Covered Loam,” seems straightforwardly realistic in approach. There are no...
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