The Search for a Better Life

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The first theme that I think is apparent is the search for a better life. Conditions in the rural Philippines are hard for the peasants. There is hardship and exploitation. The peasant children have no childhood because they are working in the fields or in the market or home with the parents at an early age. The boys leave their parents' home in their early teens to find work and a better life, trying to escape the harsh and hopeless environment. Their families know and expect this. Carlos' mother tells him several times that he can go and that they are poor. They go from menial job to menial job trying to make out a living. The parents can't give them a better life in a farming environment and the parents and children know this. As a result of the transfer of the Philippines to the United States, there is free public education if the student's family can afford to pay the student's travel and living expenses. The children all want to attend school but their families cannot afford it. Many peasant families work hard to send at least one son to high school. Carlos' father has to sell his land so that Macario can finish high school with the hope that he will return, work and make their lives better. There is social agitation in the rural Philippines as apparent by the peasant revolts. The United States, to the peasants, means equality. Equality is something they don't have in the Philippines. Many of the Filipinos come to America expecting to find equality. Instead they find discrimination, hatred and horrible living conditions. They wander from place to place trying to find work to feed and clothe themselves. They find themselves living as groups in hotel rooms if one or two people are working and can pay the rent. The only time Carlos is guaranteed food and a place to sleep is when he is in the hospital. He arrives in the country as a minor with no parents as many Filipinos did. They are not allowed to become citizens, to own land or to serve in the armed services. Filipinos can't even join the armed forces and fight to free the Philippines until President Roosevelt signs a special proclamation. They all hope to find a better life and they all keep looking. Another theme is that of tradition. The role of tradition is strong in a peasant culture. The role of tradition in the peasant culture is evident from the beginning when Leon marries the peasant girl. It is tradition for the new husband to signal with black smoke that his bride is a virgin. Leon doesn't signal and the townspeople break into the house and drag the woman out and start to beat her. When Leon and his father try to intervene, they too are beaten. This is the cultural tradition of the peasants. It is tradition for peasants to live in the environment that they live in with harsh subsistence farming and exploitation from the society around them. It is tradition for the children to work on the farm or in the parent's business or to do the household chores, including the cooking. The older generation doesn't question the living conditions much because this is the way it has always been. They don't know any other way of life. This tradition begins to clash with modernity in the Philippines when it becomes a territory of the United States as the peasant children acquire education. They return to their peasant village filled with ideas of equality that they learn in their high school education. Their parents don't fully understand it all but they begin to understand how they are being exploited, as Carlos' father did when the moneylenders took his land. Tradition also follows them to America. This is evident when Carlos finds his brother Amado and Macario fighting in the kitchen. A loud crash brings him running as the kitchen table collapses onto the floor. The two brothers are fighting over Amado's friends. Carlos does not want to get involved and be forced to take a side. When Amado grabs a knife to use against Macario, Carlos has no choice. He hits Amado over the...
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