Monday, September 27, 2021

Morning in Nagrebcan by Manuel E. Arguilla (Short Story) - Literary Analysis

Very straightforward. That's how I would describe this well-known short story by Manuel E. Arguilla. The events in the story happen in one single morning in the rural village of Nagrebcan. The simplicity of the writing style reminds me of Ernest Hemingway's minimalistic prose. Arguilla's style was perfect in capturing the nuances of life in the barrio. If you grew up in the provinces, reading the story should hit you with a sense of nostalgia.

Here's a quick summary of the story:

It's morning in the village of Nagrebcan. A boy named Baldo got out of their house to play with their dog's puppies. He's soon joined by his younger brother Ambo. Ambo wanted to play with one particular black-spotted puppy but Baldo has claimed it as his own. He didn't allow Ambo to touch the puppy. An argument and a fight ensued. In the process, Ambo had his hand bit by the puppy they were fighting over. His hand started bleeding.

Hearing the commotion outside the house, the boys' father, Tang Ciaco looked out the window. He saw Ambo's bleeding hand and declared that the puppy has gone mad. He grabbed a piece of firewood, got out of the house, and started violently beating the puppy. He then turned his attention on his sons and started beating them as well.

The mother of the boys, Nana Elang, came for their rescue and brought them safely inside the house. The story ended with Nana Elang doing morning chores inside the house, with Tang Ciaco going to work. and with the two boys finding the dead puppy and giving it a much-needed burial.


Morning in Nagrebcan is a slice-of-life story featuring a dysfunctional family. It features a particular morning in the lives of Baldo, Ambo, Nana Elang, and Tang Ciaco. I'd like to think that it's a deliberate social commentary by Arguilla on the often ignored presence of social violence among and within families in the provinces. A lot of people, especially those who grew up in urban areas, romanticize life in the barrio. In the beginning of the story, Arguilla does a bit of this romanticizing with his description of the surroundings as Nagrebcan welcomes the beautiful morning.

But just as the reader is starting to enjoy the countryside sceneries of bluish mists hugging tobacco fields and roosters strutting around, Arguilla hits him with a sudden wave of violence. Baldo and Ambo fight a proper fight. Their father beat them as if they don't deserve being his sons. He calls their mother a whore. 

Note that the story opens with an abundance of beauty and love. There's the beautiful description of the countryside. There's the mother dog being a big ball of love to its small puppies. There's Baldo playing with and kissing the puppies. The second act in the story is the unfolding of unimaginable violence. Violence that contrasts sharply with the setting of the story. The story ends with scenes of love and beauty. Baldo and Ambo settle their differences and went to bury the dead puppy. As they walk away from the makeshift grave, Baldo wraps an arm around his brother. The morning is warm and Nagrebcan is bathed in golden sunlight. It's as if something very violent and evil hasn't just transpired.

The cycle of violence is a main theme in the story. There's nothing surprising about brothers fighting because most brothers fight. But the way Baldo and Ambo go at each other borders on uncomfortable. There's more to it than just brothers fighting. We get an answer in the next scenes as they were beaten by their father. Why are the brothers so hard on each other when they fight? They learned from their father. Their father is violent on them so they are violent toward each other. 

It's obvious from the story that the beating the brothers got in that particular morning has occurred in the past. They've been through it before. Thus their reactions of fear when their father came down the house that morning.

Nana Elang is a main character in the story but she is almost treated like an outsider. She is always on the outskirts of the story - staring and observing and unable to do anything. This might be an indictment of the way women are treated in some Filipino communities. Nana Elang is without a doubt a loving mother and wife. But here she is being called a whore by her husband and feeling helpless as she watches her children get beat up by their own father.

I'll end this analysis with a few notes that a student reading the story can further attempt to explore:

1. Tiang Ciaco treats his sons like dogs. He beat his sons the way he beat the puppy. 
2. There's a reason why Arguilla used a motherly dog and a litter of puppies in the story. What could this reason be? 
3. Sometimes, dogs are better than human beings. Sometimes, dogs are better in taking care of their offspring than humans.
4. At the end of the story, there are scenes of beauty and love. There's Baldo wrapping an arm around his brother. There's the village being bathed in warm sunlight. Is this Arguilla's way of saying that at the end of the dark tunnel, there's light? That there's hope? That there's hope for Baldo and Ambo? That there's hope for their mother Nana Elang?