Saturday, October 23, 2021

Magnificence by Estrella D. Alfon (Short Story) - Critical Analysis

Magnificence is a short story by the Cebuano writer Estrella D. Alfon (1917-1983). It's one of the stories contained in her short story collection Magnificence and Other Stories (1960). It's a controversial story because of the topics it tackled.

The Characters in the Story

1. The girl - She wasn't given a name in the story. She's seven years old.
2. Oscar - The girl's older brother. He's eight years old.
3. Vicente - A young bus conductor who offered to tutor the two children on their Math and English assignments.
4. The mother -The mother of the two kids. She wasn't named in the story.
5. The father - The father of the two kids. He wasn't named in the story.

Summary of the Story

Vicente, a young man who worked as a bus conductor during the day, offered to help a young girl and her brother with their Math and English language assignments. On evenings, he would go to their house and over a huge study table, he would help them solve fractions and mull over language phrases. He also bought them pencils which were all the rage at the siblings' school. However, it turned out that there was a dark motive behind Vicente's kindness and gentleness towards the two kids. One evening during a tutoring session, Vicente tricked the boy to leave the room and then proceeded to molest the girl. The mother caught him performing the deed. Angered by what she saw, the mother slapped Vicente a good number of times and drove him out of the house. The story ended with the mother tucking in her daughter in her bed.

Why did Estrella D. Alfon title her story "Magnificence"?

I'm still wrestling with this question. But I can offer my current theories on it. Take note that Alfon used "magnificence", a noun, and not "magnificent" which is an adjective. If she used "magnificent", we could theorize that she was describing one of the characters - the girl, the boy Oscar, the mother, the man Vicente, or the father. If she had used "magnificent", I would've inferred that she was referring to the mother. After all, she was magnificent in her role protecting her children and punishing their abuser. But since she used "magnificence", I would say that Alfon was describing the mother's actions - her magnificence in protecting her children and punishing their abuser. Not much of a difference, I would say. But those are my thoughts on the matter.

What is the theme or meaning of the story?

As far as themes are concerned, Magnificence touched on several themes - child abuse, effective parenting, absentee parenting, and predation. Vicente is the embodiment of the themes of child abuse and predation. The mother represents effective parenting. And the seemingly unaffected father represents absentee parenting. Some readers suggest that the story also highlights gender roles in Filipino families - the mother is often the one performing hands-on parenting while the father is just in the background making money and putting food on the table. I can see it and it makes sense.

What's the personality of Vicente?

I find Vicente to be a bit of an enigma. He is young and he works as a bus conductor. But he is also smart. He knows his fractions and English language more than enough to tutor two grade school pupils. And the fact that he knows how to bribe and groom the two kids to get what he wants means he has a working brain. The gears in his head are working very well. He also knows that what he's doing to the kids is wrong and immoral. He cowered in shame and fear when he was caught by the mother.

What's the moral lesson of the story?

The world is not always what it seems. People are not always what they portray themselves to be. Don't give your trust too easily. Sometimes, when people are too kind for seemingly no reason at all, there has to be some motive behind it. Such a motive can be either good or bad. In the story, the motive was bad and disgusting.

Why did Alfon write Magnificence? What did she want to achieve?

Only she knows why she came up with the story. Maybe she wrote it to warn people. Maybe she wrote it to tell people to be not to trusting. This question is like asking "Why did Vladmir Nabokov write Lolita?" I can't recall if he ever said anything why he wrote a novel with such a controversial plot.