A Post-Structuralist Analysis of Dead Stars by Paz Marquez-Benitez

Subtle Acquiescence of a Hungry Frustrated Poet

            Born in 1894 in Lucena City, Quezon, Paz Marquez – Benitez authored the first Filipino modern English-language short story, Dead Stars, published in the Philippine Herald in 1925. Born into the prominent Marquez family of Quezon province, she was among the first generation of Filipinos trained in the American education system which used English as the medium of instruction. She graduated high school in Tayabas High School (now, Quezon National High School) and college from the University of the Philippines with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1912. She was a member of the first freshman class of the University of the Philippines, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1912.

Two years after graduation, she married Francisco Benitez, with whom she had four children.

Márquez-Benítez later became a teacher at the University of the Philippines, who taught short-story writing and had become an influential figure to many Filipino writers in the English language, such as Loreto Paras-Sulit, Paz M. Latorena, Arturo B. Rotor, Bienvenido N. Santos and Francisco Arcellana. The annually held Paz Marquez-Benitez Lectures in the Philippines honors her memory by focusing on the contribution of Filipino women writers to Philippine Literature in the English language.

Though she only had one more published short story after “Dead Stars” this of which is entitled “A Night In The Hills,” nevertheless, she made her mark in Philippine literature because her work is considered the first modern Philippine short story.

For Marquez-Benitez, writing was a life-long occupation. In 1919 she founded “Woman’s Home Journal”, the first women’s magazine in the country. “Filipino Love Stories”, reportedly the first anthology of Philippine stories in English by Filipinos, was compiled in 1928 by Marquez-Benitez from the works of her students.

When her husband died in 1951, she took over as editor of the Philippine Journal of Education at UP. She held the editorial post for over two decades.

Paz Marquez-Benitez’s “Dead Stars” is my favorite Filipino short stories of all time, and “Blue Blood of the Big Astana” by Ibrahim A. Jubaira comes second.

“Dead Stars” is the 1925 short story that gave birth to modern Philippine writing in English.

The theme of love is one of the most used and abused, and yet it is still the one that sells the most. “Dead Stars” is a story of love—love gained and love lost.

“Six weeks ago that house meant nothing to him save that it was the Martinez house, rented and occupied by Judge del Valle and his family. Six weeks ago Julia Salas meant nothing to him; he did not even know her name; but now—“thus thinks Alfredo Salazar.  Alfredo Salazar is engaged to Esperanza but is having second thoughts on marrying the latter after he had met Julia Salas.

“It was so easy to forget up there, away from the prying eyes of the world, so easy and so poignantly sweet. The beloved woman, he standing close to her, the shadows around, enfolding, “thinks Alfredo Salazar. It was also like saying that he enjoys being with Julia, being in Julia’s house as it is “away form the prying eyes of the world.”  This thought is like a rebellion of Alfredo on how society judges or rates its people.  Alfredo Salazar knows that when society finds out that he enjoys being with Julia Salas’s company, the society will judge or criticize him for being with another woman given that he is undeniably engaged to Esperanza.

“Was he becoming a poet, or is there a poet lurking in the heart of every man?” This means that Julia Salas brings out the poet in Alfredo Salazar. And upon this realization, the readers would assume that Alfredo is falling in love with Julia. Isn’t it often said that inlove people are mushy or poetically pathetic if not completely poetic?

“I could study you all my life…”

“So long?”

“I should like to.”

            This exchange of conversation between Julia Salas and Alfredo Salazar validates the readers’ assumption that Alfredo Salazar is falling or is already in love with Julia Salas. He subtly stressed that he “should like to study Julia all his life,” meaning that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. This is taboo in our society; turning your back on somebody you first promised yourself. Turning your back on your engagement.

“Mr. Salazar,” she broke into his silence, “I wish to congratulate you.”

Her tone told him that she had learned, at last. That was inevitable.

“For what?”

“For your approaching wedding.”

Some explanation was due her, surely. Yet what could he say that would not offend?

“I should have offered congratulations long before, but you know mere visitors are slow about getting the news,” she continued.

           

I hate this part. I can sense some kind of a sarcasm in Julia Salas’s last statement. I hate Alfredo Salazar for not telling Julia Salas right away about his engagement. Had he just told her, Julia would have made a way to limit their chatting, to control herself and her emotions.  Did Afredo Salazar enjoy his “I’m-single” make believe? Did Alfredo Salazar did not tell Julia of his engagement because he forgot to or did not really want to?

“Julita,” he said in his slow, thoughtful manner, “did you ever have to choose between something you wanted to do and something you had to do?”

 

            In this line, the readers would understand that Alfredo had no choice but to marry Esperanza—he had to.

“Why do you get angry? I do not understand you at all! I think I know why you have been indifferent to me lately. I am not blind, or deaf; I see and hear what perhaps some are trying to keep from me.” The blood surged into his very eyes and his hearing sharpened to points of acute pain. What would she say next?

“Why don’t you speak out frankly before it is too late? You need not think of me and of what people will say.” Her voice trembled.

 

            Esperanza was giving him a way to run to Julia, a way to cancel their wedding. Esperanza was saying that he just had to be honest with her and all the society’s rumors and judgment be damned.

“If you mean you want to take back your word, if you are tired of–why don’t you tell me you are tired of me?” she burst out in a storm of weeping that left him completely shamed and unnerved.

            But Alfredo Salazar was a coward or was just egoistic. He did not do what Esperanza told him to do. He ignored Esperanza’s advice. This reflects the society Alfredo Salazar lives in. In a male dominated society, man is the founding principle and the woman is the excluded opposite of this; and as long as such distinction is tightly held in place, the whole system can function effectively.

According to post-structuralists, in deconstruction, oppositions are interrelated. Oppositions can be partly undermined, or by which they can be shown partly to undermine each other in the process of textual meaning. Woman is the opposite, the “other” of man: she is non-man, defective man, assigned a chiefly negative value in relation to the male first principle. But equally, man is what he is only by ceaselessly shutting out this other or opposite; defining himself in antithesis to it, and his whole identity is therefore caught up and put at risk in the very gesture by which he seeks to asset his unique, autonomous existence.

Woman is not just an other in the sense of something beyond his knowledge, but an other intimately related to him as the image of what he is not, a constant reminder of what he is. Not only is a man’s being parasitically dependent upon the woman, and upon the act of excluding and subordinating her, but one reason why such exclusion is necessary is because she may not be quite so other after all.

He cares so much about his reputation; it was as if he would be a lesser man if he turned his back on their wedding.

“So all these years–since when?–he had been seeing the light of dead stars, long extinguished, yet seemingly still in their appointed places in the heavens.”

Dead stars refer to Alfredo Salazar’s loss– lost youth and lost love. He missed his youth and Julia Salas. “I miss you.” What other message is there? Nothing else, except exactly just that, “I miss you”, and everything else is pulled along into it, like a chain reaction. Unlike “I love you” and the lies that go along with it, “I miss you” is honest and sincere, you only say it when you mean it, and you don’t have to mean it in a big way to really mean it. Unlike “I want you” and its expectations, “I miss you” offers all it has, and waits for nothing in return. Unlike “I need you” and its desperate whines, “I miss you” stands on its own, a whole entity in just three words, devoid of arms that cling to you for life.

I miss you” means everything and nothing, it is unflinching and honest. It is upbeat and simple, with wisps of longing and clouds of hope. You miss people you used to love, people you used to want, people you used to need. But most of the time the missing is all that’s left, and that’s OK, there’s nothing else you’d change. The missing implies a past that remains in its rightful place. Or it implies the reality and possibilities of the present. It is hope and love and lust and peace all at the same time. Some people say that when they met that person, it was akin to “coming home”. And missing is this manifestation of home-sickness, the way people return to their homelands to die, the way all the comfort the world has to offer is nothing compared to the feeling of being in someone’s arms.

And that’s why he misses his youth and Julia you, because they’re not there anymore, and because every time he think about his youth and Julia, that’s all that he thinks. He misses her, and the world turns for both of them, and he can’t wait until she comes home.

“Love–he seemed to have missed it. Or was the love that others told about a mere fabrication of perfervid imagination, an exaggeration of the commonplace, a glorification of insipid monotonies such as made up his love life? Was love a combination of circumstances, or sheer native capacity of soul? In those days love was, for him, still the eternal puzzle; for love, as he knew it, was a stranger to love as he divined it might be.”  Alfredo Salazar in Dead Stars.

A Night in the Hills by Paz Marquez-Benitez, for me, is less poignant than Dad Stars. It talks about Gerardo Luna’s dream of going to the forest and I find it somehow philosophical.

“No, not Peregrina for him! Not even for his own sake, much less Sotera’s.”

It was stated how he despised the thought of marrying Peregrina but at the end of the story, we see that he would ask her to marry him.

We see how women are just men’s second choice…or last choice when their dreams go awry.

 

Copyright: October 16, 2009
Literature 151

Sources:

Literary Theory: An Introduction 2nd Edition by Terry Eagleton

Dead Stars by Paz Marqez-Benitez

A Night in the Hills by Paz Marquez-Benitez

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paz_M%C3%A1rquez-Ben%C3%ADtez

http://www.peyups.com/article.khtml?sid=3831

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