Saturday, January 1, 2011

Contextual Analysis: José Rizal's last letters to Blumentritt and to his family

                                 Dr. José Rizal, age 35, prior to his execution in 1896

Rizal as a student at the University of Santo ...Image via Wikipedia

                                     José Rizal, 18, University of Santo Tomas, Manila

José Rizal, 20, Madrid, by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, oil  on canvas, 1883
My Dear Blog Reader:

You must read my (31st December, 2010) previous  blog to make sense of what follows in this blog.

In this blog, I analyze the trigger words in the letters José Rizal wrote on 29th and 30th  December, 1896,  (see previous blog)  that made him  face his Maker peacefully, resignedly, and in tranquillity on his last two days on earth.  I also included in the analysis his last thoughts  (poem) written on the eve of the 30th, while waiting for the hour of his dawn execution,  now known as the famous poem, Last Farewell.

I use the sociological research method  called  Contextual Ethnography where in one section, I tally  a count:  the number of times a word is used.   On the second section,  I gather the contextual meaning.  The first section is what I will call the "Id" or  the "personalized "I.  This is Rizal's own frame of mind at that point in time. The second section is what I call the "Receiver."  This is how his words are received and its meaning socially constructed by the circumstances and events of the time.

Caveat:  I analyzed only the trigger words that bring out Rizal's sorrowful mood in braving his anxiety and impending doom. In other words, I could have analyzed separately the happy words that manifested joy and happiness, but that will be contrary to my present objective.

Analysis of Trigger Word Count: Contextual Ethnography of Rizal's Letters.

I.  Trigger words/ number of times used

  • DIE/28

 Id. (Personal).  As we can clearly discern, Rizal's frame of mind is fixated on his premature dying, as evidenced by the unusually high number count  (28 times) of the following words:  die, shot, death, martyrdom, sleep eternal, eternal rest, final rest, last, in my memory,  premature end.  Rizal reiterates his Farewell seven times:  Twice in a letter to his father. To his brothers and sisters he talked of peace and harmony; he anticipated the severe burden his death will bring to Paciano.

(Receiver's Contextual Clue). The impending doom of his execution is felt strongly by the family, sympathizers,  supporters, and friends.  There is deep apprehension  and resentment because the political time was wrought with danger and rebellion.  There clearly was no sense of justice during his mock trial. But the message of the colonial government was-- Rizal will serve as an example to this rebellious colony.  Blumentritt was visibly affected. When he received the farewell  letter and his friend's book,  he broke down crying.  The book was an anthology of German poems which Blumentritt himself in the past had sent to his friend in Dapitan, and which Rizal had provided with comments and marginal notes.

II.   Trigger words/ number of times used

  • GRAVE/4
  • PAIN/4
  • REGRET/4
  • WEEP/4

Id. (Personal).  Rizal forgave his transgressors.  He talked about the graveyard and the pain he brought to his family and friends,  He  regretted the pain suffered and brought against those close to him and those he loved.  He enjoined them not to weep for him, but to weep  instead for the poor country. He made a  particular memorable metaphor in his letter to Paciano: the fruit is bitter because of the conditions, not because of the nature of the fruit.  He was still thinking that the end of his life was bitter, but the bitterness was caused by the conditions of the colonial society.  Rizal  envisioned a people with dignity and pride with no regrets.  He goes to his grave with no regrets for championing human dignity ( in today's lingo--of championing human rights).

(Receiver's Contextual Clue).  Rizal will be shot in the morning, he will be gone, but his relatives and friends will still be there, a colonized oppressed people stripped of their human dignity while the friars were still dominating and controlling the government, the economy, the society, and the lives and deaths of the people.  Rizal gave specific last dying instructions: no anniversary celebrations of his death. However, Philippine society and custom developed a different idea.  In the Philippines we give bigger celebrations of  the Pagkamatay  (death anniversary: 30 December)  instead of his birthday (19 June).

III. Trigger words/ number of times used


Id. (Personal).  In his last farewell poem, he envisions struggles in battlefields thirce.  This shows the conditions of his immediate environs at the time of writing: a virtual battlefield where he takes a full breath, and with his conscience  remain clear as he struggles though the din.

(Receiver's Contextual Clue)
When the receivers read the battlefield metaphor, we must remember that in 1896, the Spanish Inquisition was still an immediate threat.  During the execution, on the 30th of December, the atmosphere of the Bagumbayan crowd was likened to a battlefield.  At another battlefield level, I introduce in context, an Auto da Fé:  the execution procession for Catholic heretics  (a circus-like event attended by all) to the Puerta del Sol,   right on Plaza Mayor, Madrid led by the monarchy.   This is why on the 30th of December 1896, the whole Spanish colonial administration, Spanish officials, and lay community came.  Not watching the Auto da Fé was suspect.  Hence, omission  to witness Rizal's execution at Bagumbayan meant danger.   While the Filipinos saw the execution in enraged silence, the Spanish ladies waved their handkerchief, as if witnessing a corrida, and the men applauded, shouting Viva España!

IV.  Trigger words/ number of times used

  • DREAM/2
  • GLOOMY/2

 Id. (Personal).  Rizal  consoles his family;  he recalls his childhood dreams; and asked them to pity  the lonely and forlorn  Josephine Bracken.  In his last moments. He used the word last twice. We feel his agony.  Did he feel crucified?  We don't know for sure, but I would hazard a guess he was feeling Messianic (my Catholic family will disown me for this blasphemy) since he used the word  redemption and sacrifice twice.  (I'll come to this later.  See my Post Script at the bottom).

(Receiver's Contextual Clue)

His family clearly sees the end of his short life closing in as they contemplate the stirring emotions welling in their hearts. 

V.  Trigger words/ number of times used

  • REST/1
  • THANKS/1

Id. (Personal).  Finally Rizal is resigned to his death sentence.  Now he is rested and calm.  He sends his final regards to parents, brothers and sisters and to his bosom friend Blumentritt.  Never think ill of me he writes. He feels eternal rest is sufferable and gives thanks that he has endured. He begins to write farewell to his very beloved mother: Doña Teodora Alonso, but words fail him.  He just signed the letter and wrote the date and time at that very moment in Fort Santiago. To sister Trinidad, he hands over an alcohol lamp as a remembrance whispering in English:  There's something inside.".  In that alcohol lamp was found rolled pieces of paper containing 14 handwritten stanza's of his Ultimo Adios, Last Farewell.

(Receiver's Contextual Clue)
Rizal  on 29th of December, 1896 was found guilty of establishing illegal organizations and of supporting and inciting the crime of rebellion, and is condemned to death. When he was shot, he turned his body up so that falling on his death he falls on his back, with his face to the sun.

That shot was the prelude to the collapse of the Spanish colonial empire in the 7,000 islands.

POST SCRIPT: (Now, I come back to this part.)  On Nov. 14, 2010 I hopped on a train from Florence to attend Mass in St. Peter's Square, Rome.  Afterwards, while waiting for a train back to Florence, a Born-Again Filipina- Italian showed me my platform and we talked.  I said,  I study Rizal.  She perked up.  She asked:  Why did Rizal face up when he was shot?  I was stumped.  Was it because Rizal knew traitors were shot in the back, and he knew he wasn't a traitor?,  I asked.     She replied  emphatically"  'NO.  that's not the real reason. "The real reason was that Rizal at his last breath became a Born-Again Christian,  he died facing God. 

  • Stay with me.  In my next blog, I scan original engraved pictures of Manila during Rizal's time. I scoured Madrid's antique underworld  (Calle Huertas)  to get engravings of early Manila pictures never shown before.