The Hierarchic Existence of Society
The Bread of Salt by N.V.M. Gonzales
The Bread of Salt is an enlightening short story written by Nestor Vicente Madali Gonzales, a Filipino National Artist. The story revolves around the narrator, a young boy who learns about the realistic prevalence of social classes in a hard way. In short, it is a story that represents the boy’s innocent infatuation and his epiphany from his encounters regarding the ideals of his own society.
From the start of the story, you can already see the presence of the detachment between the two classes — the rich and the poor. The boy is the grandson of a former coconut plantation overseer while Aida was the niece of their Spanish employer. “I often wondered whether I was being depended upon to spend the years ahead in the service of this great house. One day I learned that Aida, a classmate in high school, was the old Spaniard’s niece.” This already created a wall due to their separate class relations.
However, he seems oblivious of this fact as he daydreams of a possible reality in which Aida will express her equal longing for him — right after he finds a job, buy a box of linen stationary, writes a love letter, and buy her a brooch as a token of his love for her. “At night when the house was quiet I would fill the sheets with words that would tell Aida how much l adored her. One of these mornings, perhaps before school closed for the holidays, I would borrow her algebra book and there, upon a good pageful of equations, there l would slip my message, tenderly pressing the leaves of the book.”
He has created a plan in order to acquire Aida’s love and he believed that is by changing himself and being capable of providing or buying her things. This already creates a disillusion given that 1) He is not rich enough to desire or acquire expensive things, 2) He believes that he needs to use material things and social status to gain Aida’s loving approval, and 3) He can never change the division between their classes through enacting this mentality. This fallacy was shown in his effective desire to be good in his academics, musicals, and work. He has this nagging belief that in order to be adequate for her he has to be very accomplished. Hence, this becomes a struggle for his own identity.
There were several factors in which his indigency shows: the fact that he aspires to have more money along with his present lineage. Another scene that I noticed this judgement was when he was looking at the brooch he plans to buy. The owners in effect looked pissed given that he is still a child, “I searched the downtown shops. The Chinese clerks, seeing me so young, were annoyed when I inquired about prices.”
However, I ponder whether the reason that the Chinese clerks were agitated at him was due to seeming poor — he was dark-skinned, puny, and Filipino, thus, he is incapable of buying expensive commodities.
Another event that distinguished his class was when he decided to be a musician.
Most musicians at that time were not seen as prominent in this country. Instead, they are seen as employees — an inexpensive means of entertainment. As his Aunt comments, “What do you want to be a musician for? At parties, musicians always eat last.” There is also a presence of hierarchy from within his family. I noticed that the grandmother dictates as she demanded the boy to give her his earnings. She is the head of their family and she enacts the role of a capitalist as she takes the hard-earned money of the boy as rightfully hers. I would also like to comment on his change of status when he was not given the responsibility to buy and fetch the morning pandesals anymore. It seems to be reinstated that when he started working, his class or worth went higher from within the family.
There were two symbols that I noticed in the story. The first one was pan-de-sal. While the boy was giving out a distinct description of the bread, I pondered on the metaphorical similarity between the bread and him. The bread was dark-skinned and little, “nut-brown and the size of my little fist.” Was it possible to be a reflective indication? “I could feel my body glow in the sun as though it had been instantly cast in bronze.” For me, the pandesal could be a possible symbolism of his category as a Filipino. The other eventful symbol that called attention to me was his getting a violin. Violin can be a status symbol of being rich in the Philippines and his acquiring one can be an expression of the desire to be a part of the bourgeoisie. For me, it is his symbol of aspiration — on becoming someone better (in his point of view, that is), richer, and accepted by both the society and Aida.
As much as the boy tried his best in becoming a part of the higher class, he was unsuccessful. This becomes the turning point of the story as he gained the realization that Aida did not see him in a romantic way. This happened when she caught him sneaking food and offered to give him more after the party, “If you wait a little while till they’ve gone, I’ll wrap up a big package for you,” she added. This was the part in which he realized the difference between their classes — Aida’s remark displays charity and concern as he behaved in an uncivil way by stealing food from the party. “I could not quite believe that she had seen me, and yet l was sure that she knew what I had done, and I felt all ardor for her gone from me entirely.” This shattered his fantasy of being with Aida as he cowers, mortified, from his own actions. “I walked away to the nearest door, praying that the damask curtains might hide me in my shame.” The story ends with him leaving the party, greatly disappointed upon the realization of the invisible barrier between him and Aida. He returns to his own bitter reality as he walks towards the bakery.
In the last part, to reiterate, the writer’s message, he uses his own earnings to buy his personified comfort food: pandesal for a meal.
Note: Written on March 2017
You can read the short story from this link: http://malacanang.gov.ph/75494-the-bread-of-salt-by-nvm-gonzalez/