Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

1 Apr 2011

(Short Story) Footnote to Youth by: Jose Garcia Villa

(Reaction) Life-changing Footnotes by: Francis Gabriel Concepcion

In Jose Garica Villa's Footnote to Youth, he tackles the responsibilities and realities that come with marriage and the family life. In it, he narrates the story of Dodong, wherein we are introduced to Dodong when he is seventeen and seeking to marry his love Teang. He is problematic over how he intends to talk to his father about marrying Teang, going over the possible responses his father would give, and at the same time convincing himself that he is old enough to handle the responsibility.

On his way home, he makes a stop to relieve himself. The ground was broken up into many fresh wounds and fragrant with a sweetish, earthy smell. Many slender soft worms emerged from the furrows and then burrowed again deeper into the soil. The appearance of the worms and the occurrence of one worm crawling over Dodong's foot is of great importance to the story, as it serves as a revealing of Dodong's character and future. A short colorless worm marched blindly towards Dodong's foot and crawled clammily over it. Dodong got tickled and jerked his foot, flinging the worm into the air. Several characteristics attributed to the worm can also be reflected back onto Dodong's story, particularly the fact that the short worm was crawling blindly.

It would be interesting to note, as well, the connection this worm crawling over Dodong's foot has with Jose Garcia Villa's title. A footnote is simply defined as a note at the foot of the page. It is often used to give additional information to the reader regarding certain words or phrases in the text. And yet the author includes no actual footnotes in the story. As such, Jose Garcia Villa is obviously trying to put forth certain themes and messages regarding youth and life through the use of a short story. The message that comes forth to the reader through the reading of the story, then, is what we may refer to as his footnote.

However, an interesting alternative suggestion may lie within the story itself, particularly with the worm depicted in the story. The worm is described as blindly marching towards Dodong's foot, which is exactly how we could also describe Dodong and his choices in this story. Dodong blindly marched into marriage, expecting his life to become better. However, that is not what happened. Instead, after nine months Teang was pregnant with his child, and he felt incredibly unprepared:

In a few moments he would be a father. 'Father, Father,' he whispered the word with awe, with strangeness. He was young, he realized now, contradicting himself nine months ago. He was very young... He felt queer, troubled, uncomfortable....

In addition to that, for six successive years, Dodong and Teang kept having children. At this point, Teang began to feel unhappy in their marriage. She cried sometimes, wishing she had not married. She did not tell Dodong this, not wishing him to dislike her. Yet she wished she had not married. Not even Dodong whom she loved. It is interesting to note here that Teang still claims to love Dodong despite the hardships they have gone through. It should also be noted that Yet she wished she had not married, is a sentence that is separated from Not even Dodong whom she loved, meaning it is the act of marrying at a young age that she regrets, not the fact that it is Dodong whom she married. Not marrying Dodong was only an after-thought.

The story goes on, however, to describe another suitor Teang had, Lucio, who was older than Dodong by nine years. Lucio had married another after her marriage to Dodong, but he and his wife were childless until now. If she had married Lucion, she wondered, would she have borne him children? Maybe not, either. That was a better lot. But she loved Dodong.... Here we are given a clearer picture about her unhappiness and disappointment.

It is particularly regarding child-bearing at a young age that Teang is unhappy with. ...would she have borne him children? Maybe not, either. That was a better lot. The regret she feels about the marriage, then, is regarding the fact that they had children very early on in their lives. Just as Dodong's thoughts raced when his first child was born: He was young, he realized now... He was very young. The responsibility of having children was something they could not bear at such a young age, and yet it was a responsibility that they were left with and had to deal with.

This, particularly, is why Dodong's father was reluctant to give Dodong his blessing to marry. Must you marry, Dodong? his father asked. You are very young, Dodong. Despite his father's effort to dissuade him into marrying, Dodong persisted and went through with it, much to his father's dismay.

In this, we can safely conclude, then, that Dodong is just like the worm that blindly crawled onto his foot. The worm is a note that is intended for Dodong, and for readers as well, not to go charging blindly into the fray. For what happened to the worm? Dodong got tickled and jerked his foot, flinging the worm into the air. To stress this blindness even further we can look at Dodong's reaction right after flinging the worm: Dodong did not bother to look where it fell, but thought of his age, seventeen, and he said to himself he was not young anymore. From the very beginning Dodong's character is revealed as someone self-obsessed to the point that he doesn't bother to look at the consequences of his actions. This is the footnote to youth: not to charge blindly into adulthood.

And so, just like his father before him, Dodong was suddenly faced with the dilemma when his eighteen-year-old son comes up to him and asks to marry. 'You want to marry Tona,' Dodong said. He did not want Blas to marry yet. Blas was very young. The life that would follow marriage would be hard.... And yet, like his father before him, Dodong did not prevent his son from experiencing those hardships as well. In this, the story's theme becomes more universal in the sense that it is a footnote not only to the youth, but to parents as well. The theme, then, is clear in the sense that the quality of one's life is likened to that of a worm when marriage and adulthood is rushed into at a very young age.

Review:

Dodong had a question in his mind when he stepped out one night and reflected on the life he was living:

One of them was why Life did not fulfill all of Youth's dreams. Why it must be so. Why one was forsaken...after Love... Dodong could not find the answer. Maybe the question was not to be answered. It must be so to make youth Youth. Youth must be dreamfully sweet. Dreamfully sweet. Dodong returned to the house humiliated by himself. He had wanted to know a little wisdom but was denied it.

Here, it is expressed that after the stage of love (marriage), one's dreams would have to be forsaken. It is expressed that only the youth get to dream about how grand life could be, and that come a certain age, life becomes difficult, full of hardships, impossible even. To that thought, however, I would have to disagree. As is said in the narration, Dodong was denied a little wisdom, therefore suggesting that this train of thought is something that should be changed.

Jose Garcia Villa's story is meant as a warning, as the title itself suggests. A footnote is usually found at the bottom of the page, somewhat suggesting that it is of little importance as compared to the body itself, or the text. A footnote, in that sense, becomes more of an after-thought, than a primary concern. However, the fact that the title itself is proclaimed a footnote is purposefully putting forth that the subtext is what is vitally important in this story. The title being Footnote to Youth immediately suggests that the whole of the story may be the actual footnote. What most readers often miss or take for granted (the footnote) becomes the main object.

Footnotes also often suggest additional readings, references, and suggest that the word or phrase is of vital importance as compared to the rest of the text. In this sense alone, we have to acknowledge the urgency of the themes being put forth in this story.

First would be the fact that the parents in this story, Dodong's father and Dodong himself, did little to shape and mold the lives of their sons. Rather than offering guidance and wisdom based on their own personal experiences, they both decided to give in to their son's desires. The role of the parent is crucial in the molding of a child's future, and these parents neglected that responsibility by deciding to hold their tongues. As a result, their children suffer, and go through a terrible experience of marriage life.

And because they married early, they lack the experience and the know-how with regards to raising children: hence the fact that they were unable to fulfill their responsibility as parents in guiding their kids down a wiser path. In turn, it becomes an endless cycle of mishandling. Even Dodong, in his attempt to gain a little wisdom when he steps outside to reflect, is denied that wisdom. This is particularly due to the fact that his father never had that wisdom either. Such wisdom can only be passed on by those people who greatly influence our lives - which in most cases are our parents. So when dealing with his son Blas, Dodong could only do what he knew (what his father did with him) allow Blas to marry early, when he should have, instead, discouraged it.

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