(Novel) Juanita Cruz by: Magdalena Gonzaga Jalandoni
(Reaction) A Capacity to Love by: Ms. Pickles
Magdalena Gonzaga Jalandoni, as a poet and a novelist, was deeply steeped in the Romantic literary ethos that started in the West during the first half of the 19th century. Romantic principles are sharply embodied in her novel Juanita Cruz, in which the subjects of oppression, loyalty, romantic and filial love, and patriotism are framed by the Romantic foregrounding of human emotion, passion, and individual vision. Most, if not all, of the characters in the novel give utmost importance to their emotions and passions as the means through which they can improve their lives. And of course, there is nobody else but the novel's heroine, Juanita Cruz herself, who really embodies the ideals of a truly Romantic character-highly misunderstood, maligned, and marginalized at varying points in her difficult but ultimately redeeming life.
Juanita's rationality and intellect are not the fulcrums that enable her story to move-it is her unwavering love for Elias Navarro, her parents, God, country, and everybody dear to her that gives her problems and resolutions. Juanita's love, in its most unadulterated form, is what ultimately shapes the novel. It is that singular factor that gives the novel its unmistakably Romantic literariness. Of course, it is the manifestations and implications of Juanita's love that give the novel its complexity, and it is particularly her love for Ely that is the core upon which the development of the novel's fictive elements hinge.
The complexity of Juanita and Ely's relationship provides the ground in which Jalandoni structures her novel. From the development of the novel's primary and secondary characters, the plot, the theme of the power of love and perseverance in battling oppression, to the elements of irony, suspense, and tension, all of the novel's fictive elements revolve around Juanita and Ely's gripping and complicated love story. The intricacy of their relationship is significant because the entire premise of the novel is dependent upon it; without the forbidding conflict between the two lovers, their families, and their milieu, Juanita's story would undoubtedly be less interesting. Without her forbidden love, Juanita would have simply been the beautiful, rich, spoiled girl who would have been contented with her family's decision to marry her off to the most eligible bachelor, instead of the rounded, humbled woman who has had to endure multiple tragedies to honor her words to her beloved. Without Juanita and Ely's relationship, the novel would have been completely different-the plot presumably less suspenseful and less enthralling. The novel would lose its riveting power if not for the irony, suspense, and tension provided by the love affair. Without the forbidden love, the theme of the novel would not have been completely realized because it is ultimately the triumph of the couple's oppressed love that wholly exhibits the primacy of emotions and passions in living a fulfilling life.
The delay in Ely's recognition of Celia de Asis as Juanita and the latter's late divulgence of her real identity adds to the complexity of their relationship. Ely's delay in recognition of Celia's true identity provides a situation wherein Juanita could ascertain his fidelity to his beloved. Hence, it is a willful decision for Juanita to keep secret from Ely the real identity of Celia de Asis:
Although my heart is afire with love for him, I still want to keep my true identity from him that I may find out exactly how much he truly loves the memory of that Nita who suffered because of him and who even offered her life for love of him.Juanita, as Celia, keeps her identity hidden from Ely because she wants to test his loyalty and love for her (Juanita) as his first beloved. She muses, as Celia, at one point, "Yes, it took me a long time accepting him because I waited to fathom the depth of his love for me." She wants to determine if Ely is indeed capable of loving another woman despite already having given his word to her. Juanita has her reservations at first, thinking that Ely "has a fickle and iron heart capable of forgetting his first love and replacing her with another whom he now fancies," but the fact that Ely decides to stop seeing her proves that he is indeed loyal and still very much in love with his "dead" beloved.
The first two reasons are essentially self-explanatory: the fateful reunion of the two lovers in Barcelona generates suspense, where the reader is left to ask whether Ely will recognize Celia as his Juanita, his first love, and if they will finally be together as the free couple they have always wanted to be. Moreover, Ely's non-recognition of Celia provides another problematic dimension to their story, one that is almost painful in its irony. There the two besotted characters were, free to finally carry out their romantic wishes, and yet a case of hidden identity further stalls their union. Juanita muses:
I know him as I know the sun that lights the world, but he, because of the change in my name and appearance, does not know me although he is trying to penetrate the mystery through the sound of my voice and laughter.As a literary technique, this delay as a suspenseful situational irony is indeed very effective as a means to sustain the interest of the mid-20th century readers of Juanita Cruz. It is imperative to know that the novel was serially published in the Hiligaynon from 1967 to 1968. Therefore, the need to keep the readers on their toes was doubtlessly crucial, as is the case with many Romantic novels that were initially serialized, such as Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo (serialized in Le Siecle in mid-1840s).
The last reason, however, ties inextricably both to the fictive form of the novel (because of character development), and the poetics of Magdalena Gonzaga Jalandoni (as a female writer who seeks to empower). Through Ely's initial non-recognition and intentional detachment from Celia de Asis, Juanita realizes the depth of his loyalty and love for her and is reassured that Ely is still indeed as noble as the young man she fell in love with. The character development for Ely is not so much a change in personality traits, but only an affirmation of his initial positive characterization. Juanita recounts:
As we talked, he too recalled Nita who looked and spoke so much like me and who died because of love for him. He remarked that he cannot do anything because Nita was dead and if fate would allow it he will replace her with another who looked exactly like his dead sweetheart if this other one will love him with as much tenderness as his former beloved. Secretly I felt happy listening to his revelation but I never betrayed my true identity as that lost Nita.Juanita is happy because she discovers just how faithful Ely is to his first love and perhaps because she, as Celia, finally has the opportunity to relive their mutual affections. Nevertheless, why prolong the agony and refuse to reveal that she is indeed Juanita Cruz? Perhaps her refusal transcends its significance as a means through which she could gauge his fidelity. Juanita's delayed relinquishing of her real identity may be a way for her way to prevent regressing into her troubled past. Celia de Asis might have already been a symbol for her-a symbol of her "better future" and freedom, for as Celia she is "[f]ree to escape, . . . and free to start a new life and identity." Juanita's adherence to her new identity perhaps is her way of abandoning her oppressed past, since the desire to progress well in life and ultimately achieve their aspirations is intrinsic in her personality as well as in most of the novel's characters. Also, her delayed disclosure gives further texture to her character-she is revealed as a woman who, despite being completely faithful, virtuous, strong, and courageous, is also vulnerable to insecurity, what with having gone through the many tragedies that beset her in her young life.
Juanita Cruz as a Philippine literary masterpiece resonates on so many levels-from the level of leisure (as a text that is meant to entertain and engage the attention of its readers), to the critical ranks of social, cultural, and political significance. It is socially, culturally, and politically significant because it embodies, in Romantic-realist fictive discourse, "nationalist and feminist intent, values, and meaning." Never mind that the author is a woman who was writing in vernacular; the novel could stand on its own as a truly Romantic "verbal icon" that could be touched only due to the need of translation because of its literary relevance as a far-reaching, multilayered love story. The novel begins and ends with images of Juanita and Ely's involvement in the Philippine Revolution of 1898, and this framing underscores the nationalist verve not only of the novel's protagonists, but also of the author herself.
Patriotism, then, is the macrocosmic manifestation of the characters' desire to escape oppression, improve their lives, and achieve independence. Juanita and Ely join the Katipunan in order to fight their country's colonizers, and it is their conscious way of fighting oppression together-a joint battle made sweeter by its contrast to their previous helplessness in the face of subjugation by Juanita's overbearing family. Notably, Juanita's sense of patriotism is so intense that she "sacrificed the peace of her love and marriage, status, and ultimately her loved one for the Revolution." She surrenders everything she has suffered for thus far just so she could participate in the only struggle that would eventually give her and those around her that ultimate freedom they have been wishing for.
The characters' basic desire to be free undoubtedly replicates the situation of the Filipino populace in the temporal reality mirrored by the novel. Hosillos says, "there is an existential dimension in Jalandoni's characters struggling to be free, awakening to their realities and their desire to improve their lives." That very same "existential dimension" gripped Filipinos during Spanish colonization, and in fact, this dimension seems to grip Filipinos to this very day and age.
In Juanita Cruz there is no radical departure from the norm, no earth-shattering subversion of what is set in reality, only a realistic portrayal of what could happen if a situation such as Juanita and Ely's were to exist. Ultimately, it is Magdalena Gonzaga Jalandoni's skill in her Romantic-realist interweaving of patriotism and feminism into Juanita and Ely's complicated love story that gives Juanita Cruz its value as a Philippine literary masterpiece.
Still mulling it over.