(Short Story) How My Brother Leon Bought Home a Wife by: Manuel Arguilla
(Reaction) Clashing Worlds by: Antonio Conejos
View other reactions on works by Manuel Arguilla.
Arguilla's short story can be read as the uneasy intermingling of two approaching social spheres, the urban and the rural. This is in many ways a fish out of water story, Maria is out of her element in the countryside and Leon out of his element in attempting to reconnect with his father (who is the mastermind behind much of the plot) and convince him that Maria is a worthy daughter in law.
The wife, Maria, is distinctively of the city. Her references are urban,
It is so many times bigger and brighter than it was at Ermita beach. and she has to be instructed in the proper way of riding a cart,
Maria, sit down on the hay and hold on to anything. There too is the tentativeness in which she approaches the carabao Labang,
She hesitated and I saw that her eyes were on the long, curving horns.
Moreover, she carries with her as well the slight imperiousness of the city, shown when she identifies the narrator as if bestowing his name,
'You are Baldo,' she said and placed her hand lightly on my shoulder.
Adding to Maria's allure is her distinctiveness
other-ness which quickly besots the narrator, Baldo. He repeatedly describes her as
fragrant like a morning when papayas are in bloom. Other characters in the story are similarly taken by Maria, a woman very different from those they are accustomed,
I watched Ca Celin, where he stood in front of his horse, and he ran his fingers through its forelock and could not keep his eyes away from her.
If Maria is encountering the countryside for the first time her husband, Leon, is reintroducing himself to it. Simply put, the country folk are no longer sure of Leon who has gone off to the city and studies, gotten a new name, and then returned with a Manilena for a wife. As Baldo muses to himself,
Now where did she get that name? I pondered the matter quietly to myself, thinking Father might not like it. But it was only the name of my brother Leon said backward and it sounded much better that way.
This unease with the couple is illustrated by the arduous path home they are made to take by Leon's father. The way home is a test, of both Maria and Leon. The drive along the dry river bed is bumpy and uncomfortable,
The jolting became more frequent and painful as we crossed the low dikes. Furthermore the path is dark and isolated, sure to test the mettle of someone faint of heart,
All the laughter seemed to have gone out of her... Nobody passes through the Waig at night.
In the end, Maria passes the test and the patriarch, Father, begins to accept his new daughter in law. That Maria has passed, has begun to become accepted by the countryfolk, is seen in the final image of the story, where her scent begins to diffuse throughout the family home,
Then I went out, and in the darkened hall the fragrance of her was like a morning when papayas are in bloom.
I note that my reaction sounds somewhat sexist, ie. a daughter in law having to prove herself to the patriarch, her father in law. However this reading, given the timeframe of the story as well as various contextual support, is more than amply supported by the text. That's what the story is saying and that doesn't necessarily mean I agree with it. Note that How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife (heck even the title sounds sexist) tackles as well the mistrust between city folk and country folk, a theme which was surely starting to play out during the time of the story's writing.