Manuel Arguilla’s short story “Rice” (1938) presents the readers with a meandering of events that mirrors two literary approaches. One is of a psychoanalytic perspective wherein the three divisions of the psyche are what rule or interplay in the evolution of the story. One division is the id, which is part of the psyche that is completely unconscious and is the source of psychic energy derived from instinctual needs and drives. The second division is the ego which is the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality especially by functioning both in the perception of and adaptation to reality. Lastly, is the superego which is the part of the psyche that is only partly conscious, which represents internalization of parental conscience and the rules of society, and which roles to reward and punish by a system of moral attitudes, conscience, and a sense of guilt. The other literary approach could be a Marxist perspective which states that a literary work may comprise a lesson about the impact in our lives of the immorality and shared indecency of the well-off classes who are given the rights to run and control our economic system.
The story begins with Mang Pablo, an old farmer in Hacienda Consuelo who is on his way home, looking for his family to report his mischief for that day’s harvest. Osiang, the wife of his good friend, Andres, meets him as she comes out of their hut. Mang Pablo, due to his old age, struggles to inform Osiang of that day’s harvest for she is caught up hitting in her mortar. Meanwhile, Osiang rants about the immorality of the people from Hacienda Consuelo to have them, the low-class people settling in the place, pay a fine of five 1cavanes of rice for a handful of snails they would get in the creek. Mang Pablo, once again, struggles to inform Osiang that there’s no rice for that day.
The story shifts to a flashback of what happened in the morning when he, Mang Pablo, together with the other tenants of Hacienda Consuelo have pushed to the house of the Senora to borrow grain. Unfortunately for him and his fellow farmers, an announcement comes from the 2encargado of the sacks of rice. The announcement says that five sacks of rice to be borrowed on that day will become ten at harvest time. This news terribly surprises Mang Pablo and the other farmers, ranting that they have always borrowed 3tersiohan i.e. four cavanes of rice for six. After which, the Señora comes out with her cane beating the polished floor as she threatens the farmers with the news that every sack of rice harvested on that day will be loaded by trucks and be delivered to the city; consequently the tenants will definitely starve of hunger.
The story shifts back to the present with Osiang, who is nevertheless oblivious that there’s no rice for that day, offering Mang Pablo coals from her stove. Mang Pablo tries once again to inform Osiang of the terrible news but she goes back to hitting in her little stone mortar.
After some time, Osiang’s husband, arrives and meets up with Mang Pablo. Mang Pablo insists on stopping Andres and their fellow farmers’ plan of robbing rice and killing the truckloaders but Andres’ mind is made up. They argue on the consequences of their plan. Mang Pablo comments on going to 4Bilibid if they continue with their plan. Andres answers back, saying there will be rice in the Bilibid. Mang Pablo insists again on what they would gain if they would go by their plan. Andres answers this, stating, the rice is for their wives and they children.
After Andres and Osiang’s exit arrives his family together with a watchman. The watchman approaches Mang Pablo and informs him of the violation – picking snails from the creek – his family committed and the fine they have to pay. Then they walk home. Sabel, Mang Pablo’s daughter, repeatedly cries to his father of hunger. After contemplating what to do with his desperate situation, Mang Pablo grabs his bolo, comes out of their hut, and walks his way to Andres who stands silently waiting for him by the broken-down fence.
As aforementioned the story of “Rice” could be viewed in two literary perspectives. One is that of a Marxist perspective. In the story, the Señora in Hacienda Consuelo represents the affluent people who oppressed the powerless people represented by Mang Pablo, his family, and his fellow farmers. The Señora‘s representation of an affluent oppressor is implied when she comes out of her mansion with her cane beating the porch’s floor. A cane has both a positive and negative connotation. In the story, though, the cane symbolizes negativity – it was a tool used for beating or inflicting pain.
The Señora had come out, her cane beating a rapid tattoo on the polished floor of the porch…
The story also reflects a situation of repression and manipulation of workers by their owners. It is apparent when the announcement of five sacks of rice borrowed become ten at harvest time comes in. Mang Pablo and his fellow farmers repeated over and over that they have always borrowed tersiohan i.e. four sacks of rice become six. They insisted that 5takipan – five sacks for ten – is too much.
“Five become ten,” the encargado said, “Either that or you get no rice.”
“Do you see those trucks?” she had finished, pointing to three big red trucks under the mango tree in the yard. “If you do not take the rice today, tonight the trucks will carry every sack in sight to the city. Then I hope you all starve, you ungrateful beasts!”
The story also depicts value for things for their usefulness in the society. For the oppressed (Mang Pablo and the other farmers), rice is a thing that they, lowly people, value and use to satisfy their hunger for food. For the oppressors (Señora and the authority), they value rice for it symbolizes that they are of high social position and have strength to rule over the low-class people. This literary work’s context remains consistent with the ideology that rice is a important food for everyone to satisfy hunger, and to symbolize one’s social position and strength in the society.
An sharing characteristics literary approach to this story, besides a Marxist approach, would be a psychoanalytic perspective. As discussed, psychoanalytic approach involves the roles of the three divisions of the psyche – id, ego, and superego – in a literary work. In Arguilla’s “Rice”, an interplay of these three divisions is implied as to how he narrates each event in the story. He begins with Mang Pablo subjecting to his ego as he accepts the fact that he will forever be a lowly man bound to serve the people in strength.
Although not stated, the continuous and unconscious disregard of Osiang with Mang Pablo’s news that there will be no rice could suggest Mang Pablo’s acceptance of his current situation of living in a place dominated by people of superiority i.e. the complete ignorance of the high social class to low social class people like them.
“Andres is talking with some of the men at the house of Elis. Osiang, do you know where Sebia and the children are?”
“Why doesn’t he come home? He knows I have been waiting the whole day for the rice he is bringing home! I am so hungry. I cannot already drag my bones away from the stove. What is he doing at the house of Elis, the shameless, good-for-nothing son-of-a-whore?“
Pablo moved away from the fence, stumbling a little, for the long blades of grass got in his way. “There is no rice, Osiang,” he called back wheezily over his shoulder, but evidently the woman did not hear him for she went on talking: “Mang Pablo, how many cavanes of rice did you borrow?...”
“There is no rice, Osiang,” he whispered. He felt too tired and ineffective to raise his voice…
The following sentence taken from the selection implies that Mang Pablo succumbs to be a lowly servant to the people in Hacienda Consuelo when he couldn’t bring himself anymore to Osiang to tell the bad announcement.
Pablo looked up at her and wanted to tell her again that there was no rice, but he could not bring himself to do it…
In the middle of the story, Mang Pablo is being dominated by his superego of contradicting his fellow farmers’ plan of stealing the sacks of rice they carefully harvested and the probable chance of killing the truckloaders. It is apparent in the story when his fellow farmer, Andres, arrives home to his wife, Osiang.
“Are you coming with us?” he asked Pablo, his voice grating harshly in his throat as he strove to speak quietly. There was in his small eyes, a fierce, desperate look that Pablo found hard to meet.
“Don’t be a fool, Andres,” he said, coughing to clear his throat and trying to appear calm…
“What can you do, Andres?” he said. “You say you will stop the trucks bearing the rice to the city. That will be robbery.“
In the end what dominated in Mang Pablo’s psyche is his id. After the watchman, together with his wife and children, approach him and tell him of his family’s violation, Mang Pablo contemplates on how to find payment for his family’s violation and on how to find food to satisfy his family. His daughter, Sabel, repeatedly comes and mutters to him her hunger for food. Until that night, he decides to succumb to his id – he decides to go with Andres and their fellow farmers’ plan of stealing and killing the truckloaders of the rice they harvested in the morning.
The piece of wood at last broke and Pablo was left with a short stub in his hands. He gazed at it, sobbing with rage and weakness, then he ran to the hut crying, “Give me my bolo, Sebia, give me my bolo. We shall have food tonight.“
Following this scene, Sebia tries to stop Mang Pablo on succumbing to their plan. Mang Pablo’s superego at some point, interplay his id, leading him to his indecisiveness.
“God save me,” Pablo said, brokenly. He brought up his knees and dropping his confront between them, wept like a child…
Outside the darkness had thickened. Pablo picked his way by the tall grass in the yard. He stopped to look back at his house…
Mang Pablo’s last action shows that he has finally let his id rule him.
He tightened the belt of the heavy bolo around his waist. Pulling the old buri hat firmly over his head, he joined Andres, who stood waiting by the broken-down fence. In silence, they walked together…
“Rice” is a narrative, written by Manuel Arguilla, which depicts the way of living of farmers who are under the authority of the superiors in Hacienda Consuelo. It narrates how the rice marks the difference between the two classes, for having rice method having high social position and strength. The oppressors (represented by Señora) use their authority (of claiming rice harvested by the farmers) to win over the lowly people (the oppressed, Mang Pablo and his fellow farmers). It also narrates how one problem can rule a person to committing a heinous crime caused by desperation which is made apparent when Mang Pablo joined his fellow farmers in doing the crime for his and their families’ survival.
1cavanes – one cavanes of rice is equal to one sack of rice (fifty kilos of rice)
2encargado – one who carries loads or sacks of rice from sleds to trucks
3tersiohan – a system of borrowing among Filipinos wherein four sacks of rice is paid for six
4Bilibid – a Filipino term for “jail” or “prison”
5takipan – a system of borrowing among Filipinos wherein in five sacks of rice is paid for ten (the amount to be borrowed becomes double at harvest time)
Arguilla, M. E. 1998. How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories. Manilla: De La Salle University Press, Inc.