(Short Story) Magnificence by Estrella Alfon
(Reaction) Imagery and Point of View in Alfon's Magnificence by: Antonio Conejos
Alfon's Magnificence is similar to Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants in that a taboo subject is implied but not stated and it takes the talent of the author, combined with the skill of the reader, to tease out the subtext of the story.
The subject of Magnificence is child abuse and the story manages to convey this primarily through imagery and point of view.Imagery - Light and Dark
Even from the very beginning Vicente, a stranger really to the family, is associated with darkness,
he would stand for a while just beyond the pool of light, his feet in the circle of illumination, the rest of him in shadow. By the same token, the children are associated incessantly with the light,
their eyes bright in the bright light.
The duality and association between light and dark immediately casts a shadow on Vicente's intentions while affirming the innocence of the children.
Interestingly the story's titular character, it is her magnificence which banishes the dark, is associated both with the light and the dark. Thus the mother is at once capable of love and caring (light) and tremendous acts of violence if necessary to defend her children (dark).
Note the movement of the mother from dark to light,
The mother looked at him, stopped in her tracks, and advanced into the light... The little girl looked at her mother, and saw the beloved face transfigured by some sort of glow.
Moreover, as she progresses into the light, saving her child, she pushes Vicente further and further into literal, as well as figurative, shadow,
The mother went to the cowering man, and marched him with a glance out of the circle of light that held the little boy... As soon as the cool air of the free night touched him, he recovered enough to turn away and run, into the shadows that ate him up.
The violence in which Vicente is
escorted out of the house is testament to the heinousness of his act as well as the strength of character and presence of mind of the mother,
Finally, the woman raised her hand and slapped him full hard in the face... And so down the stairs they went, the man backwards, his face continually open to the force of the woman's slapping... The mother thus shut his mouth, and with those hard forceful slaps she escorted him right to the other door.
After Vicente, he of the dark and shadows, is forcibly removed by the mother, light reasserts its supremacy over the children and the daughter in particular. Her old, soiled, clothes are burned; fittingly as fire is a light of purification and cleansing. Moreover, the new clothes are also associated with the light, clothes
that smelt of the clean fresh smell of clothes that had hung in the light of the sun.
Alongside the interplay of light and dark the story also provides further visual clues which reinforce the suspense of the plot as well as its overall theme.
For example, note how the cola is described, its bubbles a signifier of tension and foreboding,
She put the glass of soft drink down on the table, where in the light one could watch the little bubbles go up and down in the dark liquid. Crucially this image of bubbles in a perpetual state of suspended boiling (as the fizz in soda looks like) is introduced immediately after Vicente is caught by the mother but before she is able to act on it. Violence is about to erupt, Magnificence about to come to the fore and the story hints at this brilliantly in its sly use of ordinary soda.
Magnificence also has examples of crude imagery; crude in the sense that they immediately suggest the baseness of Vicente's perversity. Vicente is keen on handing the little girl a pencil, phallic suggestions immediately come to the mind of even the most innocent reader,
And for the little girl who he said was very bright and deserved more, he would get the biggest pencil he could find.
Magnificence, in parallel to its utilization of imagery, further heightens the tension of its plot with foreshadowing as well as skillful use of point of view.
Crucial to this point of view is the innocence of the daughter, the child who is always referred to as
little girl throughout the story. She cannot know, is oblivious to, what Vicente desires of her but at the same time she is aware on an instinctive level that something is amiss.
The man's arms tightened suddenly about the little girl until the little girl squirmed out of his arms, and laughed a little breathlessly, disturbed but innocent, looking at the man with a smiling little question of puzzlement.
This puzzlement continues as Vicente further derives gratification from the little girl's closeness, her mere proximity sufficient to bedevil him,
His face was all in sweat, and his eyes looked very strange, and he indicated to her that she must turn around, attend to the homework she was writing.
As the tension, and Vicente, both reach a crescendo, the little girl knows enough to be afraid,
But the little girl felt very queer, she didn't know why, all of a sudden she was immensely frightened, and she jumped up away from Vicente's lap.
As a testament though to the mother's Magnificence, the child's remains innocent at the end of the story. The little girl does not seem unduly traumatized by the events which frightened her at the time but overall did not make a lasting impression on her
as the girl dropped off into quick slumber.
Magnificence is a favorite of Philippine literature classes and it's easy to see why. Alfon's story is artful and graceful in dealing with a disturbing subject. Indeed, the story is less about Vicente's perversion than the mother's response to the threat against her child. While many ascribe a feminist reading to Magnificence (an obvious interpretation given the strength of the mother and the complete apathy of the father) I think the story can be appreciated sans theory for its strong plot, arresting imagery and sly foreshadowings.
You can find a full copy of the story here.