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Satire and Political Purpose in the Novels of Jose Rizal*


More than a century ago, future national hero, Jose Rizal, attempted to put the Spanish colonial presence in a bad light. While in Europe, Rizal wrote two future classics, the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo, through which Rizal made known his views towards colonial and religious oppression, his hopes for his country and his place in the then revolution in the works. While achieving modest success in Europe, the Noli, a triumph in satire, had limited impact in the Philippines when it was published in 1884, much to Rizal’s dismay. The Noli merely earned him a token filibustero status and a place in the watch list upon his return but was inconsequential in terms of raising political consciousness. No reform forthcoming, Rizal retreated to Europe and wrote the sequal. Equally satirical and politically sharp, the Fili took on the same laughably absurd character and situations but was of darker humor and more violently tragic resolutions, reflecting Rizal’s final recognition of the futility of his role as a poet.

Rizal’s first novel, Noli Me Tangere, was published in 1884; by then Rizal had already been living for four years in Europe. The purpose of the novel was very simply to raise political consciousness in relation to the current state of affairs in the Philippines. Rizal and his fellow students from the Philippines studying in Spain had tried to disseminate information about their country through journalism and public debate, an enterprise referred to at the time by the term “propaganda” taken in its original sense of publishing information, but their success was relatively limited (Schumacher, 1973). Paradoxically perhaps, the freedom which they found in Spain to criticise and publish their views meant that in the context of all the other political debates which were raging at the time, not least of which were those concerning Cuba and Puerto Rico, the issues relating to the...