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A Structuralist Reading of F. Sionil Jose’s “Hero”

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Let me ask you one question, who here doesn’t know Batman, Superman, Spiderman or even Kick Ass? Most of us know them, right? They have fought with the Joker, Green Goblin, Lex Luther and Red Mist. Don’t you ever notice that mostly all the time the villains are the proud ones that spreads to the world that they have saved someone? While the real heroes wear masks, capes and jumpsuits to prevent the public from knowing who they really are and they keep their mouth shuts about something extraordinary they did.

Francisco Sionil Jose was born on Rosales, Pangasinan during December 3, 1924. (http://www.engr.uvic.ca/~art/afsj.html) His novels and short stories depict the social underpinnings of class struggles and colonialism in Filipino society. (http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/F._Sionil_Jos%C3%A9) In other words, he writes short stories about injustice and “Hero” is evident of injustice.

In this short story, Cornelio De Dios, a tragic hero who saved the country and was not had given any credit or recognition. “A tragic hero is a man of noble stature. He is not an ordinary man, but a man with outstanding quality and greatness about him. His own destruction is for a greater cause or principle.” (http://shakespeare.nuvvo.com/lesson/4435-elements-of-a-tragic-hero-in- literature ) The question is, how is the archetypal tragic hero seen in F. Sionil Jose’s “Hero”? In F. Sionil Jose’s “Hero”, the archetypal tragic hero is evident through the binary oppositions of health vs. sickness and rich vs. poor and through the conflict and setting seen in the text. This paper desires to achieve the following goals at the end of this essay: a) how the binary opposition of health vs. sickness reveals the archetypal tragic hero; b) how the conflict reveals the archetypal tragic hero; and c) to discuss the features and traits of the main character that embody the archetypal tragic hero.

To achieve these goals, there are two assumptions that will be used to critique this story. The first one is New Criticism, this enables to explore and dissect all the literary elements that were used in the story and how it signifies something or someone. The second is Structuralism, “it attempts to identify the smallest meaningful units in a work and study their modes of combination with a view to understanding how meaning is created rather than interpreting the actual meaning conveyed by a particular text.” (http://www2.cnr.edu/home/bmcmanus/structuralism.html)

This story took place during the Filipino-Japanese war and what happened after it. Cornelio De Dios, an ex-history teacher, a corporal, the main character and the archetypal tragic hero who fought for peace and independence of the country. Lieutenant Andres Bravo, the platoon leader and so-called “Hero” is the one who is very full of himself and spreads to everyone that he is the one that saved the country from the invaders.

“Yes, everything was happening very fast. You were  wounded, you know. You may lost a bit of your  memory because of that but I remember everything…”

“Yes, Sir.”
“I fought them.” Andres Bravo said hoarsely, but there was no strength, no conviction in his voice.  (Waya-Waya and Other Short Stories From the Philippines, 1980, p.174)

The setting of the text started in 36-B Wagas Street. This is where Cornelio De Dios lives. The front door of the house was always open because no one would want to steal anything from there. There is nothing fancy in this house and this is not a typical house that people would want to live in.

You peered into the cramped living room, nothing there  but a shabby rattan sala set, a dining table that listed, and beyond the dining table, a vintage refrigerator that creaked, the rusting kerosene stove and a few pots and pans.  There was also an old wall clock that no longer worked.  (Waya-Waya and Other Short Stories From the Philippines , 1980, p.160)

Another setting is in the Veterans hospital where Cornelio De Dios goes for his check-up because there is some sickness that is bothering him since the war. There is no specific sickness that has been stated because the doctors could not go on further tests due to insufficient funds.

In the end, the neuro-surgeon said to him blandly, professionally, that there would have to be more intensive and expensive investigations – perhaps a computerized axia! Tomoraphy, cerebral angiography, and studies in the cerebral blood flow. All this was patiently explained and with it, the conclusion that there was not much that could be done, not in his old age and without adequate funds.. (Waya-Waya and Other  Short Stories From the Philippines, 1980, p.175)

The two settings reveal Cornelio De Dios’ social status and physical state and this is where the binary oppositions of rich vs. poor and health vs. sickness is explored.

The first binary opposition that will be further discussed in this paragraph is rich vs. poor. Cornelio De Dios’ house is very evident on how he lives his typical life and it shows that he does not live a luxurious life. On the other hand, Lieutenant Andres Bravo is an industrialist, nationalist leader, winner of the medal of Valor, defender of Bataan and Corregidor, trading partner of the Japanese, president of the Japanese – Philippine “Tayo – Tayo” association and hotel owner. By this characterization, it proves that Andres Bravo is rich and belongs to the upper class unlike Cornelio De Dios.

The second binary opposition is health vs. sickness, Cornelio De Dios suffered from a very serious illness and that is very evident throughout the whole story because it always states there how bad he is feeling and he cannot walk without crutches anymore.

In the year before he retired, Cornelio De Dios could no longer walk without crutches. The Veterans Hospital  could not do much; the X-rays showed no damage to his ones, no arthritis either, but there was  something terribly wrong with him. (Waya-Waya and Other Short Stories From the Philippines , 1980, p.174)

While Lieutenant Bravo was still healthy and he is still standing strong and he is also gaining more and more achievements every single day. The evidence of his on-going achievements can be seen through the paragraph where the other binary opposition of rich vs. poor is dissected further.

The conflict of a man vs. society is very much evident because society cannot accept the fact that a low-class person will be able to save the country but if it is an high-class person, it is always believable because they easily gets carried away because of wealth, fame and power and that has became the main problem of the society.

Always, men had professed the loftiest of motives  just as Bravo had flourished on his Bataan heroism; always  men had spoken in dulcet words, in phrases of honey and many heard believed, for who would not believe those who possess the authority of high office?  (Waya-Waya and Other Short Stories From the Philippines, 1980, p.175-176)

Will they ever consider the real personality behind the personas? Everyone believed in Lieutenant Bravo because he has high authority. Everyone thinks he is the real hero and saviour of the country even though he is not. This proves that society can be very judgemental and bias.

“And you are proud, Papa? You are ill. But the world is sicker than you. And we cannot hide it anymore. The illness is for all to see. It is not malnutrition, although that is real. In fact, it is in the bloated faces of those wealthy and powerful.  (Waya-Waya and Other Short Stories From the Philippines , 1980, p.179)

He is an arrogant individual and he also makes Cornelio De Dios look like a fool. Not only did he spread the news about his heroic “deed” but he also abused Cornelio De Dios’s daughter.
“Papa, Andres Bravo is not only a coward.
He is more than that. He seduced me. He started me on this..” (Waya-Waya and Other Short Stories From the Philippines, 1980, p.179)

The overall theme of the story is justice. Cornelio De Dios risk his own life just to save the country to gain its independence and he is not asking for anything in return. He is also willing to save the villain despite how badly he treats him. This is the true definition of a hero.

“Bravo was no hero. It was I – It was I who stopped  the Japanese with the Garand. He was a lieutenant,  and I was just a corporal. He was conscious, and I became unconscious. I saved his life, killed the Japanese who bayoneted him – I remember this. I wanted him to confirm it. I want to tell him that I knew, he was frozen there with fear when the moment came… he knew… I knew, and that’s all that matters, although the rest of the  world elected to believe otherwise.  (Waya-Waya and Other Short Stories From the Philippines, 1980, p.178)

The setting, conflict and binary oppositions reveal the archetypal tragic hero. It is seen that even though how heroic his sacrifices are, he was still not recognized or credited because people in society can be fooled by people in official and the instantly believe that whatever the official says, it is the truth. Despite that circumstance, Cornelio De Dios did not complain nor weep by the occasion. Instead, he accepted every suffering he is experiencing and he is still trying to live life in a positive way.

The archetypal tragic hero is seen through the binary opposition of rich vs. poor and sickness vs. health and the conflict and setting seen in the text. The archetypal tragic hero often suffers through a lot despite doing a lot for something or someone. The binary oppositions shows his suffering throughout the whole story and how he handles them all. On the other hand, the conflict and setting shows more of his sufferings and despite all of that, he still choose to save the country rather than his own welfare. The main goals of how the binary opposition of health vs. sickness reveals the archetypal tragic hero, how the conflict reveals the archetypal tragic hero, and to discuss the features and traits of the main character that embody the archetypal tragic hero have been explored further in this paper. The following elements are evident through the discussions made in the earlier paragraphs. The points and textual evidences help in dissecting the elements for this paper to be a successful literary critique.

The theme of justice is depicted well and is very much evident as the story progresses. He choose peace over own sake and that alone, truly depicts justice and shows that he is a real hero.


I. Hero by F. Sionil Jose

II. http://www.engr.uvic.ca/~art/afsj.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._Sionil_Jos%C3%A9 http://shakespeare.nuvvo.com/lesson/4435-elements-of-a-tragic-hero-in-literature http://www2.cnr.edu/home/bmcmanus/structuralism.html

Waya-Waya and Other Short Stories From the Philippines

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