The Chambers of the Sea
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Background of the author/text:
Edith Lopez Tiempo was a poet, fictionist, teacher, literary critic, and one of the finest Filipino writers in English whose works are characterized by a remarkable fusion of style and substance, of craftsmanship and insight. She was born on April 22, 1919 in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. Her poems are intricate verbal transfigurations of significant experiences as revealed, in two of her much anthologized pieces, “The Little Marmoset” and “Bonsai”. As a fictionist, Tiempo is as morally profound. Her language has been marked as “descriptive but unburdened by scrupulous detailing.” She is an influential tradition in Philippine literature in English. Together with her late husband, Edilberto K. Tiempo, she founded and directed the Silliman National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City, which has produced some of the country’s best writers.
Tiempo’s published works include the novels, A Blade of Fern (1978), The Native Coast (1979), and The Alien Corn (1992); the poetry collections, The Tracks of Babylon and Other Poems (1966), and The Charmer’s Box and Other Poems (1993); and the short story collection Abide, Joshua, and Other Stories (1964).
Edith L. Tiempo died on August 21, 2011 at the age of 82. The Chambers of the Sea, one of Tiempo’s short stories, deals with the issues of human identity, society, family, rejection, acceptance, stereotypes, and queerness. These topics are the obstacles in the life and times of Tio Teban, the main protagonist of the piece. Summary:
Esteban “Tio Teban” Ferrer was originally a native of Bangan where he lived with his estranged father and sisters, Quirina and Mina. The Ferrer family owns a rice land they’re expecting Teban to inherit after his father’s death. However, Teban prefers tending to his rose garden, reading, and painting to mucking around in mud and riding a horse, things his father disapproves of. When Teban’s reluctance lead to his brother-in-law, Antero to manage the lands, his sisters berate him for discontinuing the Ferrer family name. Fed up with the non-acceptance at home, Teban moved to Dumaguete to take up graduate work in the university. In Dumaguete:
For five years, Teban lived in the coastal city of Dumaguete with his cousin Amalia, her husband Miguel, and their four children; Daniel, Deena, Mario, and Tony. Despite receiving his M. A. in Political Science, Teban is dismayed at helping Amalia with chores in the household and feeling exposed whenever the children invaded his privacy. Yet despite the turmoil in his life, Teban spends his free time by strolling in his cousin’s orchard towards the path leading to a part of the beach where the fishermen work. Whenever he got to the beach, he would witness the fishermen hauling in and dividing their catch, nets, and boats sailing to and from the sea.
One afternoon, Teban received telegram informing him of his father’s death. Anticipating the complaints he’d receive from his sisters regarding the rice land, Teban walked to the beach, only this time, he witnessed the unbelievable. A group of fishermen had caught a merman and a mermaid. Characters:
Tio Teban-The main protagonist. Teban had never felt quite at home with his family at Bangan due to his womanish behaviour. Amalia-Teban’s cousin who is a housewife.
Daniel-Amalia and Miguel’s eldest child.
Deena and Mario-Amalia and Miguel’s twin daughter and son who more than once brought nothing but trouble to Teban. Tony-Amalia and Miguel’s youngest child.
Teban’s father-An owner of a rice land.
Quirina and Mina-Teban’s estranged sisters.
Antero-Mina’s husband who at the setting of the short story manages the Ferrer family’s rice land. Message:
The short story conveys one’s search for acceptance of his or her true identity in the eyes of faith, family, and society. Themes:
The Chambers of the Sea explores the roles men and women ought to play in society. Men are stereotypically described as wise, strong, natural-born leaders, and breadwinners; whereas women are described as keepers of the house, guardians of the children, and performers of dainty activities. Symbolisms:
Rice land-The Ferrer inheritance is a metaphor for society’s expectations of men. As a man, Teban is expected by his family to continue the Ferrer name by inheriting his father’s land, but due to his womanish disposition he becomes an outcast to his family. Roses-symbolize feminine nature.
Bangan-symbolizes home, which Teban feels he no longer has.
Dumaguete coastline-symbolizes opportunities. Here Teban finished his education and found solace to clear his mind from bad memories. Mermaid and merman-Their being human-fish hybrids represents Teban as being neither a man nor a woman but something in between. Literary Theory: Queer Theory
Teban is described by his family as being queer or non-heterosexual. Many in modern society struggle coping with people whose sexualities and identities contrast the stereotypical natures of the two sexes. But whether or not Teban is queer is up to the reader’s opinion as he is a model for acceptance in the changing of the times.