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The Power and Peril of Language: A Critical Essay on Renato E Madrid's The Gift of Tongues


Brief Summary Of The Gift Of Tongues By Renato E Madrid 173




The Gift of Tongues is a short story written by Renato E Madrid, a Filipino writer who is known for his works that explore the dark side of human nature and society. The story was first published in 1966 in the Philippines Free Press, and later included in his collection of stories titled Southern Harvest in 1967. The story is about a young boy named Luis who discovers that he has a supernatural ability to speak in different languages, and how this gift affects his life and the people around him. In this article, we will provide a brief summary of the story, as well as an analysis of its main theme, symbolism, irony, and critique.




Brief Summary Of The Gift Of Tongues By Renato E Madrid 173



Introduction




What is the gift of tongues?




The gift of tongues, also known as glossolalia, is a phenomenon in which a person speaks or utters sounds in a language that they do not know or understand. It is often associated with religious or spiritual experiences, such as Pentecostalism, charismatic Christianity, and ecstatic mysticism. Some people believe that the gift of tongues is a sign of divine inspiration or communication, while others view it as a form of psychological or linguistic expression.


Who is Renato E Madrid?




Renato E Madrid is a Filipino writer who was born in 1936 in Cebu City. He studied at the University of San Carlos and later at the University of Santo Tomas, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English. He worked as a journalist, editor, teacher, and public relations officer before becoming a full-time writer. He has written several novels, short stories, essays, and poems that reflect his interest in Philippine history, culture, politics, and psychology. Some of his notable works include Southern Harvest (1967), A Season of Grace (1976), Blood Season (1985), and People on Claveria Street (1994).


What is the main theme of the story?




The main theme of the story is the paradoxical nature of the gift of tongues. On one hand, it is a gift that enables Luis to communicate with different people and cultures, and to learn new things and perspectives. On the other hand, it is a curse that isolates him from his family and society, and exposes him to danger and exploitation. The story explores how Luis struggles to cope with his gift and its consequences, and how he ultimately finds his identity and purpose.


Summary of the plot




The setting and the characters




The story is set in Cebu City during the American colonial period in the early 20th century. The main character is Luis, a young boy who lives with his mother Teresa and his stepfather Pedro in a poor neighborhood. Luis is an intelligent and curious child who loves to read books and learn new things. He also has a special gift: he can speak in any language that he hears or reads, even if he does not know what it means. He can speak English, Spanish, French, German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and many more.


Luis's gift is discovered by Father Benito, a Spanish priest who visits his school and hears him recite the Lord's Prayer in Latin. Father Benito is amazed by Luis's ability and decides to take him under his wing. He teaches him more languages and exposes him to different cultures and religions. He also introduces him to Don Ramon, a wealthy and influential businessman who is interested in Luis's gift. Don Ramon offers to sponsor Luis's education and to take him to Manila and abroad.


The conflict and the climax




Luis's gift, however, is not welcomed by everyone. His mother Teresa is afraid that he will lose his faith and his identity as a Filipino. She is also jealous of Father Benito and Don Ramon, who she thinks are trying to take her son away from her. She accuses Luis of being a demon and a traitor, and tries to stop him from leaving with Don Ramon.


His stepfather Pedro is also hostile to Luis's gift. He is a drunkard and a gambler who abuses Luis and Teresa. He resents Luis for being smarter and more favored than him. He also sees Luis as a threat to his authority and his income. He plans to sell Luis to a circus or a freak show, where he can make money from his gift.


The climax of the story occurs when Pedro kidnaps Luis and takes him to a warehouse, where he intends to sell him to a foreigner. Luis tries to escape, but Pedro catches him and beats him up. Luis then uses his gift to curse Pedro in different languages, calling him a pig, a dog, a snake, and other insults. Pedro is enraged by Luis's words and stabs him with a knife.


The resolution and the twist




Luis survives the stabbing, but loses his gift of tongues. He can no longer speak or understand any language except Cebuano, his native tongue. He is taken to the hospital by Father Benito and Don Ramon, who are shocked and saddened by what happened. They promise to take care of him and to help him recover.


The twist of the story is revealed in the last paragraph, when Luis narrates his own thoughts. He reveals that he did not lose his gift of tongues, but rather chose to hide it from everyone. He says that he realized that his gift was not a blessing, but a burden, that made him different and alienated from others. He says that he decided to pretend that he lost his gift, so that he can live a normal life as a Filipino boy.


Analysis of the story




The symbolism of the gift of tongues




The gift of tongues symbolizes the power and the peril of language and communication. On one hand, it represents the ability to connect with different people and cultures, and to learn new things and perspectives. On the other hand, it represents the risk of losing one's identity and belonging, and of being misunderstood and exploited. The gift of tongues also symbolizes the colonial history of the Philippines, which was influenced by different languages and cultures, such as Spanish, American, Chinese, Japanese, and others.


The irony of the title




The title of the story is ironic because it suggests that the gift of tongues is something positive and desirable, while in reality it is something negative and harmful for Luis. The title also refers to the biblical story of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and gave them the ability to speak in different languages, so that they can spread the gospel to all nations. However, in Luis's case, his gift does not bring him closer to God or to others, but rather drives him away from them.


The critique of colonialism and religion




The story also critiques the effects of colonialism and religion on the Filipino people and culture. It shows how Luis is exploited by Father Benito and Don Ramon, who use his gift for their own interests and agendas. Father Benito wants to use Luis as a tool for evangelization and conversion, while Don Ramon wants to use Luis as a source of profit and prestige. They do not care about Luis's well-being or happiness, but only about his gift.


The story also shows how Luis's mother Teresa is oppressed by her husband Pedro, who represents the abusive and corrupt colonial system that dominated the Philippines for centuries. Pedro treats Teresa as his property and his slave, who has no rights or voice. He also treats Luis as his commodity and his enemy, who has no dignity or respect.


Conclusion




The main message of the story




The relevance of the story today




The story is still relevant today because it raises important questions about the role and impact of language and communication in our globalized and multicultural world. How do we communicate with people who speak different languages and have different cultures? How do we preserve our own identity and culture while learning from others? How do we avoid being exploited or exploited by others because of our language skills or lack thereof?


The personal opinion of the writer




In my personal opinion, the story is a powerful and tragic tale that shows the dark side of human nature and society. It shows how a gift can become a curse, and how a boy can lose his innocence and happiness because of his gift. It also shows how people can be cruel and selfish, and how they can use and abuse others for their own benefit. I think the story is a warning and a reminder for us to be careful and compassionate when we communicate with others, and to respect and appreciate our own and other's languages and cultures.


FAQs




Here are some frequently asked questions about the story:



  • What is the genre of the story?



The story is a mix of realism and fantasy. It depicts the realistic setting and situation of the Philippines during the American colonial period, but it also introduces a fantastical element: the gift of tongues.


  • What is the point of view of the story?



The story is told in the third-person limited point of view, which means that the narrator only knows the thoughts and feelings of one character: Luis. The story also switches to the first-person point of view in the last paragraph, when Luis reveals his secret.


  • What are some literary devices used in the story?



Some literary devices used in the story are symbolism, irony, foreshadowing, imagery, and dialogue. Symbolism is when an object or an event represents something else. For example, the gift of tongues symbolizes the power and peril of language and communication. Irony is when something happens that is opposite or different from what is expected. For example, the title of the story is ironic because it suggests that the gift of tongues is something positive, while in reality it is something negative. Foreshadowing is when hints or clues are given about what will happen later in the story. For example, when Luis says that he wishes he could speak only Cebuano, it foreshadows that he will lose his gift of tongues. Imagery is when descriptive words are used to create a picture in the reader's mind. For example, when Luis describes Pedro as having "a face like a pig's snout" and "eyes like two black holes". Dialogue is when characters speak to each other. For example, when Luis curses Pedro in different languages.


  • What are some themes or messages of the story?



Some themes or messages of the story are: - The paradoxical nature of the gift of tongues - The effects of colonialism and religion on the Filipino people and culture - The importance of identity and belonging - The cruelty and selfishness of human nature - The value of language and communication


  • What are some questions or reflections that the story inspires?



Some questions or reflections that the story inspires are: - Do you think Luis made the right decision to hide his gift? Why or why not? - How would you react if you had the gift of tongues? How would you use it? - How do you communicate with people who speak different languages or have different cultures? What challenges or opportunities do you face? - How do you preserve your own identity and culture while learning from others? What do you value or appreciate about your own and other's languages and cultures? - How do you avoid being exploited or exploited by others because of your language skills or lack thereof? How do you respect and protect yourself and others?


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