English Literature Essays - Novel Conflict Alex

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Novel Conflict Alex

Book Review: Smaller and Smaller Circle

I. Critical Analysis of Plot Structure

The novel starts with Father Emil running. The mood set is that of agitation and disturbance. As the novel progresses, one will eventually also see the pattern: that each of the characters are figuratively running from a traumatic past, an experience or a memory. Interspersed in the story are a few paragraphs which describe and imply a particular character's conflict with the self. Their conflict involves either denying or covering up the characters' whereabouts or past experiences. The whole novel itself, being of the murder-mystery type, involves chasing, concealing information, uncovering secrets and solving ambiguities.

Alex, the murderer, kills children and eviscerates their bodies as a way to cope and fight against a traumatic experience in the past. He strives to run away and break free from this bitter past by destroying and getting rid of the children who remind him of his unpleasant experiences, and whom he perceives as witnesses to his shame and suffering. The dehumanizing removal of their faces, hearts, and genitals not only echoes his desire to be rid of the parts of himself he perceived to be the cause of his suffering, but also seems to speak of how dehumanized he felt after his childhood ordeal.

Attorney Arcinas, in the same vein, tries so hard to have a life which is completely different and far better than the life his parents had given him. At present, his behaviors are manifestations of his denial of his past and his attempt to disassociate himself from the status he used to have in society.

Joana, the journalist, in spite of working for the truth has a secret of her own to conceal. She has an affair with a married man; this readily lends itself to humor when we consider how her penchant for going under cover turns up in, of all places, the bedroom!

On the other hand, the keys to clearing the cloud that seems to envelope the true relationship of the two protagonists, Father Jerome and Father Saenz are left quite obviously for the readers to discover by themselves, albeit upon either the second or third re-reading; these will be discussed more thoroughly later.

In connection with the characters' attempt to deny and run away, the author also uses the image of the rain to symbolize the attempts or the efforts of the characters to wash themselves, and to bring new life - water - to what seemed to have been enveloped by hopelessness and despair - trauma and unfavorable circumstances in the case of both Joana's affair and the plight of the families of the victims.

The point of view in the story shifts throughout the plotfrom the omniscient third person to a first person, which is that of the killer's point of view, and then back again. In connection with this, the murderer's monologues aim to level him with the omniscient narrator's view, creating an aura of power, and even fear for the sake of the other characters in the story.

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The author uses dreams and recollections/flashbacks vis--vis direct narration by the omniscient narrator.

The novel ends with an impending conflict that the reader deems will have a great impact on the two lead characters. Again, as the case of the murders is solved, so there must also be a need to uncover and shed light on a matter (the very probable more-than-friendship relations between Fr. Jerome and Fr. Saenz) that is insinuated through out the story.

The plot in the story develops through the complex interaction of the characters with one another. The main conflict in the story, the serial killings, stems from a distorted relationship between mentor (PE teacher) and student (Alex); similarly, the protagonists (Fr. Jerome and Fr. Saenz) who are tasked upon to solve the cases also exhibit an extraordinary bond between them. The relationship among the characters leads them to commit actions that drive the development of the plot.

Alex's parents play the key role of revealing his traumatic past, which is what drives him to commit the murders. The differential power relations between some of the characters also drive the plot; this is seen in the case of the (NBI) Director's exertion of power over Arcinas, which puts the quest of the two protagonists to solve the murders back in track. Additionally, this time around they can be in control of things.

II. Critical Analysis of Characters

Father Saenz provides the epitome of a good mentor - one who is a good example to his student - his remaining calm during traffic jams in particular and situations which require patience and understanding in general comes to mind - especially by taking good care of and respecting his parishioners, even to the point of avoiding contact with them outside of mass in order to maintain their professional relationship.. He also tries hard to abstain from sexual fantasies or acts, such as the time when he didn't take advantage of the lady-dentist's flirting. His character is completely in contrast to that of Alex's PE teacher, who lets his perversion lead him to take sexual advantage of his students.

Father Jerome, unlike Alex, possesses high regard for his mentor, Father Saenz. He respects him not only because he is his teacher, but also because the two of them have become very good friends. If Alex loathes his teacher, even to the point of killing him, Fr. Jerome cares very much for the life of Fr. Saenz; this is very evident during the confrontation scene between Alex and Fr. Saenz, wherein Fr. Jerome exhibits concern so extreme it surprises Atty. Arcinas.

Attorney Arcinas represents the dysfunctional system of government agencies in the Philippines. Driven by his selfish motivations and greed, he grabs every opportunity he can to benefit himself, be it to his finances or his reputation. He doesn't care if he is really able to function as a defender of the law and of the people, rich or poor as they may be. Fortunately, his powers are clipped by an authority figure, the Director, who knows what Arcinas is really up to and sets him straight.

Joana, for her part, represents as an individual what the media is as an institution: persistent in its quest for truth, but just as full of anomalies, controversies, and lies within its walls. In the case of Joana, her passion for journalism and determination to uncover the truth exist vis--vis her being involved in a secret and forbidden love affair. Moreover, even if the reader gets impressed with her strong desire to uncover the truth behind the murders, s/he may be appalled by her intrusion on the relationship of the two priests.

Alex, although characterized as a murderer, may also be seen as a victim himself. As an adolescent, he is molested by a person who should've been like his second parent. He is a brilliant student, responsible and respected in school, but because of what happens between him and his PE teacher, his view of himself and of the world changes from bright to dim. His parents, on the other hand, aren't able to do anything for him with regard to what he is experiencing in school. He becomes embittered by his trauma and eventually turns angry, displacing this feeling on innocent children. He then becomes a victim of his own self, particularly his despair and wrath.

III. Critical Analysis of Themes

Taking into consideration the context of the setting of the novel, an emerging theme is that serial killers are not a stranger to the Philippine society and it is not something that should be taken lightly. This revelation of an issue creates a concern within and around us. It makes us realize the reality of the statement and it triggers certain emotions which may result in our being more vigilant.

Another emerging theme is that of pain: Pain transcends time and space, and it can be shared with others. This concept was blatantly expressed within the story through the life of the killer. During childhood, he experienced pain, suffering and humiliation that he wasn't able to escape and resolve. This pain showed itself through his emotions of anger and thoughts of violence. He constantly feels the pain and is consistently reminded of the horrors he experienced before. He shares this pain to others through his behavior: hurting, killing, and doing to others what has been done to him.

Yet another theme deals with the truth. Even if the truth is, most of the time, absolute, it may also be manipulated by people. For example, this is evident in Arcinas' attempt to present to the media a bogus suspect in place of the true murderer who still remains at large. This move of Arcina's serves as one of the conflicts in the novel.

Manipulation of truth may also take the form of using it either to benefit or destroy other people. The two lead characters used the truth to bring justice to the bereaved families of the victims. On the other hand, Joana plans to reveal the truth, or at least the perceived truth, for the benefit of her career.

Still another theme in the story points to the significance of context with regard to the behavior of people. The environment impinges upon the individual so that one cannot fully claim that a person is inherently good or bad. In the case of Alex, his traumatic experience during his adolescence greatly contributes to his abnormal behavior. Although this does not justify the killings he commits, it goes to show that a person must not be judged using his personality as basis. One must also take into consideration the experiences and events that molded him/ her to what he/ she has become.

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The novel also illustrates the vulnerability of humans. It acknowledges the fact that people, no matter what vocation or career they pursue, are still capable of making mistakes, intentionally or unintentionally. Arcinas, although a lawyer, does not really work for justice; Joana also has ulterior motives in getting and knowing the truth; Fr. Jerome also gets angry just like any other person.

The title itself, Smaller and Smaller Circles, alludes to the fact - discussed above and reiterated here for clarity's sake - that truth, although it may be subjected to manipulation, will eventually be revealed. No matter how complex the information have become because of attempts to twist the truth, with careful analysis and persistence one will arrive at the core of the truth.

IV. Critical Analysis of Language and Style

The author uses simple descriptions to illustrate the setting and set the mood in each of the scenes in the story. The novel stimulates the formation of a vivid imagery on the part of the reader, since the author attempts to tap not only a single sensory modality when describing a particular scene or event. In spite of richness in descriptions, comprehension of the text comes relatively at ease. The words, in spite of their simplicity in structure - not highfaluting at all - elicit the desired effect since they are put into context and combined with supporting data by the author (e.g. unwholesome air, maggots in it [body]).

Comparison and contrast are also utilized by Batacan as tools to develop the themes in the novel. As mentioned in the analysis of the characters, the implied contrast between Fr. Saenz and Alex's teacher serves as a justification for Alex's excessive wrath. The positive characteristics of Fr. Saenz as a mentor becomes more salient as he is put side by side with Alex's teacher, and this in turn justifies Jerome's high regard and respect for his mentor- friend. Internal contrast is also evident in the character of Joana who strives for the revelation of truth while she herself conceals a dark secret.

It is also interesting to note that the element of intrigue is instilled in the story through the manipulation of the characters, particularly Fr. Saenz and Fr. Jerome. The fact that these two characters are priests makes it ironic that they are involved in solving the murder cases - a very physical aspect of life - when they are commonly associated with the spiritual needs of the people.

Beside this, the extraordinary bond or even possibly romantic relationship - hinted at through the powerful and meaningful lines used by the author to convey her message, although stated in terms which leave enough room for the reader to imagine and give his/her own interpretation of the text - which exists between the two becomes a juicier topic because they are men of cloth. Indeed, the two men have an extraordinary rapport that goes far beyond any mentor student relationship; textual details abound. Here are a few:

The two men have an extraordinary rapport that goes far beyond any mentor student relationship. Although the two men have been more different in character and temperament, they now find themselves on either end of a baffling mutual affinity (p 22.).

Again the inexplicable rapport between the two men as Saenz glances up at him (p. 125).

It isn't Gus' job to get killed The younger priest's voice seems terribly loud to his own ears, and Arcinas blinks once or twice as though startled..... Impatiently and with violence that he never would have thought he possessed, Jerome pushes the lawyer aside and starts running. (p. 150).

Another, less controversial device utilized by Batacan to help create an affinity in the reader for the characters is the narration of simple, everyday tasks. This not only firmly sets the tale in the modern world, but also allows the reader to connect with the characters on a mundane basis; certainly we can't all relate to a detective priest's passion for forensics, but when that passion is interrupted by a craving for fast food we all find ourselves knowing what it's like to be in his shoes.

That said, it is reasonable to conclude that Batacan manages to introduce a genre almost entirely alien to our culture without turning off her readers. Her simple yet engrossing prose entices us, making us crave for more; however, a search for Philippine literature made in the same vein ultimately proves futile, leaving us to drift in smaller and smaller circles towards repeated readings of Batacan's magnum opus - hence the detection of homosexual undertones.

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