M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"The Small Key" by Paz Latorena

"The Small Key" by Paz Latorena (1927, 6 pages)

Short Stories of the Philippines
A Reading Life Project
1908 to 1953
Boac, Mariduque, Philippines



In conjunction with Nancy C, located in Cebu, (I am in the capital region) of the great blog, A Simple Clockwork, I have been doing a series of posts on short stories by authors from the Philippines, mostly older stories written in English.   My readership on these stories has been very high, sometimes with over 2000 page views a day.   I do not know what part of this represents a genuine interest and what percent is from students seeking help with a homework assignment but all visitors are very welcome.

One of our objectives is to try to get a new generation of readers to read these wonderful old stories.  For some of us it will bring to our mind the lives of great great grandparents we never knew and for others it will open up a whole new world.   There are also a joy to read for the beauty of their prose, their deep wisdom and their great characterizations.

In my opinion the older short stories of the Philippines are a world class literary treasures that have not gotten near the attention they merit.   They are a goldmine for students of colonial literature and those who want a glimpse of an almost forgotten way of life before the internet, mobile phones and consumerism took over the culture of the Philippines.

Paz Latorena was one of the very best of the first generation of authors from the Philippines to write primarily in English, the language of the ruler of the Philippines during most of the life of Latorena, the USA.   Latorena was educated in Manila, partially at the University of the Philippines.    She was active in the University of the Philippines writing club and was a student of another wonderful writer, Paz Marquez Benitez (on whom I have posted).  She earned a masters and doctors degree  from the University of Saint Thomas (UST).   Her students all loved her and testified to her greatness as a teacher.    Latorena's place in the history of the literature of the Philippines was established by three short stories, "The Small Key", "Desire" and "The Sunset".    

"The Small Key" is a beautiful account of the feeling of a man, whose first wife died, and his second wife.   As the story opens Latorena describes in a few lines the rural setting of the story.  The man and his wife live far from any neighbors.  Their house is surrounded by  wild bamboo.   Her husband is a very hard working prosperous farmer.   They are having lunch and the man cannot linger as the fields need plowing.  His wife is not feeling well so as he leaves he tells her he will ask Tia Maria, an aunt or a neighbor,  to stop by.

Once the husband is gone the wife begins to fold his coat.   A small key falls to the floor and the woman, in her late twenties, looks almost old.   She tries to throw herself into her work on the laundry but her eyes keep going to a small trunk in the corner of the room.  She knows in that trunk are the clothes of her husband's late first wife.   She tries to tell her self what does it matter if her husband keeps the clothes of his first wife, after all she is dead.   She begins to wonder why her husband feels he has to carry to key to the chest with him in his coat when he leaves the house.  When the husband arrives home happy that the plowing is completed, Tia Maria  meets him at the gate and tells him his wife is sick.

I will leave the rest of the story untold.

As the story closes we wonder how this will work out over the years.   The husband seems to imagine he can use the deed of his wife to gain power in the relationship and the wife knows he is mad but thinks he will get over it.

This is a marvelous story about the dynamics of marriage and I really liked it.   I will read her other two famous stories soon.

You can read this wonderful story here

Mel u


1 comment:

Nancy said...

I think the photo is Loreto Paras Sulit, and not Paz Latorena. Anyway, I just read The Small Key and her writing voice is consistent with her other short story, Sunset, which I talked about in my post. In both stories, they have that, I don't know, muffled sadness? I think if one keeps reading Latorena's works, one can easily distinguish her melancholy writing voice. The one you emailed me, I don't think if it was written by Latorena herself, but I couldn't be sure. Carlos Bulosan sounds like a great writer to talk about in the next post. I read his The Life and Death of a Filipino in America.