Wife Essay, Research Paper
HOW MY COUSIN MANUEL BROUGHT HOME A WIFE
Manuel Arguilla and Charlson Ong’s stories may have an almost similar title, with each of the main characters bringing home a wife who is different from the local people. However, the newer version addresses a much more serious issue. In Charlson Ong’s “How My Cousin Manuel Brought Home A Wife”, the writer used contrast of characters (particularly Consuelo and Mei Lu) and contemporary language to show that even in the modern age, racial discrimination still exists and destroys one’s happiness.
Hearing about his son’s return with a Brazilian wife, Mei Lu is devastated. Her agony clearly worsens to the extreme upon seeing her daughter-in-law: Consuelo, a huge and black woman whom she describes as “bigger than the great wall and blacker than the pit of her kettle”.
“She might learn to live with the fact of a foreign daughter-in-law, Spanish-speaking and all. But Consuelo? The woman simply failed to strike me as being in the universe of possibilities Aunt Mei Lu could imagine.”
It is made clear by the writer in these lines that a foreign daughter-in-law of a skin color other than black would be bearable for Mei Lu. Mother says Carlos should not have brought Consuelo to the house. But did they not send Carlos to the airport to bring the couple back home? Apparently, they were expecting a white Brazilian. At 70 and being “from an age where the word beauty conjured a fairness often described as being edible and where petite, teen-age, virgin brides were tucked neatly into fragile sedan chairs fit for babes”, Mei Lu can not accept the fact of having Consuelo, who has just the opposite qualities, as the wife of her only son. She regards Consuelo as subhuman. This she reveals by her wailing: “You call that a daughter-in-law?” Furthermore, she associates Consuelo’s black skin color with evil. Eventhough she has not spoken a word to Consuelo, except for the words “O kui” she called to her face, Mei Lu automatically assumes that she tried to kill Manuel, who was actually saved through Consuelo’s psychic abilities, and is only after Manuel’s money, which is not as much as Mei Lu thinks at all.
In contrast, Consuelo’s character is not one which is racially prejudiced. It is said in the story that Consuelo chose to break tradition to be able to heal the “Oriental person”, Manuel. Although her mother-in-law is very much different from her, and not to mention cold to her, she whole-heartedly accepts this old lady as her mother-in-law, even as her own filial mother. Her character’s psychic ability contributes a lot in reinforcing the theme of the story. Just like a person is said to have a higher soul beneath the physical plane, one’s character cannot be seen by merely looking on the physical appearance. In effect, Ong seems to be telling us that the “invisible blockage” causing Mei Lu’s sickness is actually her racial prejudice, which is also hindering her acceptance of Consuelo.
The use of contemporary language throughout the story is telling us that although the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the black slaves was made by Abraham Lincoln more than a hundred years ago, we have kept racial segregation quite intact. The story is set at a time when Cathay Pacific and other airline companies already bring people to their desired destinations, not when black slaves were compressed like canned sardines in a ship to be transported and sold in Europe. There are already such terms as illegal logging, labor costs and people, regardless of race, are supposedly entitled to equal rights. It is an age where the names Sonia Braga, Robin Padilla, PBA, Jaworski, and the wrestling world’s Roberto Duran are associated with entertainment, and where one can say “If this was Ah Siao, then I’m Jacky Chan.” without getting questioning looks.
Slang and idiomatic expressions are used in the narrator’s stream of consciousness throughout the story. Carlos says to Manuel: “Christ, if I had half your balls I’d have done something about it. I’d have looked out for her sometime and faced up to your mother.” The word balls means courage but can also connote the male’s testes, just like when Carlos expressed his feelings with the line: “Something nipped my balls.” The words babe and a knockout used in the story refer to voluptuous or gorgeous women. The phrase “picked up” are used instead of just saying learned in the following lines: “I’d thought it a strange Latin affection he’d picked up until then.” and “It was the first time…. he might have picked up a few pointers from Corrales and his gang.” Other expressions such as given up for dead, dying to meet you, out of line, butted in, threw dagger looks, over Mei Lu’s dead body, conked out, way beyond my league at.al. are all over Ong’s work to awaken us to the truth that there is still racial prejudice in our society today.