Pigpen by Leoncio Deriada: A ReviewPosted: June 19, 2012
“Innocencia realized, not entirely without shame, that she was beginning to desire a man, any man.”
I had seen Leoncio Deriada’s short story “Pigpen” appear in at least 3 books, two of which (Deriada’s collection of short stories “The Road to Mawab and Other Stories,” and the 1976 edition of Silliman’s Sands and Coral ) I have a copy. I am something of a Deriada fan: he graduated from my college with my own degree in English before going on to win enough Palancas to make him a Hall of Famer, so his career is a dream for me. I read every work of his I could get my hands on, and I ended up doing a stylistic analysis of two of his stories for my undergraduate thesis. While reading his works, some stories stood out, and I knew I just had to share them. While I was president of the Ateneo de Davao’s SALEM, we had a Fiction Exhibit, displaying illustrations of select Filipino short stories to passing students that their curiosity might be caught. In our selection of stories, there were three by Deriada: “Phonepal from Padre Selga Street,” “The Hunt” and “Pigpen.” With its provocative topic, “Pigpen” was one of the crowd favorites, and I would be glad to upload a soft copy online if I get the author’s leave.
“Pigpen” is about Innocencia, a young woman who lives in a house deep in the remote settlement of Bawani in Mawab, Compostella Valley with her father Purok, her brother Turo, and her deformed baby. The family first immigrated in the area from Capiz before Innocencia was born, but her mother Reynalda died when she was three. Thereafter, the three lived in routine peace, and Innocencia grew up to be a “full bodied woman… though short and plumpish.” Then, when she was 16, she met Boy Ponciano, a lumberjack at the nearby Valderrama logging camp, while she was gathering ferns by the banks of a creek. The two began a sexual relationship that went unnoticed until Innocencia got pregnant. Purok furiously sought in vain to make Boy Ponciano owe up to his deed: the lumberjack had been assigned to far away Monkayo, and add to that he had married. Purok took his pregnant daughter to his relatives in Agusan, where she gave birth. She returned to Bawani months later, leaving the baby behind, and their routine life resumed. The only addition was the pigpen: Purok had bought pigs, including a big boar. Thus, the feeding of the pigs was added to Innocencia’s daily routine. Then, one day, while Purok was having the boar mount a sow brought in by a neighbor, father and daughter had an encounter with one another. Innocencia was bathing with clothes on by the well when Purok, half naked, washed his hands. The two looked at one another and Innocencia’s emotions were stirred. When she went back to her room, Purok was standing outside the door. The father pushed the daughter on the bed, and the daughter merely stiffed a scream. After the deed, the father acted as if nothing happened. Turo, the brother, noticed nothing. It was Innocencia who noticed that her brother too, was looking at her in a peculiar way. And she found herself feeling excited, so when it was his turn to do the deed she did not struggle. The narrative returns from the flashback to the present: after feeding the pigs, she had gone back to the house and began cooking rice, and while she was reminiscing the smell of burnt rice and the cry of the hideous baby had pulled her out of her reverie. The recollection of it all makes her feel repulsed at the sight of her child, and she ends up killing it with a pillow. When the men arrive they see the dead baby. Turo cries at seeing his baby killed, but Innocencia says no, the child is not his but Purok’s. While the two men are dumbfounded, she runs out, takes a bolo and kills the large boar in the pigpen. The men try to lift her up, but she resists, accusing them of being pigs.
The story is commendable for the careful execution of craft. Deriada has an extensive vocabulary. For instance, “Purok proffered his hands” uses the word “proffered,” which not only has that particularity that distinguishes it from simply “washed,” but it also lends an albeit tiny bit of musicality to the prose as it consonates with “Purok”‘s /p/ and /r/ sounds. There is also a great degree of terminological precision, and at some points the statement captures the complexity of the reality it describes. When Innocencia is described as having “realized, not entirely without shame, that she was beginning to desire a man, any man,” we are offered not only the fact that she desires a man and that she feels no shame in it, but inadvertently the fact she is supposed to feel shame. This command of language is utilized excellently, and the revelation of facts with it is effective in its functionality: when the demand arises, the prose is terminologically precise, but it is simple when language needs to be simple, as in “Purok himself had not learned to read and write,” where the simplicity of the words used contribute to the sense of uneducated-ness being described.The plot is also well woven: the story is told with flashbacks, and they are arranged in thematic development, with Innocencia reflecting on the flashback every time there is a return to the narrative present. There is also a need to emphasize Deriada’s tendency to be ironic. Just in the name of the character, Innocencia, do we get a taste of his irony.
But perhaps most noticeable in the prose is Deriada’s use of internally established metonymy. I found how he mastered this art in another story while doing my thesis, and the device seems to be his specialty. In the story, a situation occurs with a particular object in close proximity being mentioned. The young ferns strewn on moss, for instance, appeared in understandable verisimilitude during Innocencia’s encounter with Boy Ponciano. Later on in the story, while Innocencia is having sex with Purok, she is described as seeing a flash of these same objects as she closed her eyes, implying the sexual experience with Boy Ponciano.
In Joseph Galdon SJ’s review of several of Deriada’s works, Pigpen is passingly described as being ruined by the contrived symbolism. I am tempted to disagree with him, for I am of the opinion that the healthy contrivance of the story is what makes it an excellent showcase for art. I have no problems with obvious literary devices, they have a use particularly in trying to introduce artistic appreciation to beginning readers. While explaining the story to fascinated students during SALEM’s fiction exhibit, it was easy to point out the symbolism of the pigs and the metonymy of the ferns to them.
The story is, of course, most worth paying attention to because of its topic. I had, in my youth, long had the impression that all the lower classes worried about were Marxist concerns. Reading this story has entirely changed my mind. Just imagine the three of them never asking the awkward question of the baby’s paternity!
“Pigpen” defamiliarizes for us the idea of a morally prudish idyll in remote rural Philippines, showing us instead how proximity to the elements can make people behave, well, like animals. It also takes a more rural perspective into the crippling effects of domesticity in human life: being too preoccupied with daily chores, the characters’ sexual urges became repressed, and thus proved reckless to the point of incestuous when the ego could no longer restrain the id. we must note that this perspective is presented vis-a-vis the effect of nature’s proximity on our sexuality: it is the sight of pigs, we see, that arouses Innocencia. Of course, it is needless to say that the descriptions of the locales are also of historiographical significance: parts of the story are practically the history of the Mawab area.
The story raises several questions on the craft of writing for me. First off, I am ambivalent about the objective correlative in the story. At some points it is utilized admirably: the sight of the boar mounting its own daughter inevitably stirred in Innocencia not only sexual but particularly incestuous urges. I do not however see where she gets the motivation to kill the boar in the end. I also notice that nothing actually happens in the narrative present before she kills the deformed baby, though I am willing to believe the recollection (horrible as it is) is enough objective correlative to drive her to that state of mind. I am led to ask if the standard that “something has to be happening” in a story universally applies. In any case, I am ultimately led to ask if, say the author does see some points for improvement in a published work (what I think among which I had just pointed out), can he or she still edit the work. Here, I feel is one of those realms where that elusive function of the author still remains dominant in spite of Structuralism: it will still be the author who will be the basis for the authenticity of the work of art. But I am also tempted to say that the author is not the one who creates the piece, but merely the artistic shaman if you will of the greater, latent, indelible spirit of Art. That, however, is the subject of another post!
Masterful command of language, and well fleshed (if you pardon the pun) character interaction, literary device conscious of itself, and most specially a fascinating subject matter, Leoncio Deriada’s “Pigpen” can please both casual reader and literary critic alike!