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The Pacification of Female in The Summer Solstice

Grace Celeste T. Subido


The Summer Solstice by Nick Joaquin reeks of the age-old struggle between male and
female. It is a power-play in which one element must emerge victorious.
At the beginning of the story, Amanda, cook at Dona Lupengs household and wife of
their driver Entoy has been to the Tadtarin the previous night. The Tadtarin is a festival for
women held in conjunction with the celebration of the feast of St. John the Baptist. Because she
took part in the Tadtarin, Amanda has undergone a mysterious transformation. The situation she
is in has allowed for a reversal of roles. It is one which her husband accepts as inevitable, albeit
temporary, and in a conversation with Dona Lupeng, Entoy says:
It is true, senora. The spirit is in her. She is the Tadtarin. She must do
as she pleases. Otherwise, the grain would not grow, the trees would
bear no fruit, the rivers would give no fish, the animals would die.
During this limited span of time, Entoy, the stereotypical male, a power-wielding, wifebeating brute must assume the role of meek lamb while his wife remains under the spell off
is possessed bythe Tadtarin. The Tadtarin has rendered Amanda powerful. Under its
power, Amanda assumes the nurturing mother earth role. In the beginning, Dona Lupeng does
not understand any of this, but in the course of the story she undergoes the same transformation.
The female reasserts itself, reclaims supremacy and score triumphs a victory. But has female
truly triumphed?
Joaquin presents the male and female in full binary opposition. Male is to female as sun
is to the moon, as rational is to irrational, as day is to night. As the distinction becomes more
elaborate, female comes to be imbed with a dimension of the occult, sinister, the grotesque.
This is apparent in the manner of treatment of elements in the story which are associated with
male and female.

The festival of St. John the Baptist is celebrated by the men. This is done during the
daytime and as the men joyfully cavort under the heat of the noonday sun, they brandish an icon
of the male at his arrogant best. The image of St. John the Baptist which the men carry aloft
during the procession shows
St John riding swiftly above the sea of dark heads and glittering in the noonday
sunthe fine, blond, heroic St. John; very male; very arrogant: the Lord of
Summer indeed, the Lord of Light and heaterect and goldly virile above the
prone female earth.
It is an image in which male takes utmost pridethe ruler of heatthe supreme deity of
summer to whom all must ultimately pay their homage.
In contrast, the procession attended by the women is held at night. Here, under the cover
of darkness, the women, too, carry a figure of St. John the Baptist. However, unlike that which is
carried by the men, this figure is one which undermines everything which man represents:
a group of girls bore aloft a little back image of St. John the Baptista crude,
primitive, grotesque image, its big-eyed head too big for its puny naked torso
It is this deformed image which bobs and sways overwhich rules overan hysterical
female horde. Female is a deformed, ugly, grotesque as the icon which she displays. The
scene teems with female irrationality and this delirium is further highlighted by the violence
the crowd of women inflict on Don Paeng who tries to rescue Dona Lupeng from the orgy of
wild abandon. It is a savage sceneon in which sanity is made to come face-to-face with its
antithesis. It is a scene which conjures images of the wild Amazon woman proclaiming victory
over the bloody carcass of helpless man. Female is flawed, impaired, abnormal, wrong.

The image of female as insane can likewise be traced in the development of the character
of Dona Lupe. At the start, she is portrayed as the normal female in the patriarchal
configuration. She accepts that Amanda, her drivers wife is subjected to periodic beatings by
Entoy; she behaves with decorum in the company of males; she seeks permission from her
husband to attend the Tadtarin. He refuses at first but yields to female charm in the end (her
eyes shining in the dark and her chin thrust up, she looked so young and fragile that his heart was
touched). The mutation of her character is completed as she joins the throng of female revelers
in the procession. As a result of this, she comes to shed her mask of meekness and regains
female power. In the process however, she comes to assume the representation of a seriously
demented human being demanding exaltation from her husband-victim. This image is not
unlike that of the aberrant Amanda at the beginning of the story, who is ironically at a position in
which she is supposedly powerful, but is reduced to the status of imbecile.
the woman merely stared, Her sweat beaded brows contracted as in an effort to
understand, Her face relaxed, her mouth sagged open humorously, and rolling on
her back and spreading out her big, soft arms and legs she began to noiselessly
quaking with laughterthe mute mirth jerking at her throat; the moist pile of her
flesh quivering like brown jelly. Saliva dribbled from the corners of her mouth.
There is a common bottom line herethese women are both helplessly (and hopelessly)
deranged.
Through some maneuvering, female has come to be equated with insanity and this
image stands out in perfect contrast to the portrayal of the male characters as level-headed,
sympathetic, in full control of their mental processes, and always human. Female space is
defined to the extents (or limits) in which man has romanticized her for his purposes with the
intent of keeping her trapped within some finite realm within his world.

There is a patronizing attitude which pervades the narrative. The woman is affirmed, but
like a gas pain, must be allowed intermittent release, or else man suffers. It is not unlike the act
of placing a pacifier into an infants mouth to keep it quiet. By allowing the female to take a
finger, male is assured that she will not take an arm. By giving her a toe nail. He is guaranteed
the use of his leg. And, in the same manner that the pacifier ensures that the infant stays silent in
its crib, there is no escape for the female from the boundaries which man has set for her. Even at
her most powerful, she is restrained.
Man has learned to masterfully wield his weapon of sex. It is a weapon which he employs
with much disguise. He slackens momentarily on the reins of control, then pulls them back in
and reasserts authority. It is a game he confidently plays with an animal over which he has full
and absolute control.
The character, Guido professes to be an enlightened soul. He has been exposed to the
new and progressive trends of thought of the west and has returned to the country with an
eagerness to put these in practice.
On the surface, he seems to be a progressive male. However, on close scrutiny, one
might conclude that his manner is but a variation in strategy. Within his male persona, the
conflict with female is only too real and the new ideas have merely succeeded in opening up a
new battleground. Guido is pathetic in his condescension. It is fear that drives him to act in such
a mannernot the understanding of female, not a desire to see her as an equal. In the course of
his travels abroad, he has seen .the holiness and mystery of what is vulgar; he feels it and it
frightens him that there are rituals like the Tadtarin which comefrom the earliest dawn of
the world[where] the dominant figure is not the male but the female.

Even within that temporary period of freedom for the female, the male does not truly
relinquish his authority. Amada, for example, although set free from wife-hood to Entoy
within the limited time span of the possession by the Tadtarin still retains her role as wife.
She is wife of the river, wife of the crocodile, wife of the moon. Similarly, Dona Lupe, who is
elevated to the status of goddess in the struggle for supremacy, still retains her position as
being there for man to worship and adore. Even in the reversal of roles during the period in
which the Tadtarin is celebrated, the binary oppositions persist. The scale is always tilted. Male
and female can never be equal. In the story, although female claims some degree of triumph over
the male, it is a victory in a minor skirmish. Ground may have been regained but the winner of
the greater battle is inevitably the male because he has learned new methods by which to keep
her at bay. The female has merely succeeded in the temporary expansion of the margins which
she is made to occupy. The end of the war sees man assured of normalcy. It is in this regard
that the story may be seen dealing with the pacification, rather than the emancipation of the
female.
And, just as the summer solstice must inevitably pass, so will the triumph of female be
fleeting. In the end, the story succeeds not so much in the fulfillment of womans fondest
dreams, but in the affirmation of mans worst nightmare.