Sunday, January 21, 2007
Not a few stories have characters whose acquisition of possessions generates changes in their personalities, often for the worse. Such is Ines Taccad Camayyo’s award-winning “People of Consequence,” which features the lives of a couple who, as they ascend up the social strata, manifests aggravation of characters.
Both Camus and Meding are people of consequence: they pick up after their respective dealmakers. Camus worked first as a houseboy for a German landlord then as a street sweeper after an appointment by a town councilor. Meanwhile, his wife Meding served as a maid for the town mayor’s family. These connections to significant persons provide their juxtaposition as insignificant others—what wealth, power, connections and social position the German haciendero, the municipal councilor and the town mayor have, Camus and Meding lack.
However, this poverty does not stop the couple from desiring to climb a notch higher up the social hierarchy. In fact, their impoverished condition becomes their driving force to rise out of obscurity and be their rural area’s most prominent citizens. In their barrio, Camus and Meding are “the only ones who had really known and lived with people of consequence” (p. 435); a quarter-century of intense industry and perseverance has them “becoming people of consequence” (p.435) themselves.
Like the mythical Sisyphus written about by the existentialist writer from whom Camus’ name was inspired, he pushes his strength out to reach atop the mountain of social recognition (it is no accident that in his village at the foot of a tall cliff he and other men originally made a clearing out of, Camus turns out to “[own] the best house” (p. 435)—the highest-accorded, the highest-flying).
Camus works hard not only as a chicken raiser but also as a fisherman like his father before him, only better positioned since he is touted to be intelligent and, therefore, meant for big things, as he claims his German landlord envisions of him whenever told to “aspire to go to Manila to study,…because he would then cultivate further the inclination and aptitude” (p. 439).
He boasts of being the German’s confidante, and grows wistful each time the thought of being educated descends upon him—an inclination that remained over time despite the faded resolutions (p. 439). He feels he is “very much needed [by] and…useful (p. 438)” to people of relative importance, as when he dresses the chickens he has brought to the party-throwing Inspector as well as his German employer, notwithstanding an old crone’s ordering that dismays him (p. 438) and the aleman’s “punishments…for his own good” (p. 435). All these Camus has assimilated on his way to the top, to such ruinous proportion that “his stories of intimacy with the German master grew” (p. 439) and his lies await about “how pleased the good lady had been, how truly fine a gentleman the Superintendent was” (p. 442).
The events may be conspiring to imply what Camus thinks of himself, but the illusion of self-importance is one symptom of the person of consequence Camus is turning to be.
Camus’ wife Meding has the more excessive change in personality. She is the fiercer laborer of the couple: she works nonstop after having “learned the hard-driving manners of townsfolk” (p. 436), a suggestion that she should not stop short of getting to the privileged status of being a person of consequence. She crochets, peddles carabao milk, occasional fruits from the backyard and her husband’s catch, and doubles as a hard-hearted usurer. Her “determined self-denial” (p. 437) as a miser makes him “[know] her less and less” (p. 437). Also, she forces her husband to tap the necessary links for them to consummate their desire to improve their social position. For instance, she urges him to visit the superintendent, through whose influence the couple may be helped to gain more opportunity to leap away from the lower rung of the social ladder. He shows unspoken objections, but Meding “listened to him indifferently; already in her mind, she was counting the chickens which she must catch, tie up and cage in stripped baskets” (p. 441). Meding’s dream house they built for themselves is somewhat a dislocation in their barrio, for it seems built opposite the false modesty Camus tries to effect when the capacious residence becomes the center of talk. To him, Meding is “an ardent example of what hard work and frugality could bring” (p. 440). The radical changes in the wife show to what disastrous extent the necessity to enter a higher social level can get.
An upward social mobility like that sought after by Camus and Meding is admirable to a point, but not to an excess. Their transmogrified personalities as they amass the necessary possessions to become people of consequence are a reminder that they strive way too hard to be accepted in a higher social status. They may absorb the lifestyle of their bosses in the long run, but it cannot be erased that Camus and his wife, being people of consequence, have at their own cost toiled as providers of the needs of a breed of people they can never truly belong to.