Tuesday, April 01, 2008
There is more to the mirror in Nick Joaquin’s “May Day Eve” than meets the eye. It may be a literal image in which the lives of the estranged couple Agueda and Badoy are inextricably linked, but by figurative extension, the mirror resembles, suggests and associates something more and something else.
For one, the mirror symbolizes the illusory love between Agueda and Badoy. When they first met, the mutual physical attraction was strong as may be confirmed in the recollection made by both. On the part of Agueda, her physical attraction was evident in seeing the young Badoy’s “very black and elegant” mustaches, “his fine clothes, his flashing eyes, his curly hair” as they were reflected in the mirror. On the part of Badoy, his physical attraction was evident in seeing the young Agueda’s “charms,” “tremendous beauty,” the “eyes she had,” “bare shoulders gold in the candlelight and delicately furred,” “the mobile insolence of her neck, her taut breast,” her enchanting “fire” and “grace,”“her hair that was like black waters” as they were reflected in the same mirror. However, their attraction being founded on something so superficial as physical appearance, their love’s roots are not anchored deeply so their feelings for each other did not endure. Just a few years after their chance meeting by the mirror on a May Day Eve, with the product of their marital union still a very young girl, Agueda is already referring to her husband as the “devil” and attaches negative descriptions to him like having “a scar of sin,” mustaches“dirty and greying and smelling horribly of tobacco,” and horns and tails. Badoy has the similar antagonistic attitude against his wife, whom he refers to as a“horrible,” “dark, fatal creature” of a “witch” who “tortured” him and “ate [his] heart and drank [his] blood.” This reversal of Agueda and Badoy’s initial passionate pronouncements toward each other implies that like a mirror reflecting analmost-similar yet actually false image, the skin-deep love they had already disillusioned them. Whereas before, the coyness Agueda had shown in the guise of feistiness hid her true interest over Badoy and the anger Badoy had felt toward the spunky lady intensified into a realization of love, there was now noreason for them to veil thinly their disenchantment toward each other after their shallow love had dissipated. The mirror in which the husband and wife had seen each other’s image reflected illusions of realities that when they took seriously, deceived them into a married life of bitterness and estrangement. The deceptively superficial beauties they had marveled at in the mirror did not reveal the essential selves which in the course of their marital union were suggested to be not as attractive as their physical masks.
Also, the mirror symbolizes the illusion of feminist strength in young Agueda when she dealt with young Badoy fiercely during their encounter at the sala. The recently-arrived lad from Europe was so intoxicated that he made to feel the country lass as stupid for admiring herself in front of the mirror at midnight. She was, in truth, experimenting on some imported superstition but would not want to be caught doing a more stupid thing so she brazenly asked to be permitted to pass. The lad felt so encouraged to deal with such a tigress of a beauty that he acted more obnoxious, reducing her to tears. When his attempt to pacify her earned him her bite on the knuckles, it seems that the woman had the upper hand on the matter. Her eventual marriage to him and the unhappy life that followed suit proved that what seems may not be what is, for the patriarchy had yet again won for making Agueda pay a high price for her spunk. Much like the mirror that showed an almost-but-not-quite-real reflection, Agueda’s ferociousness may appear to dismantle Badoy’s macho ideology single-handedly, but her decline into an unhappy, resentful wife manifested the containment of her strength by the actually more powerful patriarchy of her society.
Another symbol of the mirror is the variant of realism called magic realism. The events chronicled in the story may very well have happened in real life except that they are so hyperreal and so mundane that they cannot be mistaken for anything else but magic realism. In this kind of realism, the ordinary is interspersed with the fantastic, i.e. the enchanted element of the mirror, the tensed encounter between Agueda and Badoy, such that the effect makes the miraculous seem like an everyday thing. Ultimately, this effect creates a reflection-like impression of reality whereas in fact, the mirror is far from being magical and the lovers’ quarrel, far from being too cinematic.
The aforementioned symbolic representations of the mirror in “May Day Eve” prove that some things are meant to be viewed beyond the deluding façade because these, ironically, are not what they seem.