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Literature / Mass

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"They lied to us in their newspapers, in the books they wrote for us to memorize in school, in their honeyed speeches when they courted our votes. They lied to us because they did not want us to rise from the dungheap to confront them. We know the truth now; we have finally emptied our minds of their lies, discovered their corruption and our weaknesses as well. But this truth as perceived by us is not enough. Truth is, above all, justice. With determination then, and cunning and violence, we must destroy them, for only after doing so will we really be free.…"
— José "Pepe" Samson, Memo to Youth

Mass is a 1976 novel by Filipino novelist F. Sionil José, the third in order of writing, and chronologically the fifth and last instalment, of his acclaimed Rosales Saga novels, so named for the provincial Philippine town, in Pangasinan province, where he grew up.

Sequel to The Pretenders, which covers the story of Antonio "Tony" Samson, Mass follows his bastard son, José, aka Pepe, as he lives in the Manila slums and tries to eke out a college education for himself. Pepe is not a particularly ambitious or overachieving young man, and this grates on his blood relations, who are often given to comparing him to his uncle-cum-illegitimate father Tony, who with their help managed to get into Harvard and eventually marry into the Philippine upper class. Pepe tries to do his best in school, largely to please his relatives, but much of what he really wants to do is eat, see movies, and have sex, not necessarily in that order.

Meanwhile, Philippine society in general (and Manila in particular) is spiralling into political upheaval; it is the late 1960s, the run-up to the declaration of Martial Law, and the spectre of dictatorship looms over the country. The upper classes are no help, having only become richer and more avaricious, and freely collaborating with foreign interests—especially American ones—in order to protect their own amidst the slowly boiling anger of the masses. In the middle of it all, Pepe finds himself thrust into the epicentre of this social storm, joining popular protests against the Filipino version of the Estates-General, but confronting existential crises of his own as he, too, develops feelings for an upper-class woman, even if she's also down there with him in the barricades.

Compare Dekada '70, another novel about growing up during the Martial Law regime, though this time mostly in Tagalog, covering the lives of a whole family instead of one guy, and covering the era of the actual regime itself (Mass only covers the years leading up to the declaration of Martial Law in 1972). Fun fact: Lualhati Bautista, its author, translated Mass into Filipino, as shown in the page image.

Tropes Appearing in Mass:

  • Affably Evil: Juan Puneta.
  • Bastard Bastard: how Pepe sees himself—he thinks he’ll never measure up to his father Tony.
  • The Beard: Straight Gay Juan Puneta has a wife and 3 children.
  • Big Eater: Pepe really loves his siopao, mami, fried chicken and other things. Food is one of his big expenses whenever he gets money.
  • Big Fun: Father Jess, sometimes. He's big and heavy, often positive in demeanour, and open and expressive around Pepe.
  • Blatant Lies: Pepe says his Auntie Bettina bought his expensive watch. Truth is he earned it as a drug pusher.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Pepe, especially in his early school years.
  • Bury Your Gays: Pepe shoots Juan Puneta dead.
  • The Casanova / Really Gets Around: Pepe has sex with lots of girls. He's even called “Toro”, as in a bull.
  • Character Narrator: Pepe.
  • Chubby Mama, Skinny Papa: Betsy’s wealthy parents. They were like this since The Pretenders.
  • Class Clown: Pepe can be this when it matters. He uses a funny campaign speech to get him elected class president.
  • Coming of Age Story
  • Corrupt Church: Father Jess withholds nothing in his criticisms of the "church of the rich people", with its ostentatious, airconditioned cathedral buildings.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Juan Puneta. Also Ben de Jesus, though largely by association, as exactly what he gets up to as the Villa Development Corporation's managing director is never specified. Partly justifiable, since the novel is from Pepe's point of view.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Pepe, especially when running for class president.
  • Death by Despair: Strongly implied to have killed Carmen Villa. Her last days are spent in a sanatorium and she is described as being deaf and very thin. (Pepe only hears about this from his relatives, though, as she died several years prior.)
  • Defector from Decadence: Father Jess, who comes from an elite landed family in Negros province in the Visayas, gave it all up to minister to the poor in Tondo, and explicitly shuns the readily-available family resources he could've used to build a "rich-people church", complete with a convento with a giant fridge. Betsy de Jesus also counts in a way for even daring to join the student activists in the barricades—and with genuine sentiment at that—despite being from an oligarchic (albeit Nouveau Riche) Pobres Park family.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Juan Puneta, although the “depraved” and “homosexual” parts are largely unrelated.
  • Disappeared Dad: Tony Samson, though Pepe knows all along he’s dead.
  • The Don: Kuya Nick, Tondo's neighbourhood crime boss.
  • Drives Like Crazy: One of Pepe’s heroin customers invites Pepe for a drive, floors it and crashes into a tree. Amazingly both survive, though the customer is dazed and presumably still high.
  • Eagle Land: Mostly Type 2 considering American support of the would-be dictator Marcos and their huge military bases in the country. Ka Lucio does raise a Type 1 exception by pointing out to Pepe and Toto that the U.S. bases provide thousands of local jobs at the very least.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Juan Puneta goes ogling half-naked men in saunas.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: Juan Puneta. He is Peninsular Spanish by blood, he’s got tiger-skins on his floor and has an elephant gun.
  • Electric Torture: Tarzan shocks Pepe in the balls while White Sidewall interrogates him.
  • Evil Colonialist: Despite the Philippines' nominal "independence", American neocolonial influence still casts a long shadow, most prominently with the enormous military bases still in the country and their support of Marcos' soon-to-be dictatorship.
    • Occupiers Out of Our Country: The protests Pepe and the Brotherhood organise and participate in therefore have a very anticolonialist character even within a supposedly "sovereign" nation.
  • Expy Coexistence: Recto Avenue exists in the Rosales-verse, and Senator Reyes is the in-universe Expy of the real-life nationalist politician Claro M. Recto, for whom the avenue is named.
    • In the play Dong-Ao, Sen. Reyes also explicitly says that Recto was one of his colleagues.
  • Fictional Document: Pepe’s essay, Memo to Youth. His father’s dissertation, The Ilustradosnote , also features.
  • Gangster Land: Tondo. Even with a far smaller national population in the era the novel is set in, this northern, portside Manila district is already notorious as an overpopulated den of poverty and violent crime.
  • The Ghost: Senator Reyes, a key figure in The Pretenders who often talks with Pepe’s father, is largely missing in Mass, as is Don Manuel Villa, Tony’s former boss and father-in-law, who isn’t mentioned at all except that a) he built the conglomerate Betsy’s dad works for; and b) he’s old and senile.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: Pepe does this with Lily at the Colonial massage salon after he’s released from detention. Interestingly enough, he didn’t start it; Lily did—he only wanted help with his “emotional problems”.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Jess, a Catholic priest of the Liberation Theology school.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: As with his father before him, Pepe encounters this a lot, particularly in the haunts of the Filipino oligarchy in Pobres Park and beyond. He decides to learn Spanish from Fr. Jess and Tia Nena partly to impress Betsy. Knowing Spanish is also how he catches Juan Puneta red-handed.
  • Groin Attack: Pepe’s Electric Torture.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: The village security guards who allow Pepe in and out of Pobres Park not suspecting him of being capable of committing a crime, let alone murdering Juan Puneta. He leaves disguised as “another houseboy going to market”.
  • Hellhole Prison: Both the detention centre in some undisclosed location where Pepe gets incarcerated/detained, interrogated, and tortured, and then later, Old Bilibid, aka the City Jail, where he's transferred before finally being released.
  • Heroic Bastard: Pepe.
  • Inner City School: Pepe’s university at Recto, in a sense; it’s smack in the middle of hot, smelly, poverty-stricken, and crime-infested metropolitan Manila.
  • It's Always Sunny at Funerals: Toto’s, but like Tony’s in the prequel, the focus is again on the heat.
  • La Résistance: The Brotherhood, which organises demonstrations against Marcos and the rest of the Filipino oligarchy.
  • Landslide Election: Pepe for class president—50 votes in a class of 60.
  • Light Is Not Good: Juan Puneta, who constantly wears white suits and presents himself in public as an amiable philanthropist.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son / Contrasting Sequel Main Character: Pepe’s father Tony Samson is a well-travelled scholar who finished in Harvard, is characterised as deeply thoughtful and is often lost in his philosophical wanderings, gains wealth and status by marrying into a wealthy elite family, has guilt issues over having a child with Emy after marrying Carmen—and dies by suicide, even when he had everything most people could want. Pepe, meanwhile, remains lower-class and has bad grades, goes to a (stereotypically) fifth-rate school in Recto, never ventures abroad throughout the novel, stays to work with the masses, is earthy and jocular in personality and enjoys having sex with numerous women (without marrying anyone—except a “false honeymoon” with Betsy), and isn’t ambitious in the usual sense but has a fierce survival instinct that precludes him from considering suicide, even when it would be expected of him in his poverty. Also, he has long hair.
    • Ideologically, Tony is more like the ilustrados he writes about; Pepe is more like the revolutionary Katipuneros, esp. the more working-class ones.
    • Also, Tony gets adopted into a wealthy Sta Mesa suburb—a Pobres Park forerunner—but kills himself in the Antipolo Street railway slums. Pepe is ill-at-ease in Pobres Park and even kills a rich resident. (He himself is shot dead much later, around 1992, in first act of the play Balikbayan, aptly titled The Passing of Pepe Samson.)
    • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Another way to put it. Generally speaking, Pepe is the Red to Tony's Blue.
  • Lit Fic
  • Madness Mantra: Tia Nena’s “My Luis … my Victor …”—referring to her sons, whom she lost nearly a couple decades earlier.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Juan Puneta always stays elegantly-dressed, preferring to wear classy white suits even in the heat.
  • Meaningful Name: Lampshaded by Pepe himself in the very first sentence: “My name is Samson.” He has long hair like the biblical Samson.
    • Punny Name as well as this apply to Juan Puneta, whose last name could be a typo of the Spanish-Filipino curse “puñeta/punyeta” (and this is most likely intentional on FSJ’s part).
  • No Name Given: Pepe’s Recto university.
  • Nouveau Riche: The de Jesus family. Betsy’s father Ben got his start as an executive at the Villa Development Corporation.
    • Pepe is a very small-scale version of this after he starts selling drugs, and later earns money writing for the school paper in Recto.
    • Another small-scale example in drug lord Kuya Nick.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed / Expy = Father Jess of real-life rebel priest Conrado Balweg.
  • Old Money: Juan Puneta inherited millions and is scion to a family of businessmen and philanthropists. It’s not explicitly stated that he or his ancestors own land, however.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Pepe’s torturers—Tarzan, Chicken, and White Sidewall.
  • The Ophelia: Tia Nena, who keeps trying to look for her two sons, always calling them by name.
  • Philosophical Novel
  • Police Brutality: The Metrocomnote  break up the Plaza Miranda demonstration. Toto is killed by a Metrocom bullet in the fray.
  • Police State / Just Before the End: In hindsight, the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines is a Foregone Conclusion. The novel is set at most a couple of years before the actual beginning of Martial Law, but already human rights abuses are brutal and rampant, including violent riot dispersals, warrantless arrests, detention without trial, torture (electric or otherwise), and enforced disappearances.
  • Politically Motivated Teacher: Professor Hortenso.
  • Posthumous Character: Antonio Samson, Pepe’s father/uncle. Also Carmen Villa, Tony’s widow and Pepe’s stepmother, who we learn followed Tony to the grave barely a year later.
  • Product Placement: Betsy’s yellow Volkswagen Beetle, Kuya Nick’s green Mercedes 220.
  • Prison Rape: At one point during his imprisonment Pepe is transferred to the old City Jail in Manila, where he's lumped in with common criminals. One of the big crooks there oils him down and quickly sodomises him.
  • Puppet State: A lot of the novel revolves around Pepe's (Truth in Television) perception that the Philippines basically is this to the United States.
  • Raging Stiffie: Shooting off guns gives Juan Puneta a hard-on.
  • Rebel Leader: Ka Lucio, who gives Pepe and Toto advice on effective activism, is a retired one; he used to fight in the Huk army ("Huk" = short for Hukbong Magpalaya ng Bayan, or "People's Liberation Army"), which fought for the masses' rights against the Filipino elites and their American backers.
  • The '60s: The setting of the novel marks the beginning of the end of postwar Philippine prosperity—these are the last years of the Third Republic, with all its corrupt and irresponsible "democracy", and Martial Law and the Marcos dictatorship are just around the corner.
    • The '70s: 1970 is a canon date as it's specified on Toto's grave as the year he died.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Comes to much more of a head in here than in The Pretenders, since Pepe becomes an activist and sides with the student demonstrations against Marcos and the Filipino oligarchy. The climax in fact comes when he murders a stereotypical rich man.
  • Spit Take: One way of interpreting what implicitly happened when Pepe once served as an altar boy, drank all the church wine, and hurriedly replaced it with a cane liquor that fermented too much and went sour. (Some details are omitted which could qualify this for Noodle Incident.)
  • Straight Gay: Juan Puneta. He's not campy, is strong and masculine-looking, and dresses elegantly mainly because of income. Also crosses with The Dandy. May border on Manly Gay as well.
  • Strawman U: Type “Berserkeley”, or rather UP, but a less prestigious or quality equivalent in Pepe’s unnamed Recto university, stereotyped as a “diploma mill” and radical activist hotbed. In some ways it's like a university version of an Inner City School, but with less crime and more student protests.
  • Tom the Dark Lord: Kuya (Big Brother) Nick, The Don of the Manila slums.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Toto, altar boy and seminarian-in-training, is shot dead in a radical Manila demonstration at the tender age of 19.
  • Torture Technician: Tarzan uses an Electric Torture device on Pepe.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Siopao (a Chinese-style meat bun) for Pepe.
  • Unusual Chapter Numbers: The chapters have no numbers; they’re just phrases, often ones about overthrowing the oligarchy or fomenting revolution.
  • Uptown Girl: Betsy de Jesus, Ben’s daughter.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Juan Puneta.
  • Wretched Hive / Holiday in Cambodia: Urban Manila, esp. the districts of Antipolo Street, Tondo, and Recto/Quiapo. Pepe repeatedly refers to these places as “the asshole of the world”, and full of drudgery and crime—in fact it’s here he meets druglord Kuya Nick.