Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Noli Me Tangere

Go To

Noli Me Tangere (translated as "Touch Me Not") is a novel by Filipino author, polymath, and national hero Jose Rizal, written in Spanish and published in 1887, which details the situation of the Philippines during the last part of Spanish rule.

Juan Crisostomo Ibarra, the son of a wealthy mestizo landlord, has returned to the Spanish-controlled Philippines after seven years of studying in Europe. After realizing not much has changed thanks to The Government and learning that his wealthy father died in jail for being labeled a heretic, he is understandably upset.

Nevertheless, revenge on the person who got his father that fate is not in Ibarra's plans, and all he wants to do is to settle down with his beautiful childhood fiancee Maria Clara and to finance a schoolhouse for the less fortunate with his father's money. Unfortunately, things most definitely do not work out as planned, and a rant-inducing slight at the opening luncheon for the aforementioned school sets in motion a chain of events that will change Ibarra, and subsequently the country, forever.

Noli Me Tangere was wildly controversial and wildly game-changing at the time of its release; it was actually banned in several parts of the country due to its portrayal of priests as dirty old men, the church as corrupt, and the government as just as corrupt, abusive, and indifferent. It turns out, however, that banning it only served the purpose of making even more wildly popular among the Filipinos, and the book managed to unify the Filipino Nationalist consciousness and indirectly spark the Katipunan revolution, as several of its head honchos were inspired by the thoughts and messages in it. Meanwhile, Rizal himself was imprisoned for his writings containing subversive content, and was later executed at the age of thirty-five. Afterwards, the Rizal Law made studying this novel mandatory for all Philippine schools as part of their study on Filipino literature.

It was originally written in Spanish, which the vast majority of Filipinos today don't know. It has been translated to English and Filipino several times, with the first English version appearing in 1900 and an all-new Penguin Classics version in 2006. It has also been adapted for live-action a number of times, most famously as a 1961 black-and-white epic made for Rizal's birth centennial.

It has a sequel, El Filibusterismo, which is set thirteen years later.

In 2022, GMA Network began airing Maria Clara at Ibarra, which adapts this novel with a twist.

Not to be confused with the Boys' Love Eroge of the same name.

This novel contains the following tropes:

  • Aggressive Categorism: Ignorance and stupidity are almost always attributed to the Indios in the story by the Spanish curates.
  • Allegorical Character: Every character is an allegory of the status of the country.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Thanks to the time period and the era the novel was written in, nearly all the characters speak in straight, formal Spanish.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Their depiction in the book ranges from incompetent to exploitative. The Ibarras are the exception.
  • Assassination Attempt: Ibarra is nearly killed by a derrick operator, during the school's cornerstone laying celebration.
  • Author Avatar: Rizal is both Ibarra and Elias. San Diego, the town where the story is set, is very much inspired after Calamba, Laguna, the author's hometown.
  • Author Filibuster: Philosopher Tacio often serves as the mouthpiece of Rizal's beliefs and ideals.
  • Arranged Marriage: Maria Clara to Linares.
    • Originally, Ibarra is Maria Clara's fiance, but Father Damaso meddled with their arrangement and chose Linares instead for Maria Clara.
  • Batman Gambit: There is The Meeting in the Town Hall, where the liberal and conservative parties have to decide what to do for the fiesta. The head of the liberal party, Don Filipo, knows that the conservatives don't hate their ideas. They just hate their opponents. His plan is to suggest what the conservatives want in such an obnoxious manner that they will immediately agree with the more rational idea, even if just to spite him. A more respectable person from his party will then give their actual suggestion. This works exactly as intended until the gobernadorcillo mentions that the curate wants something else entirely. Everyone agrees because none of them want to be arrested.
  • Big Bad: Father Damaso is represents, by and large, the corruption and dominance of the church. Salvi, however, is responsible for the downfall of Ibarra.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Brothers Bruno and Tarsilo for their unnamed sister after their father was killed via whipping. It's the reason why they're desperately gambling for money in the cockpit during their introduction. It's also the reason why they decided to join Lucas's revolution, thinking that they'll earn enough money for their sister to live on, though it's also partly to avenge their deceased father.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Ibarra, during a fishing trip in the lake, saved the boatman from being devoured by a crocodile. The boatman turns out to be Elias, and he returns the favor by saving Ibarra's life many, many times.
  • Big Fancy House: Capitan Tiago's house where the banquet in chapters one and two was held.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The title is Latin for "Do not touch me" or more poetically "Touch me not" from the Gospel of John. In the original Greek, it's more like "Stop holding on to me" or "Let go of me". Originally said by Jesus to Mary Magdalene, it's repurposed as a message from Filipinos to Spain, whether on the personal level or national is up for debate.
    • Another level of allusion is obscured today because Science Marches On, though it's all but spelled out by the author himself in his introduction to the novel: Noli me tangere was once used to refer to a disease affecting the skin and eyelids, then identified as a skin cancer but today recognized as a manifestation of the autoimmune disease lupus erythematosus. It causes painful ulcers and lesions that are easily aggravated, hence "touch me not". Rizal probably would have known this since he practiced medicine (he was trained in ophthalmology). In his introduction to the novel, he likens this kind of malignant, painful and easily aggravated "cancer" to the country's ills - a "social cancer". He only stops short of saying that this kind of "cancer" itself is called noli me tangere.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Most of the upper class Filipinos like Capitan Tiago and Doña Victorina.
  • Break the Cutie: Maria Clara. Sisa, and Ibarra, who, in El Filibusterismo, has become quite the cynic.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Ibarra's letter of farewell to Maria Clara just before he studied abroad 7 years ago is the same letter used to convict him.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Various characters. An example would be the boatman Ibarra saves from a crocodile during the lake trip who turns out to be Elias, and the lady whose gown Lieutenant Guevarra steps on in the 1st chapter turns out to be Doña Victorina 42 chapters later.
  • Child by Rape: Maria Clara
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Tarsilo endures this at the hands of the Alferez and Doña Consolacion. First he's whipped for a number of times, beaten, and then he gets repeatedly dunked upside down to a filled well used as a dumping ground for trash and the like. He dies from his injuries later, all the while remaining defiant against his tormentors.
    • While this scene was already tragic in itself, his sister watching him being tortured to death while being unable to do anything makes it even sadder.
  • Corrupt Church: One of the issues raised by the book. Father Damaso is a bully, while Father Salvi is a Covert Pervert secretly harboring lust for Maria Clara. The church in general has conditioned the Filipinos into believe that donating more money would secure them a greater place in heaven.
  • Crapsack World: At least if you're Filipino.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Philosopher Tacio in most of his scenes. Also, Lieutenant Guevarra during the banquet towards Doña Victorina.
    • The narrator has a rather dry sense of humor and has an obvious disdain for the less savory practices of the higher classes, which is evident even in the first page.
    ''Like an electric shock the announcement [of the party] ran through the world of parasites, whom God in His infinite goodness creates and so kindly multiplies in Manila.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Doña Victorina de los Reyes is the wife of Dr. (or Don) Tiburcio de Espadaña and would normally have been called Doña Victorina de Espadaña upon adopting her husband's surname, but she insists on "de los Reyes de de Espadaña" to appear extra posh (de means "of").
  • Despair Speech: Ibarra gives one in his exchange with Elias at the end. This also marks the birth of the figure of Simoun from El Filibusterismo.
    Ibarra: You are right Elias, but man is a creature of circumstances. Then I was blind, annoyed. What did I know? Now misfortune has torn the bandage from my eyes, the solitude and misery of my prison have taught me. Now I see the horrible cancer which feeds upon this society, which clutches its flesh and which demands a violent rooting out. They have opened my eyes, they have made me see the sore and they have forced me to be a criminal. Since they wish it, I will be a filibuster, a real filibuster I mean. I will call together all the unfortunates, all who feel a heart beat in their breasts, all those who were sending you to me.No, I will not be a criminal, never is he such who fights for his native land, but quite the reverse.
    - Maria Soledad Locsin translation, 1997
  • Disney Death: Ibarra.
  • Downer Ending: Ibarra's on the run, Elias is dead, Maria Clara, who thinks Ibarra is dead, chooses to enter the convent and stay there for the rest of her life. The revolution failed and nothing was accomplished. Anybody who deserves comeuppance goes their merry way.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Basilio has a dream that Crispin is being beaten by the Sacristan Mayor and Father Salvi.
  • Evil Colonialist: The Spaniards, going out of their way to ensure that the Filipinos remain second-class citizens under their rule.
  • Face–Heel Turn: An apparent Face–Heel Turn is done by Ibarra when he comes back as Simoun in El Filibusterismo.
  • Fallen Hero: Crisostomo Ibarra becomes Simoun in El Filibusterismo.
  • Foil: Elias to Ibarra. Elias is an Indio, Ibarra is a Mestizo note . Whereas Ibarra is an idealist at first, Elias is a realist. Ibarra is a privileged man, whereas Elias has suffered oppression due to his race.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: Tacio has taken to writing in hieroglyphs to confuse those who would believe it to be heresy in hopes that future historians will decipher it. It gets burnt anyway.
  • The Fundamentalist: Primarily the curates, but also some "religious" Indios too.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Sisa, after learning about her son Crispin's fate.
  • Gratuitous Latin: Don Primitivo, cousin of Capitan Tinong, dabbles in this because he believes that Latin is a much better language than either English or Tagalog. He peppers his conversations with it, but really just makes a pretentious asshole out of himself because people don't understand what he's saying.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Ibarra after seeing Maria Clara with Linares. Also, Padre Salvi towards Ibarra.
  • Grew a Spine: Maria Clara, after being consistently portrayed as a submissive woman, forces Padre Damaso to place her in the Chantry, even threatening suicide, because she didn't want to marry Linares.
  • The Heretic: According to Fray Damaso, Don Rafael. Ibarra is later excommunicated by the Church after he attacks Fray Damaso, but is pardoned by the governor-general.
  • Henpecked Husband: Don Tiburcio.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Elias helps Ibarra escape. He draws away the guards' attention from the boat they were on, getting shot several times in the process.
  • Holier Than Thou: The curates.
  • Hourglass Plot: Invoked and discussed by the characters themselves. Crisostomo Ibarra, a moderate social reformer, seems repelled by Elias's ideas (coming as they are from a social "inferior"). Later on, as Ibarra was imprisoned and disgraced, only escaping with the help of Elias, eventually turns around and seeks to go even further than Elias's radical methods, horrifying the man himself and trying to dissuade him.
  • I Owe You My Life: The main reason why Elias decides to help Ibarra.
  • The Idealist: Ibarra, who wished to build a school to educate the natives. But the events in the novel succeed in breaking his idealism.
  • Inferred Survival: Ibarra.
  • Insistent Terminology: It's DOCTORA Doña Victorina de los Reyes de de Espadaña to you!
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Elias is implied also to harbor some Ship Tease with Maria Clara—but lets her and Ibarra be together. On the other hand, he actually has a woman who's pining for him, Salome (in a disposed-of chapter)—who he gently advises to move on from him due to the risks of being with him.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Crisostomo Ibarra's entire ordeal throughout the book practically shatters his idealism.
  • Karma Houdini: Everyone who isn't Ibarra, Maria Clara, Elias, Tacio, Sisa or Basilio.
  • Kick the Dog: Dona Consolacion forces the crazed Sisa to dance for her amusement, whipping her until she bleeds.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Capitan Tiago and his wife Pia (Maria Clara's mother) badly wanted a child and attended all sorts of rituals and congregations to be able to conceive, despite being unable to for many years. Subverted, since in the end they do get their daughter and end up with Maria Clara. Double subverted as it turns out Maria Clara is a child born of rape, and that her real father is Father Damaso (Capitan Tiago was infertile).
  • La Résistance: Elias meets with some rebels who were hidden in the mountains. They ask that he joins their cause but he refuses.
  • Last-Name Basis: In pretty much any given scene, Don Crisostomo Ibarra will be referred as just "Ibarra."
  • Limited Wardrobe: While well-off and can afford a variety of clothes, Captian Tiago's prefers to stick to his standard outfit of a frock coat, khaki trousers, a bowler hat and a cane.
  • Lower-Deck Episode: There are dozens of named characters with varying importance. Some chapters are entirely dedicated to their reactions towards what's happening in the main plot, as well as giving insight towards the culture of the time.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Father Damaso is Maria Clara's real father.
  • Market-Based Title: The first English translations had totally different titles like An Eagle Flight, Friars and Filipinos and most famously The Social Cancer. The last is justified because Rizal actually mentions cancer in his introduction to the novel, likening it to the painful problems his audience faces.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-universe. The Christians believe that you can buy your way into heaven with indulgences, which automatically place the poor at a disadvantage. The chapter Souls in Torment is even dedicated to pious women calculating how much they spend in indulgences and how many years they have shaved off in purgatory. The bible famously said that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man the enter the kingdom of God. Everyone also seems to believe that faith simply refers to belief rather than good actions in addition to belief. The narrator laments the irony.note 
    And thou, Religion preached for suffering humanity, hast thou forgotten thy mission of consoling the oppressed in their misery and of humiliating the powerful in their pride? Hast thou promises only for the rich, for those who, can pay thee?
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Chapter 23 notably has a crocodile that was stuck in the nets, eating all the fish. Elias tries to kill it, but it retaliates and knocks him into the water, so Ibarra comes in and saves him.
  • No Name Given: A bunch of characters like the alferez, the schoolmaster, the gobernadorcillo, the senior sacristan, the alcalde, the Yellow Man and the Captain General.
  • Not Quite Dead: Ibarra.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Elias busting Ibarra out of prison, as they surprise Maria Clara so Ibarra can say goodbye. In the 1961 movie it becomes a full-blown action sequence, with Elias using a grappling hook to scale a fortress and the other prisoners breaking out as well, resulting in a big fight.
  • The Ophelia: Sisa, after Crispin's death. She spends her days wandering the forests and singing to herself. While most of the townspeople treat her the way you expect them to treat a crazy woman, others pity her.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Lucas. He tries to guilt trip both Ibarra and Padre Salvi into giving him money to compensate for his brother's death. He bothers the Padre because he thinks 500 pesos isn't enough and gets booted for his efforts. This comes to a head when he frames Ibarra for the revolution.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: The reason why Fray Damaso is so adamant against Ibarra and Maria Clara's Arranged Marriage is not because he is Maria Clara's godfather, rather, he's her actual father.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: An incredible subversion. Maria Clara and Ibarra are not betrothed at first, but after their parents saw how much they love each other, they decided to have them in an Arranged Marriage.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: Intellectualism in the Philippines was a big no-no in the era the book is set in to prevent the Indiosnote  from escaping their ignorance and therefore keeping the Spanish authorities, or specifically the friars, in power and control of the population; this was exemplified during Fray Damaso's sermon where he condemns local youths like Ibarra for going abroad to study and when Tacio's books were burned at the end by authorities who deemed them heretical. This was also true in Real Life during Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines.
  • Pet the Dog: During her "arrest", Sisa asks the guards to let her walk a short distance in front of them because being between despite not being guilty of anything, it's a bad look.
    • After she has been driven mad by the loss of her sons, she becomes the town loon. Ibarra tries to make sure that she's taken care of. The alferez even asks his men to feed her and keep her safe, even momentarily.
  • The Philosopher: Don Anastacio, a.k.a. Philosopher Tacio.
  • The Quisling: Doña Victorina, who also doubles as a Small Name, Big Ego. This applies to a lot of rich Filipinos as well, such as Capitan Tiago, renouncing their heritage out of a belief that it makes them superior. It doesn't really work because his Spanish associates frequently ridicule him behind their back.
  • Parental Substitute: Since her mother died in childbirth, Maria Clara was raised by her Maiden Aunt Tia Isabel.
  • Pet the Dog: The alferez, upon learning of Sisa's arrest, asks the soldiers to feed her and treat her kindly. Lest we forget, the guy is a wife beater.
  • Proper Lady: Maria Clara is written and promoted as such.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Padre Damaso learns that you shouldn't speak ill of Ibarra's father.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Elias nearly kills Ibarra for being related to the Spaniard who ruined his entire clan. He snaps out of it, however.
  • The Scapegoat: Ibarra is blamed for the revolution. Every one of his compatriots has someone to weep for, but none for him.
  • Sequel Hook: The uncertainty of Ibarra's fate.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Tasio and Elias admire Ibarra's sense of justice and honorable goals, but both point out that his faith in the Institution, the Government and the Church is flawed. Elias thinks Ibarra believes this because he has never faced true persecution. Which will change in the next few chapters.
  • Sinister Minister: Padre Damaso, representing the corruption and exploitation of the church. Doesn't help much that he's a proud man who believes he has the God-given right to do whatever he wants.
  • Skewed Priorities: The pious women argue about the correct order to pray three of each Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and Gloria Patri. Apparently, speaking in the wrong order means that your prayers will be unanswered and you've doomed yourself.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Ibarra and Maria Clara.
  • Taking the Veil: Maria Clara.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: The beautiful Maria Clara is Capitan Tiago's daughter. Subverted since it turns out she isn't really his daughter.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Ibarra, Basilio, Maria Clara and Sisa are the primary examples.
    • Throw the Dog a Bone: Basilio, who has had to endure his brother's murder and his mother's descent into insanity is finds some gold , which was gifted by a dying Elias. The next book reveals that he put the gold to good use and became a successful physician.
  • Twisted Christmas: The final chapter is entitled "Christmas Eve." Sisa dies right after Basilio finds her, Elias is dead, Ibarra is on the run, Maria Clara has devoted herself to an unhappy life in the Chantry, and the status quo remains.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Ibarra and Maria Clara are /would have been this for each other.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue:
    • Padre Damaso was reassigned in a remote parish church by his Father Provincial, which he did not take too well, and was discovered dead at his bed.
    • Padre Salvi resigned his post as the parish priest of San Diego and became a chaplain at the Santa Clara Nunnery.
    • Capitan Tiago, despondent over her daughter's decision to enter the convent, sank into a deep depression and began to frequent an opium den in Binondo.
    • Doña Victorina found a new hobby other than wearing her artificial hair ringlets and pretending to speak in a fake Andalucian accent: driving their horse-drawn carriage around town. She also has taken to wearing a pince-nez due to deteriorating vision. Her husband remained as henpecked as ever, and the regular abuse he receives from his wife even worsened as no patient ever solicited his medical "expertise" anymore.
    • Linares, Maria Clara's suitor after Ibarra, died of dysentery and was interred at the Paco Cemetery.
    • The Alferez was promoted to Lieutenant-Commander, and decided to return to Spain, leaving his mistress behind who was now taken to excessive drinking and smoking.
    • And finally, Maria Clara professed her vows and entered the Santa Clara Abbey, where Padre Salvi regularly rapes her to sate his carnal desires. One evening in a stormy night, two civil guards saw her on the roof of the cloister, raging against the heavens, and thinking that she was a ghostly apparition, immediately reported the incident to the authorities. However, a government inquiry about her fate was duly stopped by the Abbess, citing the rules of the convent about outsiders, and nothing was ever heard of from Maria Clara ever again.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Ibarra. Until the next book, that is...
  • Would Hurt a Child: Hurting kids is okay with Spanish authorities and the guardia civil so long as the kid is an Indio. Of particular note is Basilio's 7 year-old brother, Crispin, who is murdered by Padre Salvi and the head sacristan.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Lucas appears to have committed suicide in the forest but it's implied that Salvi ordered the head sacristan to dispose of him after inciting the rebellion and framing Ibarra.