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Literature / Without Seeing The Dawn

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A 1947 English-language novel by Filipino author Stevan Javellana focusing mainly on the lives of a farming community in rural Iloilo province, working on a rice plantation owned by a powerful absentee landlord, in the late U.S. colonial era and just before the outbreak of World War II. The novel crosses over into wartime and depicts every grisly detail of the sudden Japanese occupation, and how ruthlessly it distorts and destroys the lives of all those involved.


More specifically, the bulk of the plot follows a young, simple, rural, quickly married couple—Carding, the huge, strong, if illiterate rice farmer, and small but responsible village beauty Lucing, who runs their small household when they move out of their respective parents' homes. The novel follows them from the tiny rural village of Manhayang, where they're surrounded by family and friends they've known their whole lives, thence to Iloilo City when Carding's father's land is taken from him, further to another Ilonggo village where the harvest is better, and eventually into the depths of the war.

Compare Tree, a novel set in roughly the same era but in the Ilocos region to the north, and which follows instead the family of a plantation administrator, rather than the tenants, strictly speaking. Also contrast A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, set in almost exactly the same era (around 1941 as well, just before the war and the Japanese invasion), but which is set in Manila, and focuses on the other end of the social spectrum—the high-class, oligarchic elites that lived in the Walled City of Intramuros at the time prior to its wholesale destruction.


Relevant Tropes:

  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Treated as a fact of life, since obviously peasant families like Carding's have absolutely no chance against any action initiated by their landlord, Don Diego Castro. It's a huge deal when Carding beats up Don Diego's son Luis for attempting to seduce his wife Lucing, and the village elders discuss just how helpless Tatay Juan (Carding's father) will be if Don Diego presses charges.
    • It is sometimes played with though, as when Luis Castro first arrives in Manhayang, Carding doesn't bear him any ill will, not knowing initially that he would have designs on Lucing (though outwardly, Filipinos tend to hide their real feelings about each other in social encounters).
  • The Beautiful Elite: The Spanish mestizo Luis Castro. Especially from Lucing's point of view, he looks every bit like an Iberian prince (she explicitly compares him to The Hero of the Ibong Adarna play), what with his light skin, relatively fair hair, hairy limbs, and pencil moustache. Still, he's not considered leaps-and-bounds handsomer than, say, Carding, whose own looks are very positively described (he's big, strong, muscular, richly browned from working in the sun, etc.).
  • Betty and Veronica: Lucing and Rosing, respectively, to Carding's Archie.
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  • Boisterous Bruiser: Carding. He's monstrously strong, and uses his fists to win a lot of arguments.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The novel hits this hard transitioning into Part 2, aptly named "Night" as a counterpart to Part 1's "Day", because the second part covers the arrival of the much-dreaded Japanese occupation in the Visayas.
  • Les Collaborateurs: How most of Manhayang see the returned-from-America Uncle Jaime, who now believes or supports Japanese promises to liberate the Philippines from the Americans. All his family at home simplistically think him a Japanese collaborator (though in their defence, a Japanese invasion had not spared them just prior, so its brutality and abuses are still very fresh in their minds). Jaime himself, of course, likely thinks of much of the Filipino leadership as being American collaborators instead.
  • Da Chief: He doesn't head a police department, but Teniente Paul, Lucing's father and thus Carding's father-in-law, is the headman of Manhayang, and thus its default authority on minor matters (like he'd really have any sort of real authority against powerful landlords like the one his whole town's working for).
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Any formal religious rituals depicted are, of course, Catholic, though it's often heavily syncretised with practices left over from the precolonial past, such as the reliance on Witch Doctors to cure illnesses believed to be caused by local spirits. A village priest marries Carding and Lucing, and the couple later mourn their stillborn first child with a typically rural-Catholic wake (which nevertheless allows for the guests to celebrate and hold festivities). They also have their second child baptised with a big and joyful fiesta in Calinog town.
  • The City: of Iloilo, where Carding and Lucing move midway through Part 1, after Don Diego expropriates Carding's family of their land. There they room with Lucing's cousin Badong, who suggested the idea, and Carding finds work as a port labourer.
  • Contemplative Boss: After Señor Dorado (see Corrupt Bureaucrat below) orders Tatay Juan to turn over his rice land to his neighbour Tatay Emid, Tatay Juan begins to protest or question the order, but Dorado ignores him, goes over to his window and stares out wordlessly.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: Señor Marcial Dorado, the overseer (administrator) of Don Diego Castro's haciendas. One day he summons Tatay Juan and essentially takes his family's land away from him, giving it to one of their neighbours. Señor Dorado also orders the transfer of Carding's new bahay kubo because it's built on arable land, and will incur a crushing rent if it's not moved.
    • Would've counted for Obstructive Bureaucrat too, except he's actually pretty swift in executing Don Diego's orders. It's funny how bureaucrats can be slow for heroes but fast for villains, as Tatay Juan himself discovers the hard way.
  • Dashing Hispanic: Luis Castro, though he doesn't see much of any real fighting action unlike most instances of this trope—the one fight he gets into is with Carding, for his drunken attempts on Lucing. No swordplay's involved, either—it's a pure fistfight, and in this the incredibly strong Carding easily wipes the floor with his ass.
  • Death of a Child: Two full chapters are devoted to Lucing's two stillborn sons, and the only one to actually survive birth—her second son, Crisostomo—is strongly implied to have been killed by the Japanese before he reaches his first or second birthday, though she claims to Carding (who was away training at the time) that he (and Tatay Juan) died of illness. Plus, that's not even to count, technically, the adolescent Poncing, whom the Japanese also brutally murder (and whom they also tortured beforehand!).
  • Defeat Means Friendship: When Carding knocks out the port labourer Nestong (who started the fight when he found out Carding wasn't a union member, like himself), the latter befriends him.
  • Definite Article Title: Most of the chapter titles follow this format. There are exceptions, such as the ending chapters for both parts (Part I ends with "End of Day", Part II with "Who Fall in the Night"), and a few other scattered chapters across the book.
  • Down on the Farm: The Filipino version; in this case, it covers the lives of poor hacienda farmers (think a Lighter and Softer version of black plantation slaves in The Deep South, since here the farmers aren't technically enslaved—though they are paid very minimally, and often endure abuses from their landlords anyway).
  • Driven to Suicide: Lucio, one of Carding's pals on the farm, after the Japanese chop off his balls and dick. He jumps off a cliff and kills himself on a rock by a river.
  • During the War
  • Eagle Land: Decidedly Type 1—quite embarrassingly so, in fact, for a country that was a U.S. colonial possession for the half-century prior to the novel's publication. The simple families on the farm have this unwavering faith that America will deliver them safely from war and potential Japanese invasion, which is why many of the village's young men (including, of course, Carding) eagerly sign up with the colonial Army at the close of Part 1.
    • Balikbayan (repatriate) Uncle Jaime sees America as a hard Type 2 because he's worked long, hard years on the U.S. West Coast and has endured similar hardships on the farms over there to his relatives back home, not to mention vicious racism from white American workers. Because of this, he's taken in with Japanese promises of actual, anticolonial liberation from the racist and imperialist U.S. … too bad all his relatives at home are so drunk on American Kool-Aid (though, to be fair, they've since been violently abused by Japanese soldiers) that none of them believe him, and Carding ends up shooting him dead himself.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The first half of the book is certainly genteel compared to the second half, which opens with the war and the Japanese occupation underway, though it doesn't focus on any sort of aristocracy, but quite the opposite—it focuses on a poor rural community. Specifically, though no years are mentioned, the historical background is specific enough to place most of the plot around 1941–42.
  • The Ghost: Don Diego Castro, an absentee landlord in the purest sense of the term, never shows up in the novel directly, but he obviously wields outsized influence over the farming communities of Manhayang. The only contact the tenants have with him is when his son Luis visits Manhayang (and gets involved with Lucing, for which Carding beats up his ass), and when—implicitly in retaliation—his administrator Señor Dorado carries out his orders to divest Tatay Juan of his land, and to have Carding relocate his house because it's standing on fertile land.
  • Good Bad Girl: Rosing.
  • Hereditary Republic: Technically a "Hereditary Colony/Commonwealth" at this point, but the Calinog arc features a municipal councillor serving at the same time as his mayor father. Not a bit out of place for a colony (and later country) which the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago (herself a fellow Iloilo native) succinctly, if melodramatically, called the "political dynasty capital of the world".
  • Honor-Related Abuse: Teniente Paul, Lucing's father and village chief of Manhayang, was on the verge of literally murdering Lucing upon suspicion that she slept with Luis Castro. Only her mother manages to stop him from acting upon that sudden burst of insane rage—and even then, he settles for smacking Lucing viciously, calling her a whore, and denying her and Carding any share in his land while he's alive.
    "Where there is smoke there is fire. People shall not pass me in the streets and say, 'Look, there goes Paul, the father of an adulteress.'"
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Rosing. Though technically she's a cabaret dancer.
  • Hope Spot
  • Hot-Blooded: Carding at times. You'd better run when he gets pissed, because he will beat up your ass. He can also be pretty good-natured on other days though.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Carding, for all his enormous masculinity, starts openly crying in the wake of the great Calinog flood, after he and Lucing lose much of their harvest, and are forced to abandon their carabao Bag-o to be swept away by the floodwaters.
  • Ironic Name: Carding's family name is Suerte—i.e., the Spanish for "lucky". The whole novel is about his various misfortunes—so much so, that in fact a more Meaningful Name for him would be Malasuerte ("bad luck"). (There are moments when he does get lucky, i.e., when he's called to the town of Calinog, which has semiannual rather than annual harvests, but even that doesn't last long.)
  • Latin Land: A milder case of this than most, but it's got a lushly tropical, stormy/sunny climate, Catholic natives with Hispanic full namesnote , feudal labour on vast haciendas (plantations), and abusive landlords (with actual Spanish blood to boot!).
  • Latin Lover: Luis Castro, who actually is of Spanish descent. He quickly gets smitten with Lucing and eventually seduces her while drunk, and while Carding's away. It's telling Lucing quickly falls for him too even as she battles with the (characteristically Catholic) guilt over her lusty feelings. Unfortunately for Luis, though, Carding comes back a little too early.
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: A slight case of this dichotomy with relatively innocent Lucing as the Light and worldly Rosing as the Dark.
  • Loan Shark: Señor Arpa, the moneylender.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Rosing. The novel, which of course mostly chronicles Carding's point of view, often lingers on her pretty face, red lips, and white legs, and also goes to show how gorgeous she looks when dressed up for a night of clubbing at the local cabaret. Really it's no wonder Carding engages in a brief affair with her.
    • Lucing's also described as pretty in her own way, and the novel's description of her can sometimes verge on the sensual (e.g. the hormonal early-teens village boys also describing her with especial focus on her own legs), though of course on the whole her beauty's simpler and down-to-earth compared to Rosing's—which is not to say that it's inferior, however.
  • Missing Mom: Carding's mother, Tatay Juan's wife, has been dead a while, before the novel's beginning.
  • Nightmare Sequence: After the incident with Luis Castro, Carding has a nightmare. It starts with him farming with his carabao on a seemingly normal day … but then an earthquake strikes. He looks around and notices it's not a natural earthquake, but sees his landlord Don Diego towering over the land, rolling up the land and stuffing it into his pocket like a map. Then he finds himself being arrested by the police, who note that he's thin and weak (as against his actual strong build), and who charge him with the murder of Luis Castro. Carding looks to Lucing for help, but notices she's still in the arms of a guy who somehow resembles Luis Castro even though the cops said he was dead. Cue wakeup.
  • Not So Safe Harbour: On Carding's very first day of work in the port town of Iloilo City, he gets assaulted by a union stevedore named Nestong, all because Carding undercharged a disembarking passenger—specifically, half the union rates for carrying luggage. The union leadership later effectively threaten him that things will be hard for him if he doesn't sign up. Carding does sign up, for a while anyway, and quickly gets used to the union's sometimes underhanded methods of hustling fees out of everyone who passes through port needing the porters' assistance.
  • Off with His Head!: The second half of the novel being set during the Japanese occupation, it's no surprise a lot of characters end up tragically losing their heads to the Japanese' favourite execution method. Rosing is one of them.
  • Old Maid: Inday Picat, Manhayang's resident village gossip.
  • The Oldest Profession: Rosing. Not quite explicitly, because her actual job description is "taxi-dancer" (i.e., she dances at a cabaret with paying customers), but otherwise she fits all the markers. She does become a comfort woman, however, during the Japanese occupation, as do many of the other young women in the story (e.g. Alicia, another girl from the village).
  • The Philosopher: Manong Marcelo, as the resident schoolteacher and first to read local news and publications, serves as his barrio's equivalent of this, dispensing useful advice to his community.
  • La Résistance: In Part 2, Carding joins the guerrilla units taking down the Japanese and their local collaborators. The novel ends just as the town church's bells are ringing, a signal to Carding's unit to engage in battle, and we never see the attack itself nor learn his fate. Though given what the book's title alludes to...
  • Literary Allusion Title: To a quote from Noli Me Tangere (see Shout-Out below).
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: When Carding beats up Luis Castro for getting handsy with Lucing, his father Tatay Juan frets about possibly getting Carding a lawyer in case he gets charged with assault. Tatay Marcelo quickly disabuses him that it's next to useless: Don Diego, Luis' father and the owner of the land the entire village is tilling, is wealthy enough to hire the best attorneys in the land, and whatever legal defence Carding can get—which, given their social class, would almost certainly be pro bono—it will be quickly and mercilessly shot down.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: A rare, heroic version in Carding. After Lucing leaves him in the city and returns to Manhayang (a conflict started over her suspicions of him cheating—as it turns out, well-founded, given his dalliance with Rosing), and when the Iloilo port strike ends, Carding decides he's had enough of stevedoring and unions, and decides to return to the farm as well—even with the union boss Tio Sergio enticing him to stay on, become his bodyguard for extra pay, and hopefully rise up in the union ranks.
  • Settling the Frontier: The homesteader Isaac Celes tells tales of how he was granted land to settle in Mindanao in the south (then mostly considered the hinterlands, ignoring the fact that Muslim and animist indigenous families had been living there for centuries), and encourages people like Carding and Lucing to move there. Since the couple (and their son Crisostomo) just endured a massive flood in Calinog town—not to mention the land Carding's working on there has been rented out to another farmer—Carding sees Mindanao as a golden opportunity. The war interrupts, however.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Extramarital sex in this case, with Lucing's feelings after meeting Luis Castro. She appears to capitulate rather quickly though—and given the level of village gossip when she was interrupted, imagine the effect on her reputation had it been consummated!
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Rosing was already pretty in her everyday getup, but she's a total knockout when she comes down one night to go out with Carding to the cabaret, wearing delicate makeup and a shimmering sequined dress.
  • Sick Episode: The chapter "The Rice Fields", set after Carding and Lucing have arrived in Calinog town. Carding becomes so determined to plow all his fields that he overworks himself and catches a nasty fever after a sudden downpour. This being a very rural setting without modern medicine, Lucing sends for a Witch Doctor, who diagnoses that the cause was Carding plowing through an anthill inhabited by powerful—and vengeful—nature spirits. Offerings are made to appease the spirits but it's a slow recovery until Carding manages to sweat out the fever, with Lucing double-wrapping him in blankets and embracing him for warmth at night.
  • Shout-Out: Javellana had something of a hard-on for the works of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal. The title alludes to Rizal's 1887 novel Noli Me Tangere, written in the context of the then-current Spanish colonial rule:
    I die without seeing the dawn brighten over my native land! You, who have it to see, welcome it – and forget not those who have fallen during the night!
    Elias, in Charles Derbyshire's Noli translation, 1912
    • It's not just that; Lucing's second son Crisostomo is—in-universe—named after Crisostomo Ibarra, the Noli's protagonist. A mini-discussion of the book features during the child's baptism where his parents, and half the town of Calinog that's in attendance, decide on a name.
  • Two-Act Structure: Part I is called "Day" and Part II is called "Night".
  • Witch Doctor: Olang Rufo, who diagnoses Carding's fever as caused by the latter's destroying an anthill that was basically home to the local equivalent of The Fair Folk. He instructs that food offerings (including animal sacrifices) be made to appease the spirits, and performs a dance with sharp blades apparently to communicate with them.


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