Quotes from "Mass," a Novel by F. Sionil Jose


“Recto! Rectum of Manila! Here are the odors of the posterior, particularly when the sun is warm and there would be a busted sewer gushing yellowish froth, and flies as big as bottle caps on the garbage piles; but we are young and if we see them, we look away. They will all be swept clean when the revolution comes and this Recto, this will be the boulevard of great erudition; it will be like the avenue of hope. It already is to thousands upon thousands like me, for it is here where I go to school.”

“I never liked speeches – whether by professional politicians or professors turned politicians. I had lived long enough in a village to know who exploits the little people – the landlord, yes, and the money-lenders, too. But it is the riffraff who really take advantage of their own kin. I had planted vegetables in the yard and when the eggplants were ready, who would come but our neighbors, asking for them when they could have easily planted in their yards, too.”

“You see, sir, when a politician comes to our village and makes a pretty speech about corruption in government, about how he intends to change things when he gets elected – we know it’s just words. But sometimes, particularly before the elections, he gets our muddy road fixed. And of course, there is the five pesos he distributes to those who can vote.”

“You cannot ask the poor for sacrifices. We are already poor. What can we give? How do you measure the patriotism of the poor?”

“There is nothing wrong with being wealthy – I hope you did not misunderstand. We all want to be comfortable, that is a common human aspiration. But precisely, it is not possible for as long as the ceiling to our aspirations is low. It is actually limited by our rich, by our oligarchy and our government which serves the upper classes but not the people…”

“Father Jess described how big men made the laws, how these laws enriched them, how poverty became the way of life of the masses because they were made poor on purpose. And the poor – he lashed at us – we did not know any better, we did not organize, we did not define our purpose and mark our enemies so we would know whom to fight if only so we could get what was ours by right because it was we who worked the land, the factories.”

“I always knew that it was the strong, the powerful who ruled, who drank the sweet juice of life.”

“The Colorums are gone, but the landlords are still with us, leeches beyond society. But the landlords are no longer the mestizos of yesteryears – imperious, fair-skinned and loud of speech. Now, they were brown like us, their origins not from Spain but from the village, farmers’ children who had gone to school to be lawyers, had grown fat with the spoils of the land – the children of farmers who had forgotten what their fathers were and therefore were no different from the landlords they had replaced.”

“It is so clear – you had to do this, to lie, to cheat, things you really don’t like to do – and only because you – you – we, Pepe – we are poor. The Wretched of the Earth – read that some time. And we – the poor – we have no choice.”

“I always remember what Mother told me when I was about nine or ten – that all those we love we will eventually lose, all those we hate we will eventually face. This is the inevitable sequence, the deafening roll which follows the lightning flash, the drab brown of the fields after the living green of the rainy season.”

“Do not think about decency, Pepe. This is an indecent world. All those people dressed up, attending those concerts, those fancy parties splashed in the society pages – they are all indecent. Each has his little scheme and in the end, they all use people.”

“God was a personal experience and belief; He fitted in my hierarchy of authority only as a last resort, the ultimate explanation of all the things too recondite for me to grasp. But He was no arbiter of right or wrong; it would seem that He did not care… He did not reward virtue; it was the scheming and the dastardly strong who lived happily ever after. Babies without sin die and so do mothers who are poor and cannot afford medicine or expensive doctors.”

“So we delight in saying that those who don’t look back to where they came from cannot go far, but some have gone far indeed while the rest stayed to rot where they are, to be visited again and again by the sins of their fathers.”

“It was better at night not only because there were dreams; where had I read it once, that there was this man in a concentration camp having a nightmare, but his fellow inmates did not wake him up because they knew no nightmare could be more horrible than the reality to which he could wake up?”

“Escape from poverty was often possible only through migration to the United States, but the quotas were full, the visas were difficult to get and, thus, whether it was in the anonymity of some rural village or in Tondo itself, it was many a girl’s dream to be married to an American.”

“Without admitting it, I had always felt inferior to those people at the U.P. (University of the Philippines), not because they could afford to study there – but simply because they had always seemed brighter than most; they always seemed to top the board exams, in law, in medicine…”

“They [the Americans] provide jobs for more than twenty thousand Filipinos. They bring millions of dollars to this country. Can you do the same – you and your revolution?”

“Listen, our history is a history…of failed revolutions. Always, in the end, someone was bought or someone turned traitor. We are a nation of traitors…we delight in seeing the downfall of others, even friends. We betray for money, for revenge, for envy…but most of the time, out of sheer cussedness…We are also a nation of ingrates.”

“I organize on the basis of friendships, on being Ilokano…Most of the students are not really interested in demos, except that they mean no classes…Do you know what their interests really are? To pass – to be able to get a degree, and after that, a job. Politics is a luxury of the rich.”

“Sorry for the language. But I just want you to know that there is no honor among the poor. In the Barrio, who are the thieves? Our own neighbors who get the laundry we hang outside our hovels – they steal them to sell to second-hand clothes stores. It is not the cats who get the fish we dry on our roofs; again, it is the neighbors who have nothing to eat. The Barrio is full of cheats, liars, drunks, sadists, perverts – and yes, we steal, we cheat, we lie because we don’t know where the next meal will come from. We grab what we can, from anyone. I ask you not to look at the village, at the poor with rose-colored glasses. There is nothing romantic about poverty. It is totally, absolutely, degrading.”

“This is not the time – the people are not really all that ready to accept violence; do you know what they want? Just peace – peace so that we can continue our miserable lives. More than that, the Americans are here. They will interfere. The oligarchy will convince them your revolution is communist even if it is not. And the rich – they are very strong, they are in power, in government. Where will you get the guns? The money? You will have to get them from the rich, and, in the end, they will lead, not you. No, this is not the time.”

“…I cannot argue against passion. There is no reasoning against the heart.”

“Life is learning and not much more. It is not loving because there is more hate in this world than love.”

“The first is that, while violence is necessary, it is not the only instrument for change. There are others just as good. But you must accept violence – you cannot begin to build until you have destroyed. You do not know love until you have hated.”

“You must destroy the rotten foundations to build a new edifice. You must know how to identify and hate injustice before you learn to value, above all, justice.”

“Feelings are easy to hide. It is not like poverty which you cannot hide.”

“Yes, but we forget the basic things. We get over-confident, we think we have done right. It is the details – the small ones that get us.”

“You live with people. You share the same dangers every day. You think you can trust everyone, you become vulnerable. You start pouring yourself out. You get flattered – oh, not the obvious kind, but small things that imply you are doing well and you are loved. You are the source of all wisdom, of all hope. Without you, the whole effort crumbles. The salvation of the group – no, the whole country, depends on you. These make good wine and soon you are drunk. Not so much in believing these things, but knowing that you are esteemed. Respected – ha! That is the final accolade. We really do not look for love from people – we look for respect. Love – that is reserved for the gods. Those who are loved – they can expect to be hurt and be forgiven for their mistakes. That is the nature of love. But those we respect – they are more harsh, more demanding. We lose respect for a man and that man is dead. It is enough, I think, that we are believed.”

“It was not that I was afraid of violence – I saw it every day in the Barrio – the slow, deadly violence inflicted on us, the gang fights, the knifings that were common in Tondo, the malnutrition, the stifling dreariness that deformed the body and the spirit.”

“Anger – it was what had kept me alive, although I had tried to still it, keep it from flowing out, and defined it in another way, and expressed it with not violence but with cynicism.”

“Ka Lucio had said earlier, that there are two ways of looking at our lives – either as fate or as conflict. Only hogs are fated because they cannot do anything except feed on the trough before they face the butcher’s knife. But men are men – they can do something about the future. Our life is a conflict then. They – or we. Self-defense, survival. Whatever we do, we can put it simply thus. And government? Ka Lucio did not have to tell me that it was an instrument of the rich, that government committed violence on us every day by not providing us with justice.”

“Should I have protested then? Should I have screamed and lashed away at the police pigs and my torturers? I thought about it later; I did right appearing meek and submissive. I was a prisoner no matter what the law said; I did not carry a gun – they did.”

“If you are poor – you cannot get out. There are no rich people in jail. They can afford bail, the best lawyers. They can even buy judges.”

“Who is innocent and who is guilty? The poor are always guilty and the rich are always innocent. Get some lawyer to stand for you. But while you are here, you must follow the rules – theirs and ours.”

“The police, what do you think they are for? Their pay, first of all – and the more they can get, through foul means if necessary, the more they will get it. They are not here to help us; they are here to maintain order so that we will continue being what we are – poor because we are poor.”

“Everyone up there was comfortable as long as we were down here. It was simple as that. And this jail – it was so easy to tear it down, to build cell blocks that did not leak, and toilets that did not smell. And the greatest enemy – boredom, what was there to dispel it, to defeat it? The violence, of course, was the ultimate relief. It also sustained the power of those who watched over us, of those who wanted us deeper in the bog.”

“It was perhaps the food, or the foul air, but I could recognize it at once in the harsh light of day – the inmates had that unmistakable pallor of people in Tondo, the dirty, mottled, pallid skin which hunger brought to people; indeed, I saw it then so clearly, so implacably real – that the Barrio was the far more insidious prison for while it had no walls, the people in it were really no different from those in this jail.”

“This is a world not of black and white but of greys, and it is really in this huge grey geography where we act out our fates. I envy those who have chosen the black and white for, to them, they have simplified living. There are no more storms within them to be stilled, no more muddied choices; there is only one intractable way, clear and straight, and they cannot deviate from it.”

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