Noli Me Tangere (novel)

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Noli me Tangere
120px Noli me Tangere, original cover
original cover
Author Jose Rizal
Country Philippines (first printing in Berlin)
Language Spanish
Genre(s) novel
Publication date 1887
Media type Print
Followed by El filibusterismo

Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not as the alternative English title) is a Spanish-language novel written by José Rizal and published in 1887 in Berlin. The novel is commonly referred to by its shortened name Noli; the English translation was originally titled The Social Cancer, although recent publications have retained the original Latin. The literal translation is touch me not. Rizal derived these words from the Bible, specifically the Gospel of St. John 20:13-17, which describes how lepers were made to wear signs bearing these words to warn passers-by of their condition. "Touch me not" were also the warning words spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalene when he rose from the dead. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said this because he has not accomplished his mission (after rising from the dead, he must ascend to heaven to see God the Father) and hence, cannot be touched. French writer D. Blumenstihl says that "Noli me tangere" is in fact the professional nickname used by ophthalmologists (such as Rizal himself) for cancer of the eyelids.



The book is a social commentary narrating the cruelty of the Spanish friars to the Filipinos. The novel is woven around the romance of Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara but the deeper and more subtle theme revolves around the abuses of Spanish priests and the colonial government. Crisóstomo Ibarra is the son of Don Rafael Ibarra, and had studied in Europe. María Clara is a girl blessed with beauty, grace and charm. She is the daughter of a Spanish friar (priest), Padre Dámaso, and a Filipina, Doña Pía Alba, who is married to Santiago de los Santos, popularly known as Capitán Tiago.

The Spanish authorities, particularly Padre Dámaso, hated and feared Crisóstomo Ibarra--a young, wealthy, European-educated Filipino--because of his patriotic and progressive ideas of helping his oppressed countrymen.


Having completed his studies in Europe, young Juan Crisostomo Ibarra comes back to his motherland after a 7-year absence. In his honor, Capitan Tiago (Don Santiago de los Santos) throws a get-together party, which is attended by Fray Damaso, Fray Sibyla, Lieutenant Guevarra, Doña Victorina, and other prominent figures. In an unfortunate incident, Fray Damaso, former curate of San Diego, belittles and slanders the young man. But the ever-gracious and diplomatic Ibarra brushes off the insult and takes no offense, instead politely excusing himself and leaving the party because of an allegedly important task. Ibarra has a sweetheart by the name of Maria Clara, an extraordinarily beautiful lady. She is known as the daughter of Capitan Tiyago, an affluent resident of Binundo. The day after the humbling party, he goes to see Maria Clara. Their long-standing love for each other is clearly manifested in this meeting, and Maria Clara cannot help but reread the letters her sweetheart had written her before he went to Europe. Before Ibarra left for San Diego, Lieutenant Guevarra (a Guardia Civil), reveals to him the incidents preceding the death of his father Don Rafael. Don Rafael was a rich haciendero of the town.

According to the Lieutenant, Don Rafael was unjustly accused of being a heretic, in addition to being a filibuster--an allegation brought forth by Fray Damaso because of Don Rafael's non-participation in confession and Mass rites. Fray Damaso's animosity against Ibarra's father is aggravated by another incident. Once Don Rafael saw a tax collector and a student fighting. Out of compassion, he helped the child. The tax collector was greatly irked and picked a fight with Don Rafael. Unfortunately, the Spanish tax collector fell, hit his head against a rock, and died. The collector's death was blamed on Don Rafael, and he was arrested. Suddenly, all of those who think ill of him surfaced with additional complaints. He was imprisoned, and just when the matter was almost settled, he got sick and died in jail. Still not contented with what he had done, Fray Damaso arranged for Don Rafael's corpse to be dug up and transferred from the Catholic cemetery to the Chinese cemetery, because he thought it inappropriate to allow a heretic such as Don Rafael a Catholic burial ground. Unfortunately, it was raining and because of the bothersome weight of the cadaver, the one in charge of burying the body decided to throw it in the river.

Revenge was not in Ibarra's plans; instead he carries through his father's plan of putting up a school, since he believes that education is a liberating factor.

During the inauguration of the school, Ibarra would have been killed in a sabotage had Elias not saved him. Instead the hired killer was the one who was killed. Because of this unfortunate incident, Maria Clara got sick but was luckily cured by the medicine Ibarra sent her.

After the inauguration, Ibarra hosts a luncheon during which Fray Damaso again insults him. Ibarra ignores the priest's insolence, but when the latter slanders the memory of his dead father, he is no longer able to restrain himself and lunges at Fray Damaso, prepared to stab the latter for his impudence. His beloved Maria Clara stops him just in time.

Because of the aforementioned incident, the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church excommunicates Ibarra. Fray Damaso takes this opportunity to persuade the already-hesitant parents of Maria Clara to forbid their daughter from marrying Ibarra. The priest wishes Maria Clara to marry a Spanish named Linares who just arrived from Spain.

With the help of the Captain General, Ibarra's excommunication is nullified and the Archbishop decides to accept him as a member of the Roman Catholic Church once again. But, as fate would have it, some incident of which Ibarra had known nothing about is blamed on him, and he is wrongly arrested and imprisoned. But the accusation against him is overruled because during the litigation that followed, nobody could testify that he was indeed involved in the trouble. Unfortunately, his letter to Maria Clara had somehow gets into the hands of the jury and is manipulated such that it then becomes evidence against him.

Meanwhile, in Capitan Tiyago's residence, a party is being held to announce the upcoming wedding of Maria Clara and Linares. Ibarra, with the help of Elias, takes this opportunity and escapes from prison. But before leaving, Ibarra talks to Maria Clara and accuses her of betraying him, thinking that she gave the lettter he wrote her to the jury. Maria Clara explains to Ibarra that she will never conspire against him and that the letter in the jury's possession is not the letter he wrote her, but instead were a couple of letters written by her mother even before she, Maria Clara, was born. The letter states that her mother was raped by Fray Damaso and that she is therefore not the daughter of Capitan Tiyago, but of Fray Damaso.

Afterwards, Ibarra and Elias boards a boat and flees the place. Elias instructs Ibarra to lie down and the former covers the latter with grass to conceal the latter's presence. As luck would have it, they are spotted by their enemies. Elias thinks he could outsmart them and jumps into the water. The men rain shots on the person in the water, all the while not knowing that they are hitting the wrong person.

It reaches Maria Clara's knowledge that Ibarra was killed in a shooting incident, and she is greatly overcome with grief. Robbed of hope and severely disillusioned, she asks Fray Damaso to confine her into a nunnery. Fray Damaso reluctantly agrees because Maria Clara explicitly threatens to take her own life if she is not allowed to become a nun.

But what Maria Clara reads in the papers is untrue, since Ibarra is not dead; he is not the one who has taken the shots of the enemies.

It is Christmas Eve when Elias arrives at the Ibarra forest, gravely wounded and barely alive. It is in this forest that Elias finds Basilio and his lifeless mother, Sisa. Elias dies without having seen the liberation of his country.

Main points

Within the plot are episodes and images, which may not have mproved the unity of the novel, but effectively carry out Rizal's purposes in writing it. The scene in the cockpit sarcastically portrays the humiliating effects of the passion for gambling. The vivid All Soul's Day dialogue of the Tertiaries on the gaining of indulgence is an unforgettable condemnation of fanaticism and superstition. The fiesta sermon of Fray Damaso, eloquently protests against the vulgar ignorance and hypocritical religious tyranny of the friars. In these episodes perhaps, rather than in the novel as a whole, lie the book's power. The ultimate message is not always clearly spelled out, but the abuses and defects of the colonial regime are explicitly revealed. The discussions of Elias and Ibarra disclose possible solutions, and though Rizal is against a bloody revolution, its inevitability is unmistakable if radical reforms are not forthcoming.

Rizal's book persistently unmasks contemporary Spaniards in the Philippines of every kind. The corruption and brutality of the civil guard drive good men to outlawry rather than reduce banditry. The administration crawls with self-seekers, out to make their fortune at the expense of the Filipinos, so that the few officials who are honest and sincere are unable to overcome the treacherous workings of the system, and their efforts to help the country often end up in frustration or in self-ruin.

The friars have made the Catholic religion an instrument for enriching and perpetuating themselves in power by seeking to mire ignorant Filipinos in fanaticism and superstition instead of teaching them true Catholicism, by controlling the government, by opposing all progress and by persecuting the Filipino ilustrado, unless they make themselves their servile flatterers.

Rizal does not, however, spare his fellow countrymen. The superstitious and hypocritical fanaticism of many who consider themselves religious people; the ignorance, corruption, and brutality of the Filipino civil guards; the passion for gambling unchecked by the thought of duty and responsibility; the servility of the wealthy Filipino towards friars and government officials; the ridiculous efforts of Filipinos to dissociate themselves from their fellowmen or to lord it over them--all these are ridiculed and disclosed. Nevertheless, Rizal clearly implies that many of these failings are traceable to association with the Spaniard, or to the misguided policy of the government and the questionable practices of the friars.

Rizal nevertheless balances the national portrait by highlighting the virtues and good qualities of the unspoiled Filipino: the modesty and devotion of the Filipino woman, the unstinting hospitality of the Filipino family, the devotion of parents to their children and children to their parents, the deep sense of gratitude, and the solid common sense of the untutored Filipino peasant.

The Noli is, therefore, not merely an attack on the Spanish colonial regime; it is a charter of nationalism. It calls on the Filipino to recover his self-confidence, to appreciate his own worth, to return to the heritage of his ancestors, and to assert himself as the equal of the Spaniard. It insists on the need of education, of dedication to the country, and of absorbing aspects of foreign cultures that would enhance the native traditions.

Historical context

Noli Me Tangere was Rizal's first novel. He was 26 at its publication. This book was historically significant and was instrumental in the establishing of the Filipino's sense of national identity. The book indirectly influenced a revolution although the author, José Rizal, advocated non-violent means and only direct representation to the Spanish government. The novel was written in Spanish, the language of the educated at a time when Filipinos were markedly segregated by diverse native languages and regional cultures.

Rizal started writing the Noli in Madrid, Spain. Half of it was done by the time he left for Paris, and it was printed in Berlin, Germany. Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, a well-known writer and political activist, volunteered his services as proofreader and consultant.

The novel created so much controversy that only a few days after his arrival, Governor General Terrero summoned him to the Malacañáng Palace and told him of the charges saying that the Noli was full of subversive ideas. After a discussion, the liberal Governor General was appeased; but he mentioned that he was unable to offer resistance against the pressure of the church to take action against the book. The persecution can be discerned from Rizal's letter to Leitmeritz: "My book made a lot of noise; everywhere, I am asked about it. They wanted to anathematize me ['to excommunicate me'] because of it . . . I am considered a German spy, an agent of Bismarck, they say I am a Protestant, a freemason, a sorcerer, a damned soul. It is whispered that I want to draw plans, that I have a foreign passport and that I wander through the streets by night ..."

This novel and its sequel, El filibusterismo (nicknamed Fili), were banned in the Philippines because of their portrayal of corruption and abuse by the country's Spanish government and clergy. A character which has become a classic in the Philippines is the priest "Padre Dámaso" which reflects the covert fathering of illegitimate children by members of the Spanish clergy. In the story, Padre Dámaso impregnates a woman. Copies were smuggled in nevertheless and when Rizal returned to the Philippines after completing medical studies, he quickly ran afoul of the local government. First exiled to Mindanao, he was later arrested for "inciting rebellion" based largely on his writings. Rizal was executed in Manila on December 30, 1896 at the age of thirty-five.

The book was instrumental in creating a unified racial Filipino identity and consciousness, as many Filipinos previously identified with their respective regions to the advantage of the Spanish authorities. It lampooned, caricatured and exposed various elements in the colonial society.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

External links

Original Source

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