Maria Clara is also known as Maria Clara de los Santos y Alba, the fiancée of Juan Crisostomo Ibarra and the local beauty and celebrity of San Diego in Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere. She is also the illegitimate daughter of Father Dámaso and Pía Alba.
Maria Clara had eyes like her mother. Its large black orbs were large, had long lashes, and showed emotions openly. Her thick light-colored hair had curls and often strewn with fragrant flowers. Her small shapely ears were assumed to be from her father, Capitan Tiago, and her straight nose was just right. Her small mouth had dimples at the sides and her fair skin was as fine as onion skins.
Maria Clara often wore dainty dresses and religious artifacts (such as rosaries and a locket that contained a sliver from St Peter's boat). She also carries a silk pouch which holds Ibarra's farewell letter. She sometimes carries a fan which she uses to hide her face when embarrassed.
Maria Clara's character is related to Rizal's childhood sweetheart, Leonor Rivera. Like the real life Leonor, she plays the piano and the harp and has a sweet voice. She was portrayed as a faithful sweetheart, a good friend, and an obedient daughter. She is portrayed as the ideal woman during her time. She does not impose her will except when she refused being married off to Linares.
Maria Clara had childish simplicity despite being showered with love and attention by everyone. She gets easily nervous especially when her loved ones are in trouble. She had shown her love to Ibarra with such modesty that remained unsullied of impure ideas.
Role in the novel
Maria Clara was introduced in the novel as the child given to Capitan Tiago and his wife Pia Alba by the Santa Clara and Our Lady of Salambaw. She was mestiza despite of her native parents because her mother had often looked upon the face of St. Anthony de Padua. By age 13, she was sent to the convent of St. Catherine and spent seven years there receiving religious training. As she was orphaned by her mother, her spinster aunt took care of her. Despite being far away from her childhood friend, Ibarra, her marriage was arranged with him through their fathers.
When Maria Clara spent time in San Diego, the curate fancied her and would often visit her home. In a picnic organized by Ibarra before San Diego holds its town fiesta, she had sang and had her audience melancholic. In this scene, she also had laughed with her friends using the Wheel of Fortune (a book of games), which had been the source of her happiness. Padre Salvi eventually tore it into pieces.
During the fiesta, Maria Clara gave away her jeweled locket, despite the scolding she had from her friends, to the leper who accepted it. When Sisa arrives and drags the leper to pray, the madwoman was arrested by the guards. This made Maria Clara disappointed of Ibarra’s inaction to help the poor woman and bored of the fiesta. A more eventful dinner awaited her as she restrained Ibarra from doing further harm to Padre Damaso after the latter had insulted Don Rafael's memory. This resulted in Ibarra's excommunication and her isolation from him. She became more desolate when Capitan Tiago told her that she is to marry another man. She became bedridden for days. Eventually, the Captain-General had lifted Ibarra's excommunication.
After Ibarra had been suspected of rebellion, Maria Clara was to be married off to Linares which made her grieve even more. After Ibarra had escaped with the help of Elias, the two had their last conversation at the azotea. When Ibarra had informed her that she is free from her promise to him, she defended herself by telling him that she was the biological daughter of Padre Damaso and that Padre Salvi had furnished letters to prove it. After their last goodbye and learning of Ibarra's death, she managed to convince Padre Damaso to send her to the nunnery. She eventually died in the convent after Padre Salvi, who became the convent's spiritual director, raped her.
Maria Clara symbolizes the purity and innocence of a sheltered native woman during the time of Spanish occupation. She does not value material things that were abundantly bestowed upon her by admirers and family alike but holds in high esteem her parents’ honor and the promise she had given to her sweetheart.
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