Dogeaters is a novel written by Jessica Hagedorn, published in 1990. The novel depicts the rich culture and society of the Philippines during the tumultuous period of Martial Law by contrasting and intertwining the lives of various characters from two different times. Rio reminisces about her family and the Philippines while Joey tries to survive after witnessing an assassination during Martial Law. It earned an American Book Award and a nomination for the Philippine National Book Awards in 1990.
The title refers to the Filipino image built up in the minds of Americans and foreigners during the St. Louis Exposition of 1904. A group of Igorots were brought to the expo and were showcased as "dogeaters." It was also used by American soldiers during the American Occupation to poke fun at Filipinos. The novel plays with this impression and outsider view as it portrays the rich, complex and dynamic society the Philippines has.
The novel is set in several different time periods: in Manila of the 1950s, in the time of Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship, and in the post-Martial Law period. There are shifts in time frame.
- Rio Gonzaga
- Pucha Gonzaga - Rio's cousin
- Severo Alacran - one of the richest men in the Philippines
- Isabela Alacran - wife of Severo
- General Nicasio Ledesma - Lolita's lover
- Joey Sands - a DJ and male prostitute
- Boy-Boy - a friend of Joey
- Orlando “Romeo” Rosales - an aspiring actor
- Trinidad Gamboa - a sales executive who buys Romeo's love
- Lolita Luna - an actress
- Senator Domingo Avila - a human rights advocate
- Daisy Consuelo Avila - daughter of Senator Avila
- Santos Tirador - an activist who has relations with Daisy
- The President
- The First Lady
- Rainier - a German director
The novel has two parts: "Coconut Palace" and "The Song of the Bullets". Each is introduced by excerpts from other literary works: "The Philippines" by Jean Mallat and a poem by Jose Rizal, respectively.
The first part opens with ten-year-old Rio Gonzaga narrating and introducing her family. A third person introduces another wealthy family, the Alacrans. The other narrator is Joey Sands, a disc jockey who also works as a male prostitute. Romeo Rosales, a wannabe actor, and Lolita Luna, an actress who is mistress to General Ledesma, serve to exemplify the Filipino tendency to idolize actors and celebrities. Their lives also show the grim and vulnerable situation of those in the limelight.
Daisy Avila, daughter of the human rights advocate Senator Domingo Avila, wins the Miss Young Philippines pageant but is not exultant about it. After being depressed, she comes out to speak against the pageant. Later, she enters into a relationship with a banker, and then with an activist, Santos Tirador.
Meanwhile, structural changes are immediately being implemented in Manila due to The First Lady's brainchild, the "Manila International Film Festival," including the construction of a cultural center for the event. A German director named Rainier comes to the city and is attracted to Joey, who resists the advances of Lolita. He takes Joey along with him and they stay together for a week. On the day of the director's flight back to Germany, the two breakfast at the Intercontinental Hotel. Joey, after pilfering from the director, leaves the hotel and witnesses the assassination of Senator Avila.
Romeo, on his way to breaking up with Trinidad, gets shot and is taken in by the police for the assassination. Later, he is forced to claim the crime.
Lolita also has gone through a terrible time. She wants to migrate but General Ledesma will not help her. In dire want of money to leave Manila, she suffers exploitation in pornographic films.
Joey, on the other hand, flees to his uncle and inadvertently tells the man what he witnessed. He falls asleep and when he wakes up, his uncle has left him at the house, guarded by a dog, to pass on the information about the assassination. Joey kills the dog and seeks shelter from Boy-Boy, his friend.
Daisy, struggling through her pregnancy and her father's death, suffers more when she is taken and tortured by General Ledesma and his military goons on account of her relationship with Santos. Later she is exiled and loses her child, but returns to hide in the mountains.
Amidst the political chaos, The First Lady grants an interview to an American wherein she propagates lies about Senator Avila's death and about the real sociopolitical condition of the country.
Joey meets Daisy in the mountains when he escapes from the dangers he faces in the city.
What follows is Rio's narration of what happened to her family. She speaks of the marriage of Pucha to her brother, of her parents' separation, and of her leaving for the States with her mother. Every now and then, she visits her Lola Narcisa in Manila but retains residence in the States.
After the two parts, two appendices are added, the first one with the purpose of confusing the reader. The first section is Pucha's discrediting Rio's accounts of what happened to the Gonzaga family. The other one is a parodied prayer which emphasizes the issues and themes explored by the novel.
Themes and issues
- Social inequality
The image of the Gonzaga and Alacran families and how their members relate to minor characters from the lower class show the great divide between the rich and the poor not only during the 1950s but in Philippine society in general.
- Marriage and social mobility
Due to social disparity, women seek to have good, i.e. profitable, marriages with prominent or rich men. This serves as social mobility for Isabel Alacran when she marries Severo Alacran. It is also the purpose of Pucha's marriage to Boomboom Alacran.
General Ledesma's powerful figure dominates much of the story as he is purported to have masterminded the assassination of Senator Avila. The arrest and torture of the innocent, as happened with Romeo Rosales and Daisy Avila, depicts the abuse of military powers during that decade and into Martial Law.
- American patronage
As a result of the American occupation of the Philippines, people tend to patronize and idolize American personalities and products. The novel shows this by citing the use of products made in the U.S. as well as portraying the women's aspiring to look like Hollywood personalities.
- Gender and sexuality
The women are usually obsessed with their beauty and getting high social status. However, a contrast is provided by minor characters like Daisy's mother, who is a professor, and her cousin, who is an artist. For homosexuality, especially that of gays, the issues raised include their domination of the fashion and beauty industry as well as their incorporation into the sex or prostitution industry.
References and allusions
The novel uses the images of The President and The First Lady to refer to Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos. It plays with the notoriety of the influential couple to thrust forward various themes and issues. Although the allusion is reinforced in many instances, the interview with The First Lady about her shoe collection is a telling detail.
Assassination of Ninoy Aquino
Senator Avila's assassination in the book can be seen as a reference to Ninoy Aquino's assassination in 1982. Both were human rights advocates and leaders of the opposition in the Senate.
Hollywood and American personalities
The novel portrays the Filipino fascination with Hollywood celebrities, to the point of mimicking them. Some artists mentioned in the novel are Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor.
Literary allusions and references
Aside from Jose Rizal's poem and The Philippines by Jean Mallat, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and President McKinley's speech justifying the colonization of the Philippines were also used and alluded to.
Cultural Center of the Philippines tragedy
In the novel, The First Lady mentions the construction of a cultural center, a reference to the Cultural Center of the Philippines or CCP Complex, one of Imelda Marcos projects. In the novel, a scaffolding collapses and construction workers are killed, trapped in the still-setting cement. The First Lady orders for construction to continue and the corpses are poured over with cement. This is a reference to a real-life incident that occured during the construction of the Manila Film Center, another Imelda Marcos project.
Lolita's character and experience alludes to the trend in the film industry during the 1950s and into the Martial Law Era: bomba or bold films. These films were perceived as escapist, distracting the people from the great social ills of the period. However, directors like Lino Brocka also played with sexy films by emphasizing the social context of their stories.
Upon the encouragement of Michael Greif of the musical Rent, Jessica Hagedorn made a theater script for Dogeaters. The many shifts in the novels time frame made direct theater adaptation difficult, so Hagedorn changed a bit of the structure and some details. The theater adaptation was shown in La Jolla, California in 1998. After changes, it was once more shown at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York in 2001.
- Article on Dogeaters at NY Times Website (Accessed May 7, 2008)
- Dogeaters Articles (Accessed May 7, 2008)
- Don Shewey on Dogeaters (Accessed May 7, 2007)
- "The Women of Dogeaters" by Gibbs Cadiz (Accessed May 7, 2008)
- Philippine Cinema (Accessed May 7, 2008)