The short story, “Dead Stars” was written during the American Colonization of the Philippines, a time when the modern short story, critical essay, and free verse poetry were introduced. English was the medium of learning, and became, as well, the language of the learned. This was also the time when utilitarian literature was slowly being overshadowed by the individualistic, modern view of creating “art for art’s sake”. Dead Stars by Paz Marquez Benitez (1894-1983), which came out in the Philippines Herald in 1925. This work, the first of only two short stories published by Benitez, is considered the first modern Philippine short story. It is a story of the frustrations, confusions, and heartbreak that arise from unrequited love.
Dead Stars is a story about the fickleness of Alfredo Salazar, a man in his thirties who is about to be married to a woman named Esperanza after four years of their being engaged. It begins with Alfredo staring out from the open window, who is being talked about by his father and sister regarding his marriage and his love life. We are told that he was so in love, that “at the beginning he was enthusiastic–flowers, serenades, notes, and things like that–” towards Esperanza. But his sister has observed that something has happened to him, that he was no longer aggressive and perhaps, youthful. Their father then explains that it is normal, that long-engaged people are “warm now, cool tomorrow”, that Alfredo was having his “last spurt of hot blood”.
Alfredo “fell in love” with another woman in just a few weeks of his “neighboring” to the Martinez Residence, where Julia Salas stayed for her visit. Julia too, seemed to have fallen for Alfredo, but both knew that what they had was against, perhaps, morality, and was subject to the scrutiny and judgement of the society. Alfredo, being an engaged man, should not involve himself with others. But he chose to live a lie, he believed he found “youth” and “heart’s desire” up in the hills with Julia. He always reasoned that ” If a man were married, why, of course, he loved his wife; if he were engaged, he could not possibly love another woman.”
But then he immersed himself in an illusion, in a dream that he can possibly be with Julia despite hurting Esperanza, and of course, breaking a lot of society’s rules. In the end, in his final encounter with Julia where the girl did not seem to respond to his last show of love, there he was redeemed from that delusion, that all along he was holding on to nothing; that all along he was looking at dead stars.