Metaphors provide creative images for readers. They give flavor to literature and allow free interpretation of a piece; thereby making a conversation in a story, an image in a poem, a symbolism in the plot and such, more interesting. Through the use of such a figure of speech, the images are laid bare and presented fresh. This creates an interaction between the reader, the author and the piece; as readers are made to analyze the images presented and the idea that the metaphor is trying to introduce. It seems the poem, “Manila”, efficiently develops the metaphor that is the Philippines society during the colonial era, through a timeline.
It takes the problem of colonial Manila into the modern Filipino mindset. The poem begins with an introduction [Lines 1-3], which gives us the first glimpse of the similarities between the city of Manila and the hermit crab. The succeeding stanzas [4-8] elaborate the physical conditions of the country’s capital and finally, the poem concludes [l9-14] with the mentality upheld by the nation. To appreciate how metaphors lay bare Espino’s “Manila”, let us analyze the imagery create in the poem, line by line.
Unlike most poems, “Manila” begins with an epigraph from Nick Joaquin, which reads: “Dust and crabs, dust and crabs.” We can assume that this quote gives a foreview of what Federico Espino’s poem will highlight. Though very little is conveyed in this line, we are able to suppose that the metaphor will hold significance to the poem proper. Dust may be described as either something that depicts age or some remains of an explosion. We also know of crabs as an animal that crawls and has claws. Crabs are also able to survive on land for short periods of time and can literally live on dust.
“Manila” begins with the line: “A hermit crab beside the tide of times,” if we look at the concept of the hermit crabs as a description of Manila, the line merely tells us that time has passed. It tells us that Manila has an old history and that it has endured much. The next line: “She bears the traces of her former homes/ the shells of foreign cultures and the slime,” tells us that the country’s history contributes much to its identity. The city has withstood much to the point that it is now isolated and delayed in comparison to the developments of other countries.
The “former homes” are the shells that the crab has already left behind. The “foreign cultures” such as that of the Spanish, British, Japanese and Americans have all freed the country, yet their influences – dating back to colonial times – still linger. But as hermit crabs changes its shell, Manila now looks for a new “shell” of protection as she enters another era – whilst trying to retain its identity. Even with the passing of time, the mix of culture is still protected and preserved, which the narrator describes as both positive and negative – implying that though the foreigners have given us a rich culture, they have made us endure much “slime” and shit (considering that slime is a gastropod’s mucus secretion) in order to take what was rightly ours – freedom.
In the succeeding lines: “Now she looks for food as small waves comb/Upon the shore where bits of driftwood lie”, we now see a direction in the poem. Again it highlights how the hermit crab searches for something and we now see she looks for food. Keeping in mind that food is parallel to life – since it is necessary in sustaining life – the hermit crab looks for nourishment in a place which seemingly has very little to give. From Nick Joaquin’s “Sa Loob ng Maynila”, we understand the devastation in the city when it served as the center of the revolution, and we see that starting anew is difficult when one is left on what is being portrayed as a deserted island.
As expected, “she finds nothing in her hungry quest/ Instead she hears the raucous seagull’s cry/ Which is a shriek beyond the rock-ribbed nest.” In these lines, the seagulls – natural predators of the hermit crab – are foreign countries. We can assume that not only are we looking up at the seagulls but that they are also in a position to take advantage of us. In relation to the Philippines’ history, foreign countries are soaring. Other countries progress and it is a mockery when – ironically – the countries we defeated fighting for our independence are now more stable than we are – they still rise above us. We are still beneath them in a sense to the point we have to crawl in order to get anywhere. These lines are merely creating the image of a third world country. All seems futile, especially when you have nowhere else to go.
“It mocks her as she crawls upon the sand— The sidewise movement of the hermit crab/ Which Dylan saw on a deserted strand/ And used as a metaphor in runes that throb” It is possible that Dylan represents a foreigner (since it is a typical name for an American boy) and he saw our “aimless wandering” and toke advantage of it – however, this is more of a hunch than a legitimate argument. What is clear though, is the point of our sideways movement, which is the natural direction a hermit crab follows. By this we can concur that the movement has become innate. We are not moving forward. We want so much, yet work so little. Perhaps, these lines also imply that we search in all the wrong places.
“With life. Yes, this city is a pair of claws/ Creeping, crabbing with all its tragic flaws.” These last lines of the poem summarize the intent of the entire poem. Here it is implied that the people of the Philippines are aware of the damage in their society. Slowly, almost lifelessly, the Filipinos attempt to move through the things we dislike in our country. We complain so much yet we do very little – and perhaps that is our downfall. True there is no prefect nation, but in most nations you see a progression.
In reference to Nick Joaquin’s opening epigraph, perhaps the dust is the remains of those countries that once colonized us. We never bothered to clean up what was left to us – good and bad. Espino hints that perhaps that is why we are not moving forward, there is too much to fix all at once. And this can be related to what we call “crab mentality” or the Filipinos’ attitude of clawing at those who have gotten ahead to pull them back again. We “creep” and “crawl” in our own flaws – in our own mistakes – instead of picking ourselves and walking. It is our own claws that hold us back.
The generalizations made by Espino are obvious. Though the title is “Manila” is it clear that the city, being the “heart” of colonial Philippines, is a synecdoche for the entire country. And when all aspects of Espino’s Manila are examined, we see that the metaphor is in the intricate, descriptive design of the Philippines as a hermit crab trapped on a deserted island. Though she is attempting to escape, she is crawling blindly in no particularly direction. It seems not much has change.
Though “Manila” was written a long time ago, it is relatively surprising that the text paints Manila in a sad, accurate manner. We fought for our freedom. Now we merely struggle with it. It seems our nation cannot decide independently; like a hermit crab, we depend on our symbiotic relationships. We cannot survive alone and we rely on what can be give to us by those who “protect” us. The dependence relayed in the poem explains why we have no direction, no purpose, and no resources. We are – truly – stuck.