The story assigned to our group is ‘The Mats”. And based on our discussions and group meetings, the interpretation we all agreed to make is the “reader-based interpretation”.
The Mats, written by Francisco Arcellana, is a short story depicting a very typical Filipino value – a deep sense of close family-ties and bonding. In this particular story, a man -depicted as a very loving and thoughtful father/husband- seems to still not able to move on from the unfortunate departure of his three children. The depiction of the family is about a typical big Filipino family with family members leading out roles in a very typical Filipino traditionalist lifestyle, that is; father/husband as the breadwinner and wife/mother as housewife and loving, obedient and submissive children.
The basic plot of the story is about the most memorable homecoming of the breadwinner of the family, the father, who came home from his periodic inspections which were celebrated everytime these happened. But during this particular inspection to the South, he “met a marvellous matweaver – a real artist” according to him. He wrote a letter about this event to his family that said “I shall have a surprise for you. I asked him to weave a sleeping-mat for every one of the family. He is using many different colors and for each mat the dominant color is that of our respective birthstones. I am sure that the children will be very pleased. I know you will be. I can hardly wait to show them to you” and when the letter arrived home, his family was so giddy and excited about the event. They kept on talking about it and they read the letter again and again when they could.
“Mats” played a big role in their own “family culture”. “They had such a mat in the house, one they seldom used, a mat older than any one of them. This mat had been given to Nana Emilia, the wife/mother, by her mother when she and Mr. Angeles, the husband/father, were married, and it had been with them ever since. It had served on the wedding night, and had not since been used except on special occasions. It was a very beautiful mat, not really meant to be ordinarily used. It had green leaf borders, and a lot of gigantic red roses woven into it. Nana Emilia always kept that mat in her trunk. When any one of the family was taken ill, the mat was brought out and the patient slept on it, had it all to himself.”
For us, that particular and special mat was an emblem, a symbol of tranquillity and good health and a refuge from being sick. It was a symbol of healing and beauty and elegance because of its intricate design and embroideries. We imagined it as a really lovely and beautiful mat with the golden woven name of the husband and wife.
But because of the rarity of its usage and where it’s almost usually used, as a sleeping mat of a sick family member, it became “associated with illness in the family, even serious illness”. Taking out those mats because of those happenings made this like a ritual.
For us, although it symbolizes good health and a refuge of being sick, it also kind of depicts a symbol of suppressed sorrow and agony as some of the children who took refuge on that particular mat died and were not fortunate enough to be rejuvenated by the healing powers of the mat.
Anyway, so when the night came, the father arrived and was with his family again. Depicted in the story was that every homecoming was celebrated so we believe that during this time, there’s a huge dinner for the family. We can see them really happy for the foundation of the family has come back. We can imagine the many stories being shared at the moment, the joyous laughters shared upon the family table. The “pasalubongs” or “souvenirs” being put aside, fruits and whatnot.
Despite the momentous moment and hundreds of random offset topics being brought upon, all of them thought of the wonderful mats brought by the father, Mr. Angeles. We can really imagine, basing on their background of being super mat-lovers, the excitement they had of seeing and receiving their respective mats. Just like one of our groupmates who shared the similar feelings contained about every homecoming of his soldier father the super excitement of receiving the things promised that are said to have acquired a tremendous price of beauty and sentimental value. He said it really felt super exciting to finally see and receive the promised things that his father told them. It was a different kind of excitement compared to normal feelings of excitement, because this kind of excitement, our groupmate said, was built upon months and months of waiting, just like in the story although we think it was just for days, but still the similarity of the situation is there.
So anyway going back, when the time came to distribute the promised ever wonderful mats woven by a “real artist” as how the father described him, we can imagine everybody were so elated and cannot wait for their respective glorious mats. We can even imagine the children and even his wife affectionately teasing him to finally distribute the mats.
“Finally, after a long time over his cigar, Mr. Angeles rose from his seat at the head of the table and crossed the room to the corner where his luggage had been piled. From the heap he disengaged a ponderous bundle.
“Taking it under one arm, he walked to the middle of the room where the light was brightest. He dropped the bundle and, bending over and balancing himself on his toes, he strained at the cord that bound it. It was strong, it would not break, it would not give way. He tried working at the knots. His fingers were clumsy, they had begun shaking.”
Maybe because of their affectionate persistence, we thought the father was nervous and was shaking because of the pressure they put on him. We found it cute and funny. Anyway, the bundle was loose and the mats were ready to be distributed.
The father gave everybody their respective mats with their respective names on it, each has their own unique and intricate designs that symbolize what they do and what defined them like a lyre for Marcelina, the eldest child, who was a music student like one of our groupmates also a pianist; Jose, the second child, had symbol of Aesculapius as a symbol for his being a medical student. The wife got a mat woven in the middle was her name and beside it are woven flowers –the cadena-de-amor – which we thought are symbols of his love to his wife. Cadena-de-amor symbolizes chastity and purity so we thought maybe that was why he thought to decorate his wife’s mat like that. The husband/father got himself an austere, meaning simple, mat but of purple and gold, which we think these colors symbolize superiority and/or royalty as fathers are metaphorically referred to as “king of the castle”.
When everybody got their respective mats, all of them bursted into complete happiness and gratitude. We can imagine the big smiles they were wearing now at the time, but the during the happiest hour of the night Nana Emilia, the wife, noticed there are mats that were left unopened yet. She wondered and exclaimed that “there are some more mats”. What our group thought was that because of her inquisitiveness, it ignited the tension of the story. Because of this the mood began to change abruptly.
The father, Mr. Angeles, replied “Yes, Emilia, there are three more mats to unfold. The others who aren’t here…” The moment we began to read these lines, we felt goosebumps inside us. We can see and imagine that everybody just froze and began to feel really tensed because everybody knows what their father meant. We can see the extreme sudden change of Mr. Angeles’ face from being really happy to being an empty, dull and straight face. We can picture out too Nana Emilia sweating like a river because of the awkwardness and nerve-wracking situation they were experiencing at the moment. She couldn’t speak at all. All of the children became automatic statues and mannequins only that they breathe of nervousness.
Mr. Angeles slowly unfold the mats, and the mats were empty, no symbols or whatsoever but just plainly names of the unfortunate offsprings he dearly loved and couldn’t let go yet. Everybody knew the name “but somehow the name, the letters spelling the name, seemed strange to them.”
As we were discussing this particular situation now of the story between the group,we kind of felt too as if we were there at the moment feeling the heavy pressured and tensed environment that was set around them. Then suddenly silence was broken and Nana Emilia “found her voice” and said “You know, Jaime, you didn’t have to”, her voice hurt and surely frightened. Mr. Angeles replied, “Do you think I’d forgotten? Do you think I had forgotten them? Do you think I could forget them?” He then shouted the names of the children, who already passed away, and dedicated them the mats he bought for them. During our group discussion we agreed this was the most intimate situation ever in the story.
We can hear them crying and soggy because of the tears uncontrollably flowing from their eyes especially from Nana Emilia and their children pleading their father to stop. Nana Emilia even asked him to stop but Mr. Angeles, as what we imagine and feel, even became more angry and said “Is it fair to forget them? Would it be just to disregard them?” “His voice had risen shrill, almost hysterical; it was also stern and sad, and somehow vindictive. Mr. Angeles had spoken almost as if he were a stranger. Also, he had spoken as if from a deep, grudgingly-silent, long-bewildered sorrow.” The words exploded in silence.
As what the story said and what we can imagine, all of their faces were glued to the face of their father no matter how much they wanted to look away from him, what we can see is how tragic that night was and how the mood changed from extremely happy to extremely scary and tensed. “There was a terrible hush.” Indeed, it was the most memorable homecoming they ever had.