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THE SYMBOLISM ON THE COVER OF RIZAL

NOLI METANGERE

the title cuts diagonally across the front, covering a handwritten dedication,
apparently to his parents, from which the following phrase can be made out: 'In
writing...thinking...always...it was you who implanted in me...the first ideas...this
manuscript...proof of love.' In the upper corner
of the cover is the silhouette of a girl's head (the unfortunate Maria Clara?); at the
bottom, two hairy calves protrude from a habit, the feet encased in sandals (Father
Damaso, if one is to judge from the opening scene of the Noli). Scattered about are
other symbols: a constabulary helmet, a whip, a length of chain, thorny bamboo
branches, flowers, and a graveyard cross. It is all very romantic and, in its own way,
appropriate." (Guerrero, 133)

Elaborate and romantic indeed but also faintly sadomasochistic. Intentionally or not,
the cover also plays a trick on the eye of its beholder -- stare at the cover long enough
and you'll see a fantastic creature, a chimera really, with the head of a Spanish- India
mestiza and the legs of a Spanish friar. The text itself is the torso that the title --
"Touch Me Not" -- bars us, literally and figuratively, from seeing in full. Could this
be a grotesque portrait of Rizal's patria adorada? One could argue that the cover is
evocative of Philippine colonial society in general -- the
feminine "elevated" but also placed in shadow; the religious orders "running"
everything "behind" the scenes; and death, cruelty, and bondage amid the lush tropical
vegetation. But one could also argue (unoriginally) that the Noli's cover offers a
pictorial summary of the main text.