What do the characters Ibarra and Elías represent in the novel?
The two characters embody the two opposing means of social reform that Rizal wishes to analyze. The first is socio-political change brought about through legal means and civilized discourse and is embodied by Crisóstomo Ibarra, the wealthy, liberally educated young man raised to question civil authority but not cause social discord. The other model is socio-political change brought about abruptly by force and, quite possibly, bloodshed, as embodied by Elías, the vagabond revolutionary seeking to recruit the disenfranchised to his cause.
Tasio states that “women, in order to be good, must be maiden or mother” (163). Is this true in Noli Me Tángere?
In general, the more sympathetic female characters are indeed maidens or mothers. Furthermore, many of those characters have little agency—most of the main characters' mothers are deceased and thus cannot act, while María Clara, a maiden, is generally passive, with few exceptions. Sisa, the most prominent mother in the novel, loses her mind from grief and has no power to effect change in her life. Women who are neither maidens nor mothers, such as Doña Consolación, are usually less sympathetic.
Is Tasio a figure to be admired? Why or why not?
One could argue either way. On one hand, Tasio lives unconcerned by what others think of him and is an independent thinker, which is admirable. Yet he ultimately dies alone and has no real role in Ibarra and Elías's fight for the future of the Philippines, suggesting that his solitary ways lessen the impact he could have on society.
Compare and contrast Father Dámaso and Father Salví.
Father Dámaso initially seems more villainous, openly racist and petty in his schemes against the Ibarras. Yet Father Salví is slowly revealed to be perhaps even more evil, secretly plotting against the heroic Ibarra and lusting after María Clara. In this manner, Rizal illustrates multiple ways in which priests can abuse their power.
What does the novel say about revenge?
Noli Me Tángere suggests that revenge is ultimately a futile goal, and often a deadly one. Tarsilo's pursuit of revenge ends with him being brutally killed without achieving the revenge he hopes for. When Ibarra does attempt to avenge his father by attacking Father Dámaso, he faces severe consequences as well. Virtuous characters like Elías resist the temptation for revenge, taking their motivation from other, nobler desires.
What does the character of Captain Tiago say about colonialism?
Captain Tiago illustrates the serious consequences of colonialism for even relatively privileged indigenous people. Though Captain Tiago appears successful, his acceptance in society depends on his rejection of his fellow indigenous people, who he slurs as "indios." Furthermore, successful people in the novel generally have little sense of loyalty, suggesting that Captain Tiago too is disposable even to his allies.
Is Noli Me Tángere anti-Catholic or anti-religion? Why or why not?
No. The novel portrays many deeply religious characters, such as Elías, positively. Furthermore, despite their status as priests, villainous characters like Father Dámaso and Father Salví aren't actually very pious—the former is horrified when María Clara wants to be a nun, while the latter makes no attempt to curb his lust. Instead of criticizing Christianity or religion as a whole, Noli Me Tángere criticizes materialism and corruption of power in particular.
Do you think Rizal portrays education as the solution to oppression? Why or why not?
While Rizal seems to believe education can be a key way to escape oppression, he does not seem to think that it alone can free someone. Despite his significant education, Ibarra takes a long time to understand the faults of Philippine society and begin working for a better future. Indeed, his education is in some ways an obstacle to realizing how flawed his society is, since it provides him with privilege. Rizal also illustrates the inadequacies of some systems of education when the schoolmaster tells Ibarra he's forbidden from teaching his students Spanish—they are not allowed to learn the language that would allow them to obtain the best jobs.
Why does Sisa die at the end of the novel?
Sisa dies of shock because she is so stunned when she finally recognizes her son. Though the reason for her shock is ambiguous, it's possible she's overwhelmed by the trauma she and her family have experienced through the death of one son and disappearance of the other. This trauma may be too much for Sisa to bear.
What is the "cancer" that the title alludes to?
The cancer of the title is the corruption of the Catholic Church in the Spanish empire in the Philippines, illustrated by corrupt priests such as Father Dámaso and Father Salví. Just as some were too afraid to touch the sores of a serious cancer, many Filipinos were too afraid to speak about the rampant abuses of power that spread throughout the country.