“Either there is religion or there isn’t, and that’s that, either priests are free or they aren’t! The country is being lost…it is lost!"
Father Dámaso's statement exposes his belief that the church should be even more powerful than the state. Though the exact nature of the conflict at hand isn't completely known yet, it's clear that Father Dámaso believes that priests must be completely free to act as they please. Furthermore, he directly links the presence of religion to that of priests and their freedom, excluding the possibility of unorganized religion. The statement stands out even more since Christianity isn't the original religion of the Philippines, but that of their Spanish colonizers. When Father Dámaso says that "the country is lost," he is thus referring to the colonized Philippines, rather than the whole history of the nation.
“If I kill the head of a family, if I make a woman into a destitute widow and happy children into helpless orphans, will I have satisfied eternal justice if I let them hang me, or confide my secret to someone who has to keep it to himself, or give alms to the priests, who need it the least, or buy myself a papal pardon, or weep night and day? And what about the widow and children? My conscience tells me I should replace as much as possible the person I have murdered and dedicate myself completely and for my whole life to the welfare of the family whose misfortune I have created. And even then, even then, who will replace the love of a husband and father?”
Here, Don Rafael explains to Lt. Guevara why he does not attend confession despite risking social isolation as a result: he disagrees with the practice on an ethical level. Don Rafael believes that true atonement cannot happen through confession and its subsequent rituals alone, but can only occur if the guilty party completely dedicates themselves towards making up for the crime they committed to its victims. Later in the novel, Elías espouses a similar philosophy after Ibarra saves his life: he feels that simply thanking Ibarra is not sufficient, but that he must dedicate himself to saving Ibarra's life as well, even if it means putting his own life in danger.
"Better to drown than to be with the Chinese, I always say. I threw the deceased in the water."
Though Philippine people of Chinese descent are mentioned several times in the novel, their role in Philippine society is not generally explored. This brief interaction sheds light on others' perceptions of them, however. For other people in Philippine society, being associated with Chinese people is so shameful that it's better to be buried at sea. The interaction also underscores the importance of connection to the Catholic church in the Philippines. Without that association, Rafael Ibarra is left to be buried in either a secular Chinese cemetery or at sea, both of which are considered dishonorable, according to his son's angry reaction.
“The realization of my father’s ideas matters more than my crying over him, and more than my vengeance.”
This realization is a key moment in Ibarra's transformation over the course of the novel. Despite being outraged at the way his father was treated, in addition to feeling the typical sadness accompanying his father's death, Ibarra decides to move on and focus on how he can honor his father in the future. This decision separates him from characters like Társilo, who remains obsessed with vengeance, ultimately leading to his untimely death. Indeed, Rizal repeatedly emphasizes the futility of vengeance in Noli Me Tángere—the theme appears again when Elías nearly attacks Ibarra after finding out how their families' histories are intertwined.
"The Philippines is religious, and loves Spain. The Philippines will realize how much it does for our nation. There is abuse, one can't deny it, there are defects, but Spain is working to introduce reforms that will correct these things, and bring future projects to bear. Spain is not just self-interest."
Here, Ibarra demonstrates his reluctance to see the faults of colonialism, a trait that defines him for much of the novel. Notably, his belief that Spain is to be thanked for bringing Christianity to the Philippines is a generally uncontroversial one in Noli Me Tángere—despite other ideological disputes, all characters seem to agree that the Christianization of the country is for the best. Ibarra's faith in the Spanish government's dedication to reforms proves more controversial, however, as does his conviction that Spain is more than "self-interest."
“Show us a school and we will tell you who you are.”
This statement by the Captain General illustrates why the school becomes a contentious matter that everyone wants a say in: education reflects the values of a society. This idea is illustrated earlier as well, when the schoolmaster tells Ibarra how his curriculum and methods of discipline were dictated by Father Dámaso in order to comply with the church's ideology. Secular education offers a means of escape from the power of the church that dominates life in San Diego, so it's understandable that it's such an important and controversial issue in the novel.
“The dead man is only an indio!"
The anonymous townspeople's assertion that the yellow man's death doesn't matter much because he was "only an indio" is one of the saddest small moments in the novel. Though many of the townspeople doubtlessly have native Filipino ancestry themselves, they have internalized the ideas of colonialism that dictate that native Filipinos are worth less than Spaniards. The moment also indicates the full significance of the Philippines' social hierarchy. More than simply a system of who is invited to whose dinner parties, it decides who is worthy of life and whose death is mourned.
“In life it’s not criminals who provoke great hatred, it’s honest men.”
This statement encapsulates one of the key messages of Noli Me Tángere: good, ethical people often provoke more controversy among others than those who are immoral or wicked inside. For example, Captain Tiago is well-liked despite his hollow religious beliefs and lack of loyalty to his friends (such as Ibarra). On the other hand, both Ibarra and his father are rapidly abandoned when they are targeted by the church, despite being good people with a genuine desire to help others. Elías also complicates the idea of a "criminal" in this statement—he and Ibarra could both be considered criminals since they are "subversives," but because they are virtuous, he separates them from other criminals.
“Your education and mode of thought are not for this country."
This statement exposes an unfortunate truth of life in the Philippines in the novel: people with admirable ideals and ambitions like Ibarra often end up targeted and persecuted by people in power. Ibarra's refusal to leave the Philippines is thus impressive, considering the sacrifices he makes to remain loyal to his home country. Author José Rizal himself was persecuted by the colonial Spanish government after attaining a similar level of education to Ibarra and professing similar ideals.
"I die without seeing dawn's light shining in my country...You, who will see it, welcome it for me...don't forget those who fell during the nighttime."
Elías's final words illustrate the novel's theme of the importance of sacrifice: though Elías will not see the Philippines he envisions, he has faith that young people like Basilio one day will. The words also emphasize the importance of remembering these sacrifices made by people who love their country so deeply that they die for it despite not seeing it free.
Noli Me Tangere Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Noli Me Tangere is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.