Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me Tangere Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-20


Finally, Basilio returns alone, telling Sisa that he escaped the church and was grazed by a bullet shot at him by the civil guards nearby. Sisa is nonetheless grateful to God that Basilio is alive. When he explains that Crispín was accused of stealing, Sisa says that “it’s because we’re poor and poor people have to suffer everything.” Basilio, who is aware of his father’s abuse, says that they are better off without him, but Sisa doesn’t reply. After having a dream about the night’s events, he wakes up and tells Sisa he doesn’t want to be a sexton anymore and instead wants to retrieve Crispín and get a job from the young Ibarra, who he believes will be as good a man as his father.

Villagers discuss purchasing indulgences, which they can dedicate to loved ones’ souls in hopes of getting them out of purgatory sooner, and debate methods for maximizing indulgences. Sisa walks by, looking for her sons to no avail.

Ibarra meets with a young man by the lake where his father’s body was dumped. The other man explains that the elder Ibarra helped him in his work as a schoolmaster. Ibarra tells him that he’s realized that “the realization of my father’s ideas matters more than my crying over him, and more than my vengeance,” and says that he wants to help the schoolmaster. The schoolmaster explains that school has little practical purpose because of the lack of opportunities for students. Additionally, he is subject to the authority of the priest, whose parish house he teaches in, and is not respected by his students. Father Dámaso demands that he only teach in Tagalog, not Spanish, despite its prominence in the colonial Philippines, and orders him to beat the children, which makes them resent him.

Ibarra attends a meeting at the city hall, hoping to bring up the schoolmaster’s concerns. At the meeting, an upcoming festival is discussed. The liberals, represented by younger men such as the deputy mayor, Don Filipo, generally oppose such events, seeing them as wasteful expenses encouraged by the church, while the conservatives—the mayor and other older men—support them. Don Filipo says that Tasio told him to suggest spending a large amount of money on the festival because the conservatives will oppose anything he says, tricking them into advocating for his actual position. The plan works, but the mayor says the proposal won’t be put into effect because the priest opposes it in favor of a series of religious services and performances, which angers the crowd. “Is the priest paying for the festival or are we?” asks Tasio, but the mayor says the matter has already been settled, and the liberals’ contributions to the event have already been collected. Tasio and Don Filipo leave together unhappily, complaining that the mayor is a slave to the priest.


Ibarra shows his optimism and arguably, his privilege, in the scene with the schoolmaster. Though Rizal has just illustrated the brutal effects of the church’s corruption on vulnerable people and the schoolmaster’s story further underscores the dangers of the church’s authority, Ibarra nonetheless looks to Catholicism as a manner of bringing good to San Diego, saying that “I want the religion that brought education to this society to be respected.” Of course, Ibarra himself has only benefited from the church’s role in society thus far (with the exception of his father’s death and exhumation), so it’s harder for him to see the negative effects it can have. The schoolmaster challenges Ibarra’s optimism, but he doesn’t seem to have any real solution for his problem either. Yet Ibarra does ultimately decide on a more secular solution, declaring that he’ll take the problem to the town hall, an arm of the government.

As with the example of Sisa’s sons, the schoolmaster reveals himself to be caught in between the conflict between government and church. His position reveals an even more insidious aspect of this conflict: because children are not permitted to be taught Spanish, they can’t rise in colonial society to advocate for themselves and improve their own conditions through established channels. Furthermore, poor children like Basilio and Crispín can’t even attend school in the first place because they have to provide for their families.

Just as people like Captain Tiago and the townspeople buying indulgences are so concerned with appearing pious that they lose sight of actual Christian values, the conservatives are so concerned with opposing the liberals that they too forget their actual principles. Yet Rizal also shows how futile politics can be in a place where the church holds so much power. As Tasio points out, Father Salví isn’t paying for the event, but he nonetheless dictates how it will go.