Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me Tangere Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The school (symbol)

Ibarra's attempt to build a school in his community illustrates his political views, particularly his belief about the power of education. The school thus symbolizes empowerment through education, which is unavailable to most Filipinos—the story of Crispín and Basilio shows the reader the types of children who would be advantaged by a new, secular school. Yet the school also reveals the tensions between church and state as everyone tries to gain control over the project. The Captain General, who represents the state, supports Ibarra in the project, while the schoolmaster reveals to Ibarra how the church has attempted to interfere with education before. Notably, despite their stated support of the project, the priests scheme against Ibarra as he works on the project, illustrating that the school is likely more threatening to them than they let on.

Night and dawn (symbols)

In his final words, Elías likens the dark time before freedom and equality come to the Philippines to the night. Some people, including himself, will die before they can see the dawn—the utopian time of liberation. Night symbolizes the time of corruption, chaos, and confusion, while dawn represents a new, happier time. Just as dawn begins a new day, Elías hopes that a new era will dawn on the Philippines.

Cemeteries and burials (symbols)

Cemeteries and burials appear often in the novel, most prominently in the form of Don Rafael Ibarra's lack of a proper final resting place, which is considered so disgraceful that it pushes Ibarra to begin to reconsider his easy relationship with the authorities of the Philippines. People who are without a final resting place are repeatedly associated with shame, such as the multiple suicides in the novel, the bandit who is decapitated in Elías's story, and Lucas, who is implied to be killed by Father Salví. At the end of the novel, Sisa and Elías die in a cemetery, and Elías emphasizes the importance of building a proper funeral pyre to honor them to young Basilio.

The cancer (symbol)

The title of the novel, Noli Me Tángere, alludes to a cancer that is so deadly and powerful that no one dares touch the sores associated with it. Similarly, the novel explores a "social cancer" (as its original English translation phrased it) that eats at the Philippines, but is seen as too dangerous to talk about. A doctor by trade, Rizal would have been intimately familiar with the idea of this sort of cancer.

María Clara (symbol)

Ibarra directly likens María Clara to his nation, the Philippines, as a whole, and she can be interpreted as an embodiment of the country. Like the Philippine people in general at the time, she is typically passive and reluctant to rebel against the society she was raised in, despite clearly seeing its flaws. Yet by the end of the novel, María Clara has found the courage to stand up for herself and resist the plans to marry her off to a man she doesn't love. This change in her character can be seen as a change Rizal anticipated in his people as the Philippines headed towards rebellion and war.