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Lilies of Yesterday: An Analysis
Garnering second prize in the 1958 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, this short story written by Lilia Pablo Amansec tells of a young girl who is blossoming out of adolescence and slowly budding to adulthood. It speaks about the protagonist’s idea of love, beauty and other matters growing teens bother to think about.
It all starts one morning of the protagonist’s twelfth birthday. While still in bed, she already offers the readers a glimpse of her mind as she shares her idea of what love is. She would rather choose to be alone than let others see and know what she feels. The conflict begins when she goes down to the dining room where she sees Mercedes and Maria, her sister and aunt, respectively. The two kept on fussing over the way she looks and dresses. They convince her to start using make-up as she is already thirteen to which she immediately corrects, saying she has just turned a year younger than what they had said. She refuses to be turned ladylike and become like her two elder relatives. However, deep inside, she also wants to be like them. Hard though she might deny, she also dreams of using colors to make herself different and more desirable (“Someday, however, she would try it… so that another person, different, indifferent, but desirable, appeared in the mirror…” paragraph 12). She fantasizes of becoming like her teacher Miss Lopez as well. As she looked in her mirror, she didn’t see herself. Instead, she visualizes mentor but with a voice that is like her own. By this, she realizes that she could be herself but she could also be someone else she opts to be, too (“… I am myself, but I can be Miss Lopez who is not herself but another one…” paragraph 16). The readers will later learn how much adulthood poses to be such an interest for the protagonist. It is also interesting to note how she feels about being young. (“How sad it was to be young!” paragraph 19)
On the contrary, she is also afraid of being grown up. She can no longer play with her dolls which now only belong to a glass case (paragraph 19). She was horrified when she saw a pimple growing on her unperturbed complexion (“It was also a mournful discovery…” paragraph 24). Still, the protagonist cannot bring herself to talk about kissing and all things about love for she believes that they must be kept within each one’s own context (paragraph 34). Lily, our little protagonist, cannot even face Carlito, her classmate, alone as she sees him as a “handsome devil” (paragraph 45).
The story then reaches its climax when she met with Lulu and her other playmates. They were discussing Lily’s party when suddenly they drifted their conversation to intimate stuff for adolescents like kissing and sex connoted by Lulu’s words in paragraph 34 (“Do you know, there’s a couple who board at our place, and my sister and I heard them one night. . .”) There is a connotation that Lily already knows something about this but she is ashamed of what she knows, too (“… for ah yes, she too was wise,” paragraph 39; ‘ “Yes,” she stammered, aware of her wisdom… her words stumbled brokenly, defensively’ paragraph 40) She told them what she knew but afterwards, she quickly ran away back home where she placed herself in solitude. In her moments alone, she fell asleep and dreamt of chaos. This implies what she feels about growing up, too. There will be a lot of confusion even in falling in love as represented by Carlito. The dream also implied what she feels about love. She hates the idea of falling for someone but helplessly she yearns for it, too. (“As she looks at him hatred leaped and flamed in her eyes, but this soon gave way to hunger like a worm gnawing in the pit of her stomach…” paragraph 48) In addition to that, she calls on God for help in her dream which implies her religious nature.
Upon waking up, she went to confession and talked about her dream to the priest. She served her penance by doing the Way of the Cross which was long. However, as she was at the end, a woman went near her and pointed out a red stain in her dress. This implies that she was having her menarche. However, she denoted this as something sinful as she referred it in paragraph 57, “The sin! The blood of her tears!” This line was perhaps included in the story to revel in the fact that it is when we are already grown up we lose our innocence, thus, we are much prone to committing wrongdoing. The story ended with her trying to suppress the pain of the reality that she is already growing up.
The author has set her tale in Manila circa 1940s-50s, a time when American influence was profound in the society. Names like Carlito, Pinang and Maria indicate Filipino but Lily, Lulu and Mercedes imply something more American. It can also be noted that there were jeepneys in the area that serve as the main mode of transportation for commuters (paragraph 27). Mahjong was also mentioned. For all we know, they are very common in the Philippines. Finally, we can be sure that this is in Manila as Manila is cited in paragraph 30.
The author uses the third person limited omniscient point of view (POV) as we, the readers, only know for sure the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. However, there was a part in paragraph 19 where it deviates from this POV. Suddenly, it shifts to first person POV. This might be because the author wanted to emphasize the growth of the narrator. Here, the audience will feel that Lily is growing up though she might not want the change.
Our character, Lily, is a complex character as she is developed in the story with two sides: one who looks forward to growing up and the other as one who dreads it. Finally, she finally chooses the latter side as the story ends with her being “afraid of her own voice.” (paragraph 59) The title of the story, Lilies of Yesterday, pertains to her and her childhood which is now slowly passing. She has a wild imagination showed by her thoughts revealed to us by the narrator. She can also be considered as popular when we learn in paragraph 33 that a lot of children left their game just to praise Lily with her party. It can also be implied that she comes from a rich family for at that time only the rich can afford to have parties and be sent to a private girls’ school. Also, she often received dolls as gifts from her father who has gone to different countries. Not all girls from middle-class families can afford those, too. In addition to that, Lily struggles with an internal conflict as she faces adolescence, a stage wherein she finally bids goodbye to childhood and enters a new phase of life.
Mercedes and Maria represent the change Lily wanted to avoid. They were all grown up, used to wearing make-up and high heels and loved the attention from boys. They could be gossipy, too, as indicated in paragraph 24 (“… they were now animatedly discussing Madame Butterfly’s new hairdo… and Mr. Sneezer’s black mustache…”) Lulu, her playmate, was also what she was scared of becoming. Slowly, her playmate has accepted the change and has begun talking of things they, Lulu and her other friends, have never once talked of before. This made her afraid that she ran away from them. This also implies how much she wanted to run away from growing up.
The story revolves around the theme, “Change is inevitable.” Like Lily, we might dread having differences in our usual everyday life. We might not want to get out of what we are used to having but sooner or later, we have to face the reality that those things we are constantly avoiding are bound to happen. We could not just confine ourselves to our own comfort zones. Reality will strike us. Change will reach us. However fated change might seem to be, it doesn’t mean we would let it define us.
Also, the story tackles ideas about love. The author connotes when she wrote “She could not know for sure, but this she was sure of: that people had a talent of loving her on her birthdays. As if age made her more lovable!” (paragraph 13) that love shouldn’t be timely. Love is also delicate and intimate, something we just do not talk about with others. It would be better to have your emotions by yourself that share it with someone else (“… she would cry, if it came to that, alone.” paragraph 2).
Beauty is something discussed in the course of the story as well. There was this standard of being called beautiful ever since then. The author wrote “… she would have liked to see a splash of vermillion on her cheeks like what she saw on the glowing gorgeous women walking about the streets in that slow graceful walk that hardly stirred the dust of the city but drew long whistles from the men…” Creating a facade was considered good. Being someone else was the thing you opt for if you want society to see your beauty. It’s just like saying that it is natural for all of us to wear masks.
Finally, I can say that this story is a great read. It is definitely one of the best short Filipino stories there is. Truly, we must be proud of such authors who spun eternal tales albeit forgotten by today’s generation. They are indeed sources of inspiration and morals that we would be able to live through with in our lifetime.