Being a Bat: A Critical Approach on Nick Joaquin’s Cave and Shadows


Faith and trust, love and lust, greed and power, will these make a human being happy? What are the things humans could do to achieve these?

Cave and Shadows of Nick Joaquin showed the capabilities of human beings enable to achieve happiness. The novel clashed different institutions of the societies, together with their beliefs and traditions. Here, ups and downs of males and females could be seen. No gender is above the other. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Although it is a fact that the main protagonist is male, it is also a fact that his story revolved around the life (and death) of the female characters of the novel. Other male characters too, though exerting authority in most aspects, are submissive to female characters in one way or the other. But still, other women characters were shown to be directly submissive to men, in some cases they were shown only as a tool for sex and lust, the notable scene for this would be the live show in one of the bars in the novel.

The novel too indicated that females had equal power with men during the Pre-Hispanic and even during the Spanish Era. Notable female characters from the past gave great deal for the justification of some of the beliefs and traditions sighted by the novel.

In religion, the continuing struggle of Paganism and Christianity was symbolized by both beliefs’ struggle for the control of the cave. Both beliefs wanted the cave for their own, both using history as their tool to gain advantage over the other. Thus various historical sightings in the world of the story were necessary.

The immortal conflict between beliefs in politics was also shown in the novel. To quote one line, “For one to love his/her country, he/she must hate anyone else.” Thus, being nationalistic solely depends on how one believes a country should be run.

The church-state conflict is also notable. It influenced some characters in what to believe and what would they do. Some characters were once in the side of the state, totally shutting out the church, yet made their change of heart and vice versa.

In a way or another, Cave and Shadows unmasked the real face of the society, humanizing it, with out the traditions and beliefs that cover its being.

Chapter I: Characters

Jack Henson

The main protagonist of the novel, Jack was asked by his ex-wife to investigate the strange death of his stepdaughter. Although Jack keeps on saying he would never want to do anything else for his ex-wife, Alfreda needed only to lift a finger for him to leave his home in Davao and investigate Nenita’s, the stepdaughter, death as stated by another character Pocholo Gatmaitan.

Jack could be said as a natural detective, he asks the right questions at the right time, though he keeps involving himself with trouble whenever he get close into something. An example would be when he found out regarding the secret passage from the village chapel to the cave, which he suspected to exist believes the way used to get Nenita inside the cave without the guard outside knowing. He was locked inside the passage by a character not wanting him to get even closer.

With high regard for women, Jack’s character acted with women character with rather fluidity. He could shift his characteristics from one woman to the other. Though she contested some of their ideas (specially the ones of Ginoong Ina), he never went as far as abusing them emotionally and even physically.

His sexual urge cold also not be denied, it seems at first sex is nothing to him when he got no reaction when he watched a live show in a bar, yet this was falsified when he felt sexually aroused when he danced with Chedeng knowing the woman was also in the mood for sex.

Pocholo Gatmaitan

Cholo is the mayor of the city and was a boy once with Jack. He was said to be the Holy Joe of their group, making excuses that he can not join for lunch because he had a heavy date only to get caught by his peers that he was pulling the caroza of the Blessed Virgin Mary for a procession.

He became a typical politician who was able to mingle with his supporters and critics. Several demonstrations were set up against him because of his decision to lock down the cave to prevent further riots between the faction who all wanted control over it.

Alex Manzano

A senator who once was an altar boy, Alex is the son of Don Andong who was once a great politician and critic. Alex is closely connected to the youth, especially to the militant sector. He was said to be the once who let in a group of demonstrators inside the congress.

Alex is separated with his wife Chedeng because of the fact that Alex hired assassins as his new set of bodyguards. He wants to be always in control of things, especially to women. This was justified when he demanded Chedeng to return and serve him as his wife, yet this demand was stopped by his father. Another instance was when a hooker named Yvette admitted to Jack that she slept with Alex.

Alex is hinted through out (until chapter 8) the novel as the brain behind the murders that had happened. His trademark car, a white Camaro, is always seen to places where an event that lead to a murder or the murder itself took place.

He considers women more dangerous than men; he said this after the funeral of his son Andrei. “Only she’s a woman (Chedeng); therefore she is more dangerous.” His son’s death took him away from believing on anything. He blames himself for his son’s death resulting to his suicide.

Andrei Manzano

Andrei was torn between his parents claim for his custody. He had great respect for his grandfather Don Andong until his father told him that his grandfather allowed a hoax to happen and did not do anything about it. He was going to leave with his mother, Chedeng, to America until he found out that she was in league with his grandfather in the hoax.

He was one of the so called KK boys, a group of militant youth which he led to march to the cave and force it to be reopened. The demonstration happened during a typhoon and ended with a tragic landslide which took Andrei’s life.

Don Andong Manzano

Don Andong was the father of Alex. He allowed a hoax to happen in the cave resulting to Andries disrespect to him. After the death of his son and grandson, he decided to enter a monastery.

He shows great deal of authority in the novel yet frequently blames himself as the source of all the trouble that was happening to the people that surrounds him. He was said to be anti church during his younger days but is now a devoted Christian.

Chedeng Manzano (Merceds Manzano)

The wife of Alex and is planning to leave the country with his son. She frequently states that she betrays her husband and doesn’t want it to happen again and running away would be her only choice. She blamed her husband for their son’s death and postponed her trip because of it.

Chedeng flirted with Jack in various situations; the most clear among these is her dance with Jack showing that she wanted to have sex with him.

Alfreda Coogan

Alfreda was the ex-wife of Jack, although did not really appear in the novel and is minor character, Jack’s motives would never be justified without her. She was hinted through out the novel as a woman with authority especially over Jack. Her demand for Jack to investigate made him fly back to Manila and left his so called “island refuge” in Davao.

Nenita Coogan

The source of all the fuzz in the story, Nenita was found dead in the cave. Her death and how she got inside the cave were total mysteries until Jack uncovered them one at a time. She was mentioned to be a typical teenager in reverse. She does not want to be involved with the showbiz icons; rather she wants to remove the masks of all the people around her. She believes all are not who really they are saying.

Everybody was surprised that she found out a virgin during the autopsy of her body given her reputation as a “pakawala” in town.

Monica Manzano

The daughter of Don Adong who leaves with him after she got separated from her husband, Monica is sort of an all around helper in her father’s house. Yet she could seen that has authority over her father for he always follow the wills of her daughter regarding his health and the house.

Ginoong Ina

A leader of a cult that claims the cave as their holy place, she informed Jack that Nanita returned to life as the goddess of the cave.

Chapter II: Plot Summary

The plot of the novel revolves mainly on Jack Henson’s struggle to uncover the truth regarding the strange death of her stepdaughter Nenita Coogan.

The girl was found in the cave (which was claimed by Chrisyians and pagans, with Ginoong Ina as the leader, to be their place of worsdhip) as if that she was just sleeping smelling sweet. Jack investigated how body got inside the cave even though the caves mouth was locked down as ordered by the town mayor. He later discovers a secret passage inside the chapel of the village on top of the hill where the cave is located. His investigation made him conclude that his old friend Alex Manzano was behind the murder and treats on his life. But as situations began to build up, Alex and his son Andrei died. Alex left a letter for Jack but Jack decided to let Pocholo burn it. Pocholo eagerly did giving Jack the evidence that it was Pocholo who was really behind all the troubles, including the setting up of Alex.

Pocholo ran away after he was exposed and Jack confronted Ginoong Ina who informed Jack that Nenita came back to life for her to touch the life of Jack as a goddess.

Jack decided to return to Davao with Chedeng but Monica disagreed and told Chedeng that Jack wanted to go back to Davao with her, not Chedeng. Chedeng left for New York and Jack returned to Davao a lonely man.

Chapter III: Society

The society of Cave and Shadows is being influenced by the different institutions found in the novel, mainly the church and the government, family ties in contrary to Philippine tradition seems to be not strong in the novel. The society was then seen as a Gemini with two faces for women in it, one good bad.

It could be said that women became representations of the two sides of the society. In one aspect, women became a source of labor force in terms of their physical attributes. An example would be the live show held in one of the bars in the novel. Men needed only to pay five pesos, although this could be said already a huge amount of money during the time setting of the novel, to see the show. Seeing a woman having sex is not the end of the privileges of the audience, they could also demand the performers to have sex with them, thus establishing the fact of capitalists control over the women who engaged in such work. The labor force in these works could also be said abused (although it could be said they are already sexually abused) in terms of working hours. Yvette for instance never slept in one straight day in the novel because she had to be an a-go-go dancer for VIPs for a whole night, then a GRO the following morning and a live sex performer at lunch. She was only able to take a simple nap for a few minutes when Jack tabled her (her job for the afternoon) for some questions.

The labor force too could also be said as expendable anytime, justified by the fact that Yvette was gunned down easily when she tried to warn Jack.

Sighting the history sighted by the novel, it was sad that women became a part of the labor force when they were the ones who forage for crops for a particular tribe. A sort of promotion was given to them when they started to grow crops on their own, yet still it could be said they are still under the capitalist society. Although, it was stated that because of this so called promotion, women started to have voice in the society, which was symbolized by the gradual growth of power of the goddess of the cave who started as a simple cave anito.

In another view, women in the novel became a huge voice in the society in terms of their authority over specific men. In some cases, women became the capitalists. An example would be the Ginoong Ina who hires people in able to research whether people are believes in her cult or not. A capitalist attitude of the character was clearly seen when she insisted of claiming the cave as a place of worship, this could said as and action to claim a territory in competition.

Chedeng too is a boss of her own. She owns her own shop and has her own employees. Still, she is another the capitalists rule for her shop is finance by her husband Alex. Giving the later a say on what she has to do. She was also influence by her father-in-law. Though he was seen as the protector of Chedeng against the husband, his Don Andong’s influence over her gave way for the lost of respect of Andrei to his mother.

In another concept, women became also a source of oppression to other women. An example would be Chedeng’s statement that why should Jack believe Yvette given her reputation as a hoar, thus, justifying the fact that women too view other women of other class status as lower than them. Another example would be Ginoong Ina’s beliefs that enable to become a dalagang banal, one must first become a true Filipino, thus an half American girl like Nenita must first tan herself, discrimination to some women.

Perversion by women, on the other hand, could be said is accepted only by men in the society. Yet the acceptance is only another way of abusing the women of the society. It was seen in the example of the live show. Other women thus not accept this fact and consider them immoral (Chedengs discrimination to Yvette). Being vulgar by women is also only accepted by a portion of the society. Nenita’s attitude was only accepted by the cult of Ginoong Ina and some members of the militant group, while others (especially other major characters) discriminate her because of this.

All in all, the society of the novel could be considered as a society which both treats women on the same level with men and as subordinates. Authority is given to some women although they also used the power to oppress other women not in the same class as theirs.

Chapter IV: Issues

An issue found in the novel that is worth mentioning is the discrimination of women to other women. The examples sated in Chapter III justify this fact. Here, what Audre Lorde said was clearly seen, “The master’s tools could not destroy the master’s house.” Thus, discrimination to women then could not be erased from the society if women themselves discriminate each other. Women shout for equality from their oppressors, the men. Yet within their ranks, they became oppressors themselves to other women.

Another issue would be traffic of women as shown in the novel. Abuse of women were shown in the scene where a live show was stated where men were the audience. Indeed the woman (Yvette) allowed herself to be abused, yet it could not be denied that that act of perversion is a clear harassment to the female sexuality. Prostitution too was seen, yet still the woman aloud the abuse to happen to her. An example is the orgy where Yvette was paid to go. Even the fact of being tan first before being a Dalagang Banal is already a discrimination to other races that the character Nenite aloud.

Therefore it could be said that in the novel, some issues of oppression against women were aloud by women themselves.

Chapter V: Conclusion

Finally, it could be said that the oppression of women by the society in the novel is aloud by women themselves. Even though for a fact that they do exert authority in the society, only a few of them do so and thus applying it to demand equal rights with men. It could also be seen in the novel that men are also threatened by the authority of women and are deliberately submissive though it is also a fact that some may find a way not to submit such as Pocholo who was the cause of Nenita’s death.

The novel then showed both sides of the Gemini society that praises women and at the same time oppresses them.


Lorde, Audre. Age, Race, Class, and Sex:

Women Redifining Society

Rubin, Gayle. The Traffic of Women:

Notes on the Political Economy of Sex

Queer Theory


~ by Specter on February 7, 2009.

11 Responses to “Being a Bat: A Critical Approach on Nick Joaquin’s Cave and Shadows”

  1. i love cave and shadows ..
    im really interested about this book ..
    im done reading it yesterday …so beautiful story ..

  2. thanks

  3. cool, very witty 🙂

  4. thanks! this would help me a lot…

  5. thanks .. may project nah koh

  6. I was able to read the whole novel and i was amazed how Mr. Nick Joaquin made this kind novel! Perfect!

  7. I was able to read to read the whole novel and I was amazed how Mr. Nick Joaquin made it!

  8. THANKS PO !! may Book Report na ko :))

  9. Hello! I will be using this as a source for my reporting for my Philippine History subject. Thank you for this!

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