Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me Tangere Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on José Rizal's Noli Me Tangere. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of José Rizal

Born in the Philippines during the time of Spanish colonization, Rizal came from a wealthy family and, like his protagonist in Noli Me Tangere, went to Europe in his twenties to pursue his studies. During this time, he banded together with likeminded expatriates and other anti-colonial sympathizers to advance the opinion that Spanish colonialism was a destructive force (though Rizal never publicly endorsed complete independence in the Philippines). Rizal wrote Noli Me Tangere while abroad, and when he returned to his country in the 1880s, he was accused of treason. In response, he traveled to Europe yet again and continued his writing and activism. By the time the Philippine Revolution began in 1896, he was back in the Philippines, though in exile in the city of Dapitan. At this point, he volunteered as a doctor treating the Spanish army, presumably to lift his exile. Unfortunately, though, he was arrested, found guilty of treason, and executed by firing squad, becoming a martyr for Filipinos struggling against colonialism.
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Historical Context of Noli Me Tangere

The Spanish colonization of the Philippines—which began in 1521—is the driving force of Noli Me Tangere, a novel that critiques the ways in which colonialism leads to corruption and abuse. The book itself predates the Philippine Revolution of 1896 by almost ten years, meaning that its rejection of Spanish oppression was groundbreaking and unprecedented in Filipino society. Unfortunately, Rizal—who had worked for the majority of his adult life to empower his countrymen—died in 1896, two years before the Philippines established independence from Spain.

Other Books Related to Noli Me Tangere

The most obvious literary work related to Noli Me Tangere is the Gospel of John in The New Testament. Rizal borrows the novel’s Latin title from Jesus telling Mary Magdalene “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (the Latin phrase for “touch me not” is “noli me tangere”). Rizal scholars have pointed out similarities between St. John and Noli Me Tangere’s Father Salví, suggesting that this parallel may account for the novel’s borrowed title. The title could also refer to an antiquated name for a type of cancer that is excruciatingly painful and sensitive to touch. In this sense, the novel’s title alludes to its political nature, asserting that the Philippines is suffering from a “social cancer.” Noli Me Tangere is also a precursor to postcolonial literature, a genre that explores the negative influence of colonization and the unfortunate aftereffects of decolonization, which often further destabilized cultures that had come to rely on the flawed but strong presence of foreign governments. Like Noli Me Tangere, books like Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea or Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John examine the impact of colonization, but they do so from a different perspective. For example, while Wide Sargasso Sea was written during decolonization—when British forces were withdrawing from the Caribbean, where the book is set—Noli Me Tangere was composed during colonization, when the Spanish government still occupied the Philippines. Despite this difference, though, postcolonial literature concerns itself with many of the same ideas Rizal examines, a testament to the fact that Rizal’s brave impulse to criticize colonialism was significantly ahead of his time. Finally, it is worth considering that Noli Me Tangere has a sequel, El Filibusterismo, a book that follows Ibarra on his quest to liberate his country from the church and government’s oppressive rule. In this follow-up, Ibarra no longer invests himself in trying to change his nation using peaceful means. Instead, he disguises himself as a wealthy jeweler, infiltrates the elite class, and plans a violent revolution.
Key Facts about Noli Me Tangere
  • Full Title: Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)
  • When Written: The 1870s.
  • Where Written: Spain
  • When Published: 1887
  • Literary Period: Victorian Era
  • Genre: Political Fiction and Political Satire
  • Setting: San Diego, Spanish Philippines
  • Climax: A group of bandits (secretly organized by Father Salví) attacks San Diego’s military barracks. Father Salví frames Ibarra as their ringleader, and Ibarra is imprisoned and accused of treason.
  • Antagonist: The foremost antagonists are Father Dámaso and Father Salví, though there is reason to believe the true antagonistic force in Noli Me Tangere is the corruption and unchecked power colonialism has bestowed upon the church and all its friars.
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Noli Me Tangere

Execution. As the common story goes, when José Rizal was executed by firing squad, he asked to face his shooters. Because traitors were customarily shot in the back so that they fell face-first to the ground, his request was denied. When the bullets hit his back, though, he tried with all his power to twist around, such that he died looking at the sun.

Persecution. Although he came from a wealthy family, José Rizal was no stranger to the oppressive ways of the Spanish government. When he was a young boy, for example, his mother was falsely accused of poisoning a neighbor. As a result, she was imprisoned for more than two years.