Elías tells Ibarra that sixty years ago his (Elías’s) grandfather worked for a Spanish merchant in Manila. One night, the warehouse catches on fire, and the merchant blames Elías’s grandfather, who is subsequently dragged behind a horse in public as punishment. Everybody abandons him except for his wife, who is pregnant and starts begging on the family’s behalf, though nobody contributes any money. To make up for this, she starts working as a prostitute. Elías’s grandfather goes into the mountains with his wife and son, where the wife gives birth to a baby who dies soon thereafter. Unable to take the grief, the disgraced man hangs himself in front of his living son, who watches his father’s body decay and tries to care for his ailing mother.
Once again, the oppressive power of colonialism rears its head, this time in the form of the Spanish merchant who doesn’t think twice about blaming his own misfortune on an innocent Filipino. In this way, Rizal illustrates once more how Spaniards often manipulate less fortunate native Filipinos.
Elías continues his story. Before long, he says, Manila authorities smell his grandfather’s decomposing body and arrest his wife for not reporting the death. She is pregnant once again, so they wait until she gives birth to whip her. They then release her into the mountains again, and she flees with her two children to a nearby province where the small family lives in the woods like animals, “hating and hated.” The older boy soon becomes a notorious bandit. The younger lives peacefully with his mother. One day not long after his older brother has been caught and persecuted for his crimes, the boy finds his mother dead underneath a tree, her stricken gaze fixed on a basket hanging in the overhanging tree—a basket containing his older brother’s bloody head.
Elías’s tragic and gruesome story demonstrates yet again what isolation and estrangement from society often leads to in Noli Me Tangere: misery and death. Furthermore, the older brother’s decision to become a bandit recalls the previous idea—as outlined by Elías—that the oppressive government often turns people into criminals by treating them as such. These accusations become self-fulfilling prophecies that lead to a cycle of forced subversion and criminality.
The young boy in Elías’s story runs away from his dead mother and brother, finally reaching a town where nobody knows of his family’s misfortune. There, he works hard for a rich man and saves money. During this time, he meets a young woman and falls in love. When the two try to marry, though, officials ask for his identification papers, and his past comes to light. His lover’s father—a wealthy man—takes him to trial and he is eventually sent to prison. Meanwhile, his lover gives birth to twins, whom her father raises secretly. One of these twins is Elías, and his grandfather—the rich man—tells him his father is dead. The twins live a good life full of many riches.
Elías’s wealthy upbringing is important because it means he has not always lived a life of isolation from Filipino society. In fact, his affluent childhood doesn’t seem so different from Ibarra’s, a fact that is significant because it implies that Elías—having experienced life on both sides of the economic line—is capable of relating to Ibarra, which means he is even more capable of guiding the young philanthropist than previously thought.
One day Elías insults a distant relative, who retaliates by revealing the truth about his family history. In fact, it appears Elías’s father has been working in his grandfather’s house as a servant for the boy’s entire childhood. The relative finds this out and makes it known, and Elías renounces his family inheritance. His grandfather dies out of shame, and his twin sister loses her fiancé to another woman. This same sister disappears one day, and Elías learns that she drowned in a nearby lake with a knife shoved into her chest. Since this discovery, he has been wandering the Philippines as people slander his name and fear him.
Elías’s story about his fall from society’s good graces illustrates how much importance Filipino culture (under Spanish colonization) places on wealth and reputation. It’s worth noting that Elías’s real father was never a bandit—he was simply a poor man. That the revelation of this secret ruins Elías’s life by estranging him from society just goes to show how superficial and arbitrary the structures of power are in this community.
Having heard his friend’s story, Ibarra says he understands why Elías feels the way he does about corruption and criminality. But he also challenges Elías’s notion that “justice should seek goodness to recompense virtue and to reeducate criminals,” saying that this idea is “utopian” and unrealistic. He says that he refuses to be the leader of a rebellion, asserting that it is wrong to force change upon a government body. Rather, he wants to effect change through other means. “I want good for [my country],” he says, “which is why I built a school. I seek it in education, for forward progress. Without light, there is no path.” Elías replies by saying that “without struggle there is no freedom,” but Ibarra holds fast to his point of view.
In this conversation, Ibarra and Elías represent two differing ideologies regarding how to effect change. Ibarra wants to improve his country using education, a fact that illustrates his desire to make use of whatever means he already has available to him in society. Though he had to build a school, he sees this as an organic step in the country’s “forward progress.” As such, he works within the nation’s preexisting framework to develop new resources. Elías, on the other hand, isn’t interested in this kind of progress—rather, he asserts that freedom inherently demands a “struggle” against power.
After Ibarra gets off the boat, Elías rows to a different beach, where he meets one of Captain Pablo’s men. “What should I tell the captain?” the man asks. “Tell him that Elías, if he doesn’t die before, will make good on his word,” Elías says.
When Elías tells Captain Pablo’s representative that he will “make good on his word” (despite the fact that Ibarra has refused to align with the bandits), he implies that he’s confident that Ibarra will eventually change his mind and join the revolution.