Cover Page of Noli Me Tangere Book Symbolism and Meaning

Elaborate and romantic indeed but also faintly sadomasochistic. Intentionally or not, the cover also plays a trick on the eye of its beholder -- stare at the cover long enough and you'll see a fantastic creature, a chimera really, with the head of a Spanish- India mestiza and the legs of a Spanish friar. The text itself is the torso that the title -- "Touch Me Not" -- bars us, literally and figuratively, from seeing in full. Could this be a grotesque portrait of Rizal's patria adorada? One could argue that the cover is evocative of Philippine colonial society       in general -- the feminine "elevated" but also placed in shadow; the religious orders "running" everything "behind" the scenes; and death, cruelty, and bondage amid the lush tropical vegetation.
But one could also argue (unoriginally) that the Noli's cover offers a pictorial summary of the main text. Each element of the cover then refers to specific passages in the novel.

Which passages? Here are some suggestions. All the passages below are from the mass market paperback edition of the Noli translated by Lacson-Locsin and published by Bookmark in 1996.

The Silhouette of a Girl's Head

"'Padre Cura! Padre Cura!' [Padre Salvi] the Spaniards cried to him; but he did not mind them. He ran in the direction of the Capitan Tiago's house. There he breathed a sigh of relief. He saw through the transparent gallery an adorable silhouette full of grace and the lovely contours of Maria Clara and that of her aunt bearing glasse and cups." (366)

Two Hairy Calves Protruding from a Habit, The Feet Encased in Sandals:

"However, Padre Damaso is not mysterious like those monks; he is jolly and if the sound of his voice is brusque like that of a man who has never bitten his tongue and who believes everything he utters is sacrosanct and cannot be improved upon, his gay and frank laughter erases this disagreeble impression, even to the extent that one feels bound to forgive him his sockless feet and a pair of hairy legs which would fetch the fortune of a Mendiata in the Quiapo fair."

A Constabulary Helmet:

"The Alferez [Dona Consolacion's husband] picked up his helmet, straightened himslef a bit and marched off with loud giant strides. After a few minutes he returned, not making the least sound. He had removed his boots. The servants, accustomed to these spectacles [violent arguments between the Alferez and Dona Consolacion], were usually bored, but the removal of the boots called their attention. They winked at each other."

A Whip :

"Dona Consolacion took a few turns in the room twisting the whip in her calloused hands and, stopping all of a sudden in front of Sisa, told her in Spanish, 'Dance!'
"...Dona Consolacion raised the whip -- that terrible whip familiar to thieves and soldiers, made in Ulango and perfected by the Alferez with twisted wires... And she started to whip lightly the naked feet of the mad woman, whose face contracted with pain,obliging her to defend herself with her hands."

Elias -- "Since he was poor and could not pay for able lawyers, he was condemned to be scourged in public and taken through the streets of Manila. Not long long ago this was in use, this infamous punishment the people call "caballo y vaca," a thousand times worse than death itself. My grandfather, abandoned by all except his young wife, was tied to a horse, followed by a cruel multitude, and flogged on every street corner, before other men, his brothers, and in the neighborhood if the numerous temples of a God of peace."

A Length of Chain:

"Then you see the streets being tamped down by a chain gang of prisoners with shaved heads, clad in short-sleeved shirts and drawers reaching to the knees, with numbers and letters in blue; chains around their legs, half-wrapped in dirty rags to reduce the abrasion, or perhaps the coldness of the iron; joined in pairs, sunburnt, prostrate from heat and fatigue, given lashes, and beaten with a club by another prisoner who perhaps found comfort in ill-treating others."

Thorny Bamboo Branches:

"Bamboo clumps of luxuriant foliage grew alongside the highway. In other times she would stop in their shade. Here she [Sisa] and her lover would rest; with a tender exchange of words he would relieve her of her basket of fruits and vegetables -- ay! that was like dream. The lover became husband; the husband was made into a barangay head and then misfortune started knocking at her door. "As the sun's heat was becoming intense, the soldiers asked her if she wanted rest.
"'No, thank you!' she replied with a shudder.
"When they approached the town she was seized with terror; she looked in anguish around her; vast ricefields, a small irrigation canal, thin trees -- there was not a precipice or a boulder in sight against which she could smash herself."

Flowers and a Graveyard Cross:

"Ibarra descended, followed by an old man-servant. He dismissed the carriage with the gesture and headed towards the cemetery, silent and grave.
"'My sickness and my preoccupations have not allowed me to return,'the old man was saying timidly. 'Capitan Tiago said he would have atomb built, but I planted flowers and had a cross made.
"...Ibarra proceeded towards the gravedigger who was regarding them with curiosity, and greeted them, removing his salakot.
"'Can you tell is which is the grave that had the cross?' asked the servant.
"'A big cross?'
"'Yes, a big one,' happily confirmed the servant, looking meaningfully at Ibarra, whose features had brightened.
"'A cross with designs on it, tied with rattan?' the gravedigger asked again.
"'That's it, that's it! Like this, like this,' the servant traced on the earth the shape of a Byzantine cross.
"'And over the grave were flowers planted?'
"'Adelfas, sampagas, and pensamientos, that's it!' added the servant filled with joy. He offered him a cigar.
"'Tell us which is the grave and where the cross is.'
"The gravedigger rubbed his ears and replied yawning: 'Well, the cross -- I have already burned it.'
"'Burned it? Why did you burn it?'
"'Because the chief parish priest so ordered.'"

To summarize everything...

At the top, all that is best in Philippine life: woman, symbolizing constancy, religious faith symbolized by the tombstone, with a laurel (courage) and the flower of the pomelo, worn by bride and groom at a wedding and symbolizing purity.

The words partly covered by the title are the secret, inner dedication by Rizal to his parents, the complete text being probably: 'A mis P(adres.) al escribir e(sta obra he estado) pensando continuamente e(n vosotros que me) habeis
infundido los (primeros pensamientos) y las primeras ideas; a (vosotros os dedi)co este manuscrito de me (joventud com p)rueba de amor. Berlin, (21 de Febrero de) 1887.

To the left of the title, the flower mirasol, representing youth seeking the sun. The author's name, meaning the green of renewal, mounting up into the green of the most enduring of all Philippine trees, the bamboo. At the bottom, all that is worst in Philippine life: the helmet of the Civil Guard, the whip and instruments of torture, and the foot of a friar.