Mr. Brown, Let Me Call your Attention
Sa Bawat Pahina ng Literatura
Mr. Brown, Let Me Call the Attention of Whoever Edited Your Latest Book
(On the Grammatical Importance of Definite versus Indefinite Articles)
by aLfie vera mella
The Dan Brown's "the gates of hell" metaphor has generated countless reactions and articles from not only fellow journalists but also bloggers and ordinary readers and spectators.
Most of the reactions, however, delve on the subjective—whether it was offensive or not.
To me, though, Brown obviously erred on the objective side—on the grammatical side, to be specific. He used the definite article 'the' instead of the indefinite article 'a.'
In English grammar, 'the' pertains to specificity; therefore, to claim that a place is "the gates of hell" means that that place is definitely the one and only “gates of hell," nothing else, nowhere else. This makes the claim false, especially in a fictional or figurative sense, because Manila—in terms of traffic jams, pollution, prostitution, and heat--is not unique. These characteristics are apparent also in many other cities in the world, in varying degrees of course; but nevertheless, if anything, Manila is just one of those hellish or horrible cities in terms of the conditions cited.
In fact, according to Forbes.com, the "Five Dirtiest Cities in the World" are the following.
Port au Prince, Haiti
Mexico City, Mexico
Manila is not even on the Top 5 list. (Maybe this exclusion might offend some people. Imagine, Manila was left out!)
Therefore, I still stand by my point of view as an editor that Brown erred in his use of the correct article adjective—he should have used “a gate of hell” instead of “the gates of hell” to qualify the fact that Manila is only one of several hellish or horrible cities in the world, whether fictional or not.
Although, Brown is not solely at fault. Remember, for books like that, there must be at least an editor who should have taken care of that.
Such a trivial piece of detail to spend time on analyzing, psychologizing, and philosophizing, some might quip. However, if there would be no one to commentate on things like this, then who would? The world might then be much fuller with less intelligent or critical thinkers, which is also unfavorable for the sake of the progress of the human mind in general.
The Last Leaf
Personally speaking and disregarding grammar, I don’t see any offense in Brown’s depiction of Manila, for that matter, simply because the descriptions that he wrote of Manila (or even the Philippines in general)—sad to say—had sparkling grains of truth to them. The moment we deny that the Philippines has no problems with traffic, garbage/waste management, and prostitution, the more the country would be unable to solve such problems. The logic? If there’s no problem, then no need for solutions. Then let the country continue to stink and rot with all those glaring truths. Afterwards, blame the delusional and onion-skinned leaders and citizens of the greatest and most beautiful country in the whole wide world.