Three Generations by Nick Joaquin (Short Story) - Summary, Plot, Critique, Analysis

Three Generations is a short story written by Nick Joaquin that was first published by the then Manila-based magazine Graphic in 1940. This is believed to be the first story by Joaquin to be published. He was only 23 years old when the story saw print for the first time. The story was also included in the book The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic which was published by Penguin Classics in 2017.The book contained Joaquin's most famous and most influential short stories.


1. Celo Monzon - A man struggling with his son's decision to pursue preisthood. He's also haunted by his childhood which was an unhappy one because of the beatings and abuse he received from his father.
2. Sofia Monzon - Celo Monson's wife.
3. Chitong - Celo and Sofia Monzon's son who decided to stop purusing law and go for priesthood instead.
4. Nena - Celo Monzon's younger sister who was taking care of their aging father.
5. Paulo - Celo Monzon's cousin.
6. Celo's father - He is not named in the story.
7. the girl - A young woman who is in a romantic relationship with the old man.


The setting of the story isn't specified in the story itself. The events happened in Celo's house and his father's house which is located at the edge of town.


The story has several interconnected themes - family relationships, family dynamics, forgiveness, coming of age, death, dealing with death, moving on, love, forbidden love, and domestic violence. Read the story again and try to pinpoint how these themes are weaved into the fabric of the story.


The story opens one morning with Celo and Sofia Monson having breakfast. Sofia tells her husband that their son Chitong has decided to stop pursuing his law studies and become a priest instead. Celo is surprised by his son's decision. He comments that Chitong has "always been quiet and reserved" and "not noticeably of a religious temper."

Sofia tells Celo that he needs to go and see his aging and ailing father. Sofia informa him that his younger sister Nena called and that their father has been acting up again. In a flashback, Celo is reminded of his childhood when his father used to beat him up. Celo tells Sofia to tell Chitong to have their car ready. Chitong is to accompany him when he goes to visi his ailing father.

Celo goes to a Dominican church to pray. His son Chitong is there. He tries to compose himself so that he can fervently pray but the thoughts of his father and the beatings he suffered under him when he was a child occupies his thoughts. Chitong looks around towards his father. But Celo turns away and walks out of the church. Chitong informs his mother Sofia of what happened at the church. He tells her that his father is angry with him for choosing to pursue the priesthood. He breaks down and cries. Sofia comforts him.

Celo and Chitong drives to the house where his ailing father lives. The house is at the edge of town. They are met by Celo's youngest sister Nena who informs them that the old man has refused to eat for several days. Nena also tells Celo that the old man keeps on asking for "the girl", a young woman in a romantic relationship with the old man. Celo has driven the girl away prior. 

Celo spends time with his father. He changes his clothes and feeds him. The old man refuses to speak to Celo and defies his every move. Celo then leaves the house and instructs Chitong to stay behind with the car. He says he will take the bus to go home and return in the morning with a doctor. 

Chitong tries to sleep in the same room as his grandfather but he can't because the old man keeps on crying, moaning, and calling on the women he has loved and been with. Chitong tries praying over his grandfather but the pain and desire in the old man's eyes continue to bother him. No longer able to stand the cries of the old man, Chitong decides to go out in town and find the girl who has been with the old man before he got very sick. The idea is that the girl should be able to comfort and calm the old man down.

Chitong finds the girl's house and convinces her to go with him to see the old man, her lover. Back at the old man's house, before the two enter, they are met by Nena. Nena tells them that Chitong's father has come back because there was no available bus to take him home. The girl becomes hesitant to enter the house but Chitong tells her to be not afraid.

Chitong and the girl enters the house and they see his father in the sala. Celo sees them and angrily shouts at Chitong to get the girl out of the house. Celo thinks about taking his belt out and beat the girl. Chitong adamantly protects the girl and stands between her and his father. Celo clinches his fist and strikes Chitong in the face. Celo is immediately overpowered by guilt. He has never struck his son. Not until now. 

Celo and Chitong stares at each other. Shocked and petrified of what just happened. During this incident, the girl has taken the time to slip away, enter the old man's room, and lock it behind her. During the night, the voices of the girl and the old man, the lovers, can be heard coming from the room. The girl is telling the old man that she will never leave him again. That no one shall ever take her away from him again.

Questions and Answers:

1. Are the Monzon family rich? Yes. It's alluded to several times in the story. They have a servant girl waiting for them during breakfast. Sofia Monzon was also referred to as "senora" and "Dona" at some points in the story.

2. Why did Joaquin title his story Three Generations? It's an obvious reference to the three main characters in the story who represent three generations of the Monzon family - the old Monzon, Celo Monzon, and his son Chitong.

3. What moral lesson can be learned from the story? There are several moral lessons that can be gleaned from the full story. Following your heart or the dictates of your passion can be learned from Chitong. Although he knows that his parents, his father in particular, will not be happy if he ditches studying law and pursue priesthood instead, he still went for it. Chitong's maturity and act of defiance against his father can also be a source of moral lessons. Don't be afraid to stand up against authority figures if you know that you are in the right. 

4. How do you write a reflection paper about the story? The best way to approach this is to choose one of the themes in the story. Start from this single theme and build your reflection paper around it. Tackling several themes in your paper will be difficult and will likely end up incoherent. For example, choose the theme of domestic violence and write a reflection paper on how this trickles down from one family generation to the next.

5. Is there a Tagalog version of Nick Joaquin's Three Generations? None that we know of. As far as an official Tagalog version goes, we don't think there's one. There are obviously translated versions floating out there but these are usually done by teachers, students, and enthusiasts.