The book is a social commentary narrating the cruelty of the Spanish friars to the Filipinos. The story is woven around the romance of Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara but the deeper and more subtle theme revolves around the abuses of Spanish priests and the colonial government. Crisostomo Ibarra is the son of Don Rafael Ibarra, and had studied in Europe. Maria Clara is a girl blessed with beauty, grace and charm, and is the daughter of a Spanish friar (priest), Padre Damaso, and a Filipina, Doña Pia Alba, who is married to Santiago de los Santos, popularly known as Capitan Tiago.
Noli Me Tangere (The Social Cancer as the alternative English title) is a Spanish-language novel written by Jose Rizal and published in 1887 in Berlin. The novel is commonly referred to by its shortened name Noli; the English translation was originally titled The Social Cancer, although recent publications have retained the original Latin. The literal translation is touch me not. Rizal derived these words from the Bible, specifically the Gospel of St. John 20:13-17, which describes how lepers were made to wear signs bearing these words to warn passers-by of their condition. "Touch me not" were also the warning words spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalene when he rose from the dead.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus said this because he has not accomplished his mission (after rising from the dead, he must ascend to heaven to see God the Father) and hence, cannot be touched. French writer D. Blumentrit says that "Noli Me Tangere" is in fact the professional nickname used by ophthalmologists (such as Rizal himself) for cancer of the eyelids.