World Literature

Jorge Amado

 

BORN: 1912, Itabuna, Bahia, Brazil

DIED: 2001, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

NATIONALITY: Brazilian

GENRE: Fiction, drama

MAJOR WORKS:

Cacao (1933)

The Violent Land (1943)

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1966)

 

 

Jorge Amado. Amado, Jorge, photograph. AP Images.

 

Overview

Jorge Amado is an internationally acclaimed author whose novels have been translated into more than forty languages. The majority of his works are set in the Bahia region of northeastern Brazil and reveal the author’s fascination with the rich cultural heritage of Bahia’s inhabitants, most of whom are of mixed European, African, and native Indian ancestry. Amado’s later writings, which have made him a best-selling author worldwide, are more expansive and less overtly political, tempering social criticism with satire, ironic humor, and raucous comedy.

 

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Lessons from Poverty. Amado was born the son of immigrant farmers on a cacao plantation in Southern Bahia. When he was old enough to work, he spent his summer holidays toiling in the cacao groves with other area laborers. These early episodes among Brazil’s impoverished proved an invaluable learning experience for Amado and provided a foundation for much of his writing.

Brazil in the Early Twentieth Century. Following a global economic crisis that had shattered the coffee industry and forced an unprecedented number of Brazilians into poverty, Brazil’s 1930 presidential election was rife with revolution. When the liberal challenger Getulio Vargas met with apparent defeat, he headed an armed rebellion against the state—gaining control of civilian and military establishments, dissolving the congress, and issuing a decree of absolute power for his government. Initially, the overthrow of the old order produced a renaissance of sorts among Brazil’s writers. Vargas had championed achievement and reform, and the writers were quick to adopt this spirit of social renewal. The new critical literature of Brazil lay bare the squalor of its lower classes and offered solutions for a nation restless for change.

Amado in Prison. Amado’s early novels—often termed works of social protest—were published amid these turbulent times. Carnival Land (1931), Sweat (1934), and Cacao (1933), all depict a destitute and violent Brazil and offer answers to many of the prevailing social problems. Amado was not alone in his attempts to affect social change. As nationwide impatience with the economic plight grew, Vargas’ support waned. Several political factions—notably the Communist party and the fascist Integralistas—began to exert a marked influence among Brazilians. In 1935, a short-lived rebellion broke out, and Vargas subsequently declared martial law. Communists and other labeled seditionists were hunted down relentlessly, and a censorship department was created to suppress all forms of dissent. Amado’s inflammatory early novels, though given little regard by critics, attracted the suspicious eye of the Vargas regime. Amado was imprisoned as a member of the Communist Party in 1935, exiled on several later occasions, and, in 1937 following a national ban, two thousand of his books were burned in a plaza by the Brazilian military.

Refined Techniques Increase Literary Acclaim. The Vargas crackdown did not silence the writers’ call for reform so much as alter the form of protest. Starting with Amado’s 1935 book Jubiaba, Amado began to display a greater concern for technique, often cloaking social themes within psychological studies. This new style found its greatest success in The Violent Land. Published in 1942, The Violent Land depicts the brutal land-battles that ensue when two neighboring estates rush for the last, precious cacao groves in northern Brazil.

In 1958, with the publication of Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, Amado’s writing took another significant shift. As in his earlier work, the lower classes of Brazil’s Bahia region continued to dominate Amado’s novels. Beginning with Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, however, the examination oftheir afflictions gave way to romantic and humorous themes.

Amado’s next novel, Os pastores da noite (1964; translated as Shepherds of the Night, 1967), is divided into three distinct episodes that take place in the poorest neighborhoods of Salvador. The book deals with characters from the lowest classes who have in common their misery and hopes for a better future. In January 1965, Amado traveled to Paris, where he stayed three months to finish his novel, Dona Flor e seus dois maridos (1966; translated as Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, 1969), which became a social phenomenon in Brazil and achieved enormous international success. It tells the story of Flor, a young Bahian woman, who is married to Vadinho, a great lover but an incorrigible drunk and rogue. Dona Flor e seus dois maridos was adapted for cinema and theater. A motion picture, directed by Luis Carlos Barreto and starring Brazilian star Sonia Braga, was released in Latin America, Europe, and the United States in 1976. There was also a Hollywood remake, Kiss Me Goodbye (1982), directed by Robert Mulligan and starring Sally Field, James Caan, and Jeff Bridges. A musical adaptation appeared on Broadway in 1979, and in 1997, TV Globo produced a miniseries based on the novel.

Criticism from Feminists. The highly anticipated Tenda dos milagres (translated as Tent of Miracles, 1971) was published in 1969. A motion picture based on the novel, directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, premiered in 1977. Amado received a prize from the Instituto Italo-Latino Americano (Italian Institute of Latin America) in 1976. Amado’s next two novels, Tereza Batista cansada de Guerra (1972; translated as Tereza Batista: Home from the Wars, 1975) and Tieta do Agreste: pastora de cabras (1977; translated as Tieta the Goat Girl, 1979), have young promiscuous girls turned prostitutes as protagonists. These works attracted criticism from academics, especially feminists, who began to describe Amado as a misogynist who exploits his female protagonists by always reducing them to male fantasies, making them champions of the only two skills that seem to be available to them: sex and cooking.

Childhood Memoirs. In 1979, Farda, fardao, cami- sola de dormer (translated as Pen, Sword, Camisole, 1985) was published. This novel, set during World War II, is another example of Amado’s preference for multiple complex narrative voices. The novel offers a glance at an aspect of the writer’s life since Amado had been a member of the Academy of Letters since 1961. By 1981, Amado’s prolific and successful literary career had stretched over fifty years. He celebrated this landmark with the publication of his childhood memoirs, O meninograpiuna (1981, The Coastal Child) and several works for children, including O gato malhado e a andorinha Sinha (1976; translated as The Swallow and the Tomcat, 1982)

Brazilian Cocoa Wars. In 1984, Amado returned to an old favorite theme of his, that of the cocoa wars in northeast Brazil at the turn of the century. Tocaia Grande (1984, The Big Ambush; translated as Showdown, 1988), like Terras do semfim, is a frontier novel with picaresque and fantastic elements. The publication of Tocaia Grande preceded long-awaited political change in Brazil. In 1985, a civilian government returned, ending a prolonged series of military dictatorships. The opening of the Fundayao Casa de Jorge Amado (Jorge Amado Foundation’s House) in Salvador da Bahia in 1987 confirmed Amado’s place as a Brazilian institution.

Insights into the Author’s Personal Life. Osumigo da santa: uma historia de feitigaria (1988, The Saint’s Disappearance: A Magic Tale; translated as The War of the Saints, 1995) was written in Paris between the summer of 1987 and the summer of 1988. Two books printed in the early 1990s provided many insights on the novelist’s personal life. In 1990, Amado published a series of interviews with his French translator and dear friend Alice Raillard, Conversando com Alice Raillard (Conversations with Alice Raillard). The publication of Navegagdo de cabotagem: apontamentos para um livro de memorias que jamais escreverei (1992, Coastal Navigation: Notes for a Book of Memoirs That I Will Never Write) tells the author’s life story in a series of journal entries that do not appear in chronological order. These memoirs feature many amusing anecdotes that marked the novelist’s life.

Three National Days of Mourning. After 1998, Amado spent most of his time in his house, surrounded by family and friends. Somewhat weakened by heart problems that resulted in several hospitalizations and surgeries, the beloved Brazilian writer continued to receive prizes and honors. On August 6, 2001, shortly before his eighty-ninth birthday, the novelist was rushed to a hospital in Salvador, where he died of a heart attack. Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso declared three days of national mourning, and thousands of people filed past the novelist’s open casket on the day of his funeral. Following his demands, Amado was cremated, and his ashes were spread around a mango tree in the garden adjoining his house.

 

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Amado's famous contemporaries include:

Ivan Goff (1910-1999): Australian screenwriter whose works include the 1970s TV series Charlie's Angels.

L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986): American science-fiction writer and founder of the Church of Scientology.

Wallace Stegner (1909-1993): American short-story, novel, and history writer whose novel Angle of Repose won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972.

Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998): Japanese film director whose career spanned a fifty-year period of activity.

Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008): American religious leader and fifteenth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who served in office from 1995 until his death in 2008.

Walter Sisulu (1912-2003): South African anti-apartheid activist and member of the American National Congress.

 

Works in Literary Context

Amado was widely known as the writer of the people. Most of his books deal with the struggles and exploitation of working class Brazilians. Amado’s characters are a mixture of good and bad, bloody killers and good- hearted villains, street kids and workers, prostitutes and circus owners, landlords and political leaders, musicians, poets, and religious men. Amado’s works share an emphasis on Brazilian popular culture and folklore, including representative elements such as Carnaval and the Afro-Brazilian religious cult of candomble—a type of African spirit worship brought by slaves to Brazil in the 1550s. As such, Amado’s work demonstrates characteristics both ofsocial realism and magical realism, and as his career developed, there is an increasing mixture of these seemingly incongruous elements.

Social Realism. Amado’s first three novels, Carnival Land, Cacao, and Sweat, are generally faulted for being excessively pedantic in expressing communist solutions to social problems. Nonetheless, Jubiaba (1935), Amado’s fourth novel, is regarded as his first artistic success. In this work, set in Salvador, Amado details a young black man’s struggle against social injustice, infusing the story with elements of Brazilian and African folk traditions. Jubiaba was Amado’s earliest attempt to capture the multi-ethnic spirit of Brazil’s capital city, an endeavor that evolved into a prominent feature of his artistry.

Magical Realism. Although Amada never completely abandoned social realism, his later work incorporated elements of magical realism. In this style of writing, magical occurrences are common and are considered commonplace by both the narrator of these tales and the characters who are affected by these magical events. Amado’s Shepherds of the Night (1964) deals with characters from the lowest classes who have in common their misery and hopes for a better future: vagabonds, drunks, cheaters, prostitutes, rogues, and scoundrels. Amado sees ritual as a possible solution for social discrepancies and makes use of magic realism to demonstrate his point. Indeed, according to Amado, the gathering and inclusion of people of different races and social backgrounds in a deeply rooted cultural and religious cult show that all Brazilians can take their destinies into their own hands and solve their problems.

Amado’s use of magical realism may, in fact, be a precursor to Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s use of the popular technique in One Hundred Years of Solitude. After the success of One Hundred Years of Solitude, magical realism gained popularity in South and Central America, so much so that many of the major literary works to come from these lands in the past fifty years or so have included the technique. Amado, it seems, was a little before his time.

 

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

The idealism Amado expresses in his early work was intended to effect social change in Brazil. Essentially, Amado promoted a communist ideal as a solution to the social problems he depicted in his first novels, and he has, indeed, been charged with using the art form of the novel as a mere vehicle for his political agenda. Because art has a powerful way of moving people emotionally and intellectually, it is not uncommon to find in works of art a political undercurrent. Here are a few more examples of works that use artistic forums to express political and social ideals:

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe. This anti-slavery work had such a large impact that it intensified the sectional conflict, which preceded the American Civil War.

Atlas Shrugged (1957), a novel by Ayn Rand. This work describes the negative effects of socialism and is punctuated by a spirited speech in defense of capitalism delivered by the novel's hero, John Galt.

Happy Feet (2006), an animated film directed by George Miller. This work brings to light the problems that arise from irresponsible waste management policies.

 

Works in Critical Context

The critical debate surrounding Amado makes it clear that his works have left few people unmoved. Although Amado has detractors, his exceptional national and international fame and his personal accomplishments, including an array of prestigious awards and honors, speak for his importance in Brazilian literary history. Speaking to the power of Amado’s writing, Fred P. Ellison writes: ‘‘In the works of this most controversial of modern Brazilian writer, unevenness is the salient characteristic. Amado seems to write solely by instinct. Of conscious art intellectually arrived at, the result of reflection and high craftsmanship, there is relatively little. Yet his novels have a mysterious power to sweep the reader along. Serious defects in artistry are overcome by the novelist’s ability to weave a story, to construct vivid scenes, and to create fascinating characters.’’

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands Like most of Amado’s later novels, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands blends elements of burlesque with the surreal. Critic David Gallagher granted credit for the success of this strange brew to Amado’s convincing characters. ‘‘Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands is a remarkable novel for the coolness with which the author is able to impose his extraordinary characters on us,’’ Gallagher wrote in the New York Times Book Review. ‘‘Like them, we learn to take exoticism and magic in our stride.’’ A Time magazine critic charged Dona Flor with overblown sentimentalism, calling the book ‘‘a love letter to Bahia.’’ The reviewer claimed that Amado ‘‘romanticizes his Bahians into virile lovers, darkly sensual morenas [women], whores and neighbors, all larger than life. ...In lavishing details of color, touch and taste, Amado so ignores the canons of construction that at times he seems embarked on little more than an engaging shaggy-dog story.’’ Gallagher held a similar opinion of Amado’s prose: ‘‘It is a pity that Amado mars his achievement by often writing flatly, without discipline or tension. His refreshing exuberance is diminished by the novel’s almost aggressive repetitiveness. Cut to half its size, it would have been a better book.’’

 

Responses to Literature

1. Amado’s early work is marked by its promotion of communistic ideals. Read one of the early novels from Amado’s career—Cacao, for example—and discuss its attempt to effect social change. How does it fashion its argument? Which argument seems to be the most effective? Why? Cite specific passages to support your response.

2. What role does magical realism play in Shepherds of the Night? Why do you think Amado chose to use elements of magical realism in this text?

3. Amado’s work is often deprecated as being extremely vulgar and concerned with the down-and-out figures in Brazil, like ‘‘whores.’’ Amado himself was unconcerned with this criticism, even though it arguably kept him from receiving wider critical acclaim. Perhaps, as some scholars suggest, literature that is more ‘‘refined’’ receives more critical acclaim than literature that is more popular in tone, language, and content. In your opinion, what accounts for this disparity between what is prized by critics and what is prized by the public?

4. After having read an Amado text or two that incorporates magical realism, give the technique a shot. Write a short story or take one you’ve already written, and like a magician, sprinkle a little magic onto the text. Then, in a short essay, discuss how these changes alter the overall effect of the story.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Armstrong, Piers. Third World Literary Fortunes:

Brazilian Culture and Its Reception. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1999.

Brookshaw, David. Race and Color in Brazilian

Literature. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1986.

Brower, Keith H., Earl E. Fitz, and Enrique

Martinez-Vidal. Jorge Amado: New Critical Essays. New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 2001.

Chamberlain, Bobby J. Jorge Amado. Twayne, 1990.

Ellison, Fred P. Brazil’s New Novel: Four Northeastern Masters. University of California Press, 1954.

Marotti, Giorgio. Black Characters in the Brazilian

Novel. Los Angeles, Cal.: Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California, 1987.

Patai, Daphne. Myth and Ideology in Contemporary Brazilian Fiction. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1983.

Peden, Margaret Sayers, ed. The Latin American Short Story: A Critical History. Twayne, 1983.