Study Guide

Dom Casmurro

by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

Dom Casmurro Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Dom Casmurro may be interpreted as narrator and protagonist Bento Santiago’s attempt to relieve himself of the guilt he feels for having destroyed his relationship with his wife and son and for the jealousy he came to harbor for his dead best friend. Relief of the guilt may come from earning the support of a sympathetic reader. It may also come, however, from Bento’s admitting, finally, that he was wrong. Though such an admission never occurs within the novel itself, it is possible to conclude that even Bento suspects the truth behind his sad story.

Bento opens his narrative by explaining that he was given his nickname, Dom Casmurro, or “Mr. Stubborn,” by a young man in his neighborhood. Boredom led Bento to write a book, and a rejection of other topics led him to write about his own life.

He begins his tale by returning to the day when his mother’s promise to God that her son would become a priest resurfaced, making an eventual separation from his childhood companion Capitú seem inevitable. This is more than Bento and Capitú can bear; at fifteen and fourteen years old respectively, they already realize that they love each other beyond friendship. A first kiss is exchanged, and several potential plans about how to keep Bento out of the seminary are hatched, but with the seminary looming, prospects are bleak.

Though Bento begins his studies at the seminary, he is released from his obligation when it is proposed that his mother’s promise can be fulfilled by supporting another young man with priestly ambitions. Bento now studies law and exchanges letters with Capitú through his friend Escobar, who, like Bento, had enrolled in the seminary only to leave for more secular interests. Bento receives his law degree, and he and Capitú are married.

Escobar marries Capitú’s friend Sancha, and the two couples are nearly inseparable. Bento adores Capitú, and...

(The entire section is 786 words.)

Dom Casmurro Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Now in his fifties, Bento de Albuquerque Santiago is a withdrawn, diffident individual. He has had a successful law career and now lives alone in a comfortable suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Because of his retiring nature, neighbors have given him a nickname of mild mockery: Dom Casmurro, meaning “Lord Solitaire.” Bento’s father died when Bento was an infant, and the family moved from its plantation to the city. Bento’s older brother has also died, and his widowed mother, Dona Glória, is ever attentive to Bento, her only remaining child.

Bento recalls events from his past. As a young boy, he overhears Dona Glória talking to José Dias, a member of her household, who relates that Bento is falling in love with a neighbor girl, Capitu (an abbreviation of Capitolina). Dona Glória, therefore, reconfirms her promise, made after the death of her first son, to send Bento to a seminary. Bento does not want to become a priest, but he enters the seminary. He and Capitu secretly swear they will one day marry.

At the school, Bento makes a new friend, Ezequiel Escobar, whom he admires for his force and masculinity. He confides in Escobar, confessing his passion for Capitu. They elaborate a plan to obtain a papal dispensation from Dona Glória’s vow by paying for the education of an orphan. Both boys eventually leave the seminary. Bento becomes a lawyer, studying in São Paulo. Escobar successfully enters business. Their friendship continues as Bento...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Dom Casmurro Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Initially Dom Casmurro seems to be about jealousy, a husband’s suspicions about the fidelity of his wife. Ultimately, however, it is about the certainty one can have of how one person perceives another. The involving theme of the work is not only about whether the husband can trust the wife but also whether the reader can trust the husband as a narrator. The novel traces the corrosive consequences of gnawing jealousy, a person losing what he has due to suspicion of losing it. The ultimate certainty of the work is that rampant fear of loss causes loss.

The novel unfolds as Bento Santiago recalls his life and marriage. The narrative reveals him to be a withdrawn, diffident individual who has gained a nickname of mild mockery, “Dom Casmurro,” meaning “Lord Keeps-to-Himself.” Intended for the priesthood by his mother, Bento is sent to a seminary. He immediately wishes to escape, having fallen in love with Capitú, his young neighbor and first sweetheart. He confides his passion to a new school colleague, Escobar, whom he admires for his force and masculinity. Both eventually leave the seminary. Bento marries Capitú, and Escobar marries Sancha.

In an encounter with Sancha, Bento realizes he has an adulterous attraction to her. Escobar suddenly dies, and at his funeral Bento notes the attention with which Capitú contemplates their dead friend. Bento now becomes riveted by the suspicion that his wife had been unfaithful with...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Dom Casmurro Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Caldwell, Helen. The Brazilian Othello of Machado de Assis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960. An in-depth study of Dom Casmurro, with considerable attention paid to the influence of Shakespeare’s Othello.

Caldwell, Helen. Machado de Assis: The Brazilian Master and His Novels. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. Introduction to Machado’s life and novels. Some reference to his work in other genres.

Fitz, Earl E. Machado de Assis. Boston: Twayne, 1989. An excellent overview of Machado’s life and work, with chapters on major themes, style and technique, and the various genres in which the writer worked.

Gledson, John. The Deceptive Realism of Machado de Assis: A Dissenting Interpretation of Dom Casmurro. Liverpool, England: Francis Cairns, 1984. A study of Dom Casmurro as an example of literary realism that provides an accurate portrayal of Brazilian society of the time.

Nunes, Maria Luisa. The Craft of an Absolute Winner: Characterization and Narratology in the Novels of Machado de Assis. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983. An examination of Machado’s theory and practice of characterization and his use of various narrative techniques.