In The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector creates a male narrator, Rodrigo S. M., to write the story of a young Brazilian girl who has recently moved to Rio de Janeiro. The narrator has caught sight of this young girl on the street. She is nothing special; the slums of Rio de Janeiro are filled with thousands like her, shopgirls and office workers sharing one-room flats, invisible and superfluous, silent in the clamor of the city.
The first quarter of the book is taken up with Rodrigo’s ruminations on why and how he is writing the story of this young girl. He declares that her story must be told by a man, for a woman would feel too much sympathy and end up in tears. The story must be told simply and with humility, for it is about the unremarkable adventures and the shadowy existence of a young girl trying to survive in a hostile city. Rodrigo feels the need to identify with his subject, so he decides to share her condition as closely as possible by wearing threadbare clothes, suffering from lack of sleep, neglecting to shave, giving up sex and football, avoiding human contact, and immersing himself in nothingness. He envisions this identification with his protagonist as a quest for transfiguration and his “ultimate materialization into an object. Perhaps I might even acquire the sweet tones of the flute and become entwined in a creeper vine.”
After describing the disastrous physical appearance of the girl, Rodrigo briefly rehearses her early history. She was born, suffering from rickets, in the backwoods of Alagoas, where her parents died of typhoid when she was two years old. Later she was sent to Maceio to live with her maiden aunt. The aunt, determined to keep the girl from becoming a prostitute, enjoyed thrashing her niece at the slightest provocation or no provocation at all. The child never knew exactly why she was being punished. The only education she experienced beyond three years of primary school was a short typing course, which gave her enough confidence to seek a position as a typist in Rio de Janeiro.
At the moment Rodrigo’s story intrudes into her life, the girl is about to be fired. Her work is hopeless—full of typing errors and blotched with dirty spots. Yet her polite apology for the trouble she has caused inspires her boss to modify his dismissal into a warning. The girl retreats to the lavatory to try to recover her composure. When she looks into the tarnished mirror, her reflection seems to have disappeared; her connection to even her own existence is as fragile and tenuous as is Rodrigo’s...
(The entire section is 1051 words.)