Study Guide

Macunaíma

by Mário de Andrade

Macunaíma Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This unusual work is an antirealist fantasy drawn from Amazonian Indian mythology, Afro-Luso-Brazilian folklore, and the author’s imagination. Thus, much of what occurs is fablelike, magical, or illogical, with no spatial or temporal bounds. The action centers on the hero’s struggle to recover a magical amulet given to him by Ci. His adventures take him to all corners of Brazil and back in time.

Macunaíma is born an ugly black baby to a Tapanhuma Indian mother. Although he is destined to be a popular hero, his mother notes that all names beginning with “Ma” bring bad luck. The sadistic and mischievous child soon discovers magical powers, transforming himself into a comely prince to seduce his brother Jiguê’s first wife. When Jiguê distributes meat after a successful hunt, the hero receives tripe and vows revenge. During a famine, the hero’s acts show him to be vindictive and greedy. As punishment, his mother expels him from the jungle, and he must return home by his wits. Back home, he goes through several metamorphoses to seduce Iriqui, Jiguê’s new wife. Tricked by the gods, Macunaíma kills his mother. The three brothers and Iriqui then set off for “our world.” They soon encounter Ci, whom the hero rapes. An entourage of birds salute him as the new emperor of the virgin forest. The two engender a son, who is adored by women of all races from all parts of the nation. A venomous serpent causes the death of Ci and son; before ascending to become a bright star, she gives the hero a special amulet. The precious stone is lost as Macunaíma defeats the Water Mother in battle. When the hero learns that the man-eating giant Venceslau has obtained the coveted charm, he sets off for São Paulo to recover it, accompanied by his brothers and a flock of royal parrots. The hero stows his conscience before leaving and gathers two hundred canoes to carry his fortune of cocoa beans. The brothers discover the footprint of Saint Thomas filled with water. The hero bathes first and becomes fair-skinned and blue-eyed; the envious brothers come out with red and black skin, respectively.

In the metropolis, the trio trades beans for currency and discovers...

(The entire section is 889 words.)

Macunaíma Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Albuquerque, Severino J. “Construction and Deconstruction in Macunaíma.” Hispania: A Journal Devoted to the Interests of the Teaching of Spanish and Portuguese 70 (March, 1987): 67-72. An analysis of the structure and technique of the novel.

George, David. “The Staging of Macunaíma and the Search for National Theatre.” Latin American Theatre Review 17 (Fall, 1983): 47-58. A discussion of the adaptation of the novel to the stage.

Moisés, Massaud. “Mário de Andrade.” In Latin American Writers, edited by Carlos A. Solé and Maria I. Abreau. Vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1989. An essay on the life and career of Mário de Andrade. Includes analysis of his works and a bibliography.

Rose, Stanley L. “Macunaíma: When Failure Succeeds.” Selecta: Journal of the Pacific Northwest Council on Foreign Languages 13 (1992): 79-82. Rose details the novel’s use of idiom and discusses the importance of the book in relationship to Brazilian national identity.

West, Paul. Review of Macunaíma. The Nation 241 (July 20, 1985): 52-54. West discusses Andrade’s narrative technique, use of Brazilian mythology and folklore, and the varied manner and content of the novel.