Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On first reading, this story may appear to be little more than a detailed sketch of the customs and manners of a typical bourgeois family in nineteenth century Rio de Janeiro. Nogueira reads a translation of Alexandre Dumas, père’s Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844; The Three Musketeers, 1846) originally published in serial form in an important newspaper, and the reader recalls the importance of French literature, language, and culture during this period of Brazilian history. The mention of the two female slaves suggests that, although published in 1894, the story was written somewhat earlier, for slavery was legally abolished in Brazil in 1888. The social arrangements are also typical. Nogueira’s stay with the husband of a deceased cousin demonstrates the strength of family ties, however distant the relationship, as well as the importance of hospitality. The presence of Conceição’s mother, Madame Ignacia, is also common to the period. The late-night conversation on polite and trivial topics is a model of social taste.

On further reading, however, the reader sees beneath the sketch of manners to the real-life situation of Conceição and the sexual awakening of Nogueira. The latter is evident in the gradual change in Nogueira’s observations of Conceição. Early in the tale, his descriptions of her are somewhat distanced, even muted. As their evening together progresses, he awakens to her physicality, noting her shining teeth, her pale skin, her...

(The entire section is 610 words.)