Acting both as a torrid romance and an examination of sociopolitical changes in a small Brazilian village, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon contains a number of themes related to personal change, cultural assumptions and stigma, education, and the expectation of love as a cure for all ills. Centrally, the novel discusses how modern thinking changes individuals and cultures which were otherwise rooted in their "old" (not necessarily inferior) ways of thinking. Both the main characters of Gabriela and Nacib Saad undergo significant change to their ideals and expectations. The second storyline of Mundinho Falcão and his modernist ideas demonstrates social change through cultural and individual effort; Falcão wishes to topple the power structure of the "coroneis", the owners of the cacao plantations which provide the village with its major income. Both storylines reflect how change affects ideals and expectations, and how accepting change as a necessary part of life can improve and enhance even what is perceived as "ideal."
She was a daughter of the people lost in a jumble of incomprehensible talk... of gossip that did not interest her.
She twirled around... but she did not love to dance these dances. Moving around in the arms of a gentleman. A dance to her was something else...
(Amado, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, amazon.com)
Gabriela is an archetypal "free spirit," one whose ideals are based in personal enjoyment and personal freedom. She sees her own life as one to be lived "to the fullest," even when this conflicts with society's views on matters such as infidelity. She resists Nacib's attempts to civilize her, and in turn Nacib's cultural rigidity is challenged and modified. Nacib in himself shows signs of personal change without a specific trigger; rather than put Gabriela to death for infidelity as is the Brazilian custom, he divorces her. This allows others to examine their innate culture and wonder which parts of "the old ways" should be maintained and which parts should be abandoned. Similarly, Falcão's efforts to wrest power from the coroneis is hindered by cultural norms, and he is successful entirely by demonstrating that his ideas are superior, financially and socially. In this way, the novel shows the forward progress of morals, ideals, and norms as positive, and the adherence to old ideas to be, if not directly negative, at least culturally stagnant.