What happens in chapter II, "Man," of Rebellion in the Backlands by Euclides da Cunha?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first two chapters of Cunha's book are in fact essays that precede the recounting of the events in the rebellion, being, of course, a true account of actual events in Brazil in the late 1880s. The second essay comprising the second chapter of the book is called "Man" and is an essay about how the anthropological understandings of the day applied to the people of the backlands of Brazil, which Cunha describes in "Man."

After a lengthy discourse on the application or misapplication of then current anthropological theories, such as "Broca's anthropological law," Cunha posits that the "intermixture" of various races in Brazil has resulted not in the predicted "reduction" of inferior traits "converging toward a union in an intermediary [anthropological] type" but in the "reproduction" of all traits to varying degrees "depending upon the varying admixture of" genetic influences.

On the contrary, the ... elements are not summed up and they are not unified; they reproduce themselves ... without any reduction whatsoever, in a confused intermixture of races....

He concludes by suggesting that the "reproduction" from the "admixture" of factors developing the sertanejo people of the backlands resulted in "retrograde" people with "atavistic" tendencies. In other words, what was reproduced was a return to an earlier evolutionary form of human (retrograde: moving backward to an earlier, inferior condition) with traits and characteristics of earlier ancestry (atavistic: traits of a remote or primitive ancestor).

It is with this essay that Canhu sets up the sociological, anthropological and cultural environments that affected and surrounded the people of the backlands at the time of the rebellion.

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Rebellion in the Backlands

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