Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 591
Brazilian writer Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis's novel Don Casmurro (1899) takes the form of a memoir by its main character, Bento Santiago, who has the eponymous nickname "Don Casmurro." Santiago claims that he has suffered an adulterous marriage; however, the veracity of this claim is never confirmed, as Santiago is slowly shown to be unreliable. Critic Marta de Senna calls this revelation Machado's "strategy of deceit."
The novel opens with its narrator and protagonist, Santiago, recounting an encounter he had on the train. After retelling this short episode, Santiago offers to explain his motivation for writing the book before meandering into exposition:
I live alone, with a servant. The house I live in is my own; I decided to have it built, prompted by a such a personal, private motive that I am embarrassed to put it in print, but here goes. One day, quite a few years ago, I had the notion of building in Engenho Novo a replica of the house I had been brought up in on the old Rua de Matacavalos, and giving it the same aspect and layout as the other one, which has now disappeared. Builder and decorator understood my instructions perfectly: it is the same two-storey building, three windows at the front, a verandah at the back, the same bedrooms and living rooms. In the main room, the paintings on the ceiling and walls are more or less the same, with garlands of small flowers and large birds, at intervals, carrying them in their beaks. In the four corners of the ceiling, the figures of the seasons, and at the center of the walls, medallions of Caesar, Augustus, Nero and Massinissa, with their names underneath. . . . Why these four characters I do not understand. When we moved into the Matacavalos house, it was already decorated in this way: it had been done in the previous decade. It must have been the taste of the time to put a classical flavor and ancient figures into paintings done in America. The rest is also analogous to this and similar to it. I have a small garden, flowers, vegetables, a casuarina tree, a well and a washing-stone. I use old china and old furniture. Finally, there is, now as in the old days, the same contrast between life inside the house, which is placid, and the noisy world outside.
Later, the passion of Santiago's adoration for his lover, Capitu, is described by Machado in an intense description of her eyes:
They held some kind of mysterious, active fluid, a force that dragged one in, like the undertow of a wave retreating from the shore on stormy days. So as not to be dragged in, I held onto anything around them, her ears, her arms, her hair spread about her shoulders; but as soon as I returned to the pupils of her eyes again, the wave emerging from them grew towards me, deep and dark, threatening to envelop me, draw me in and swallow me up.
At the end of the novel, Santiago questions whether Capitu's innocence in youth could have predicted the dishonesty he perceives she has harbored in later life. He resolves this incongruity by noting she was "like the fruit within its rind."
Two other key quotes from Don Casmurro follow:
. . . we forget our good actions only slowly, and in fact never truly forget them.
Each person is worth the value put on them by the affection of others, and that is where popular wisdom has found that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.