As the novel begins, it is the first Sunday of Carnival in Bahia, and Waldomiro Guimarães, known by everyone as Vadinho, husband of Dona Flor, has just died while dancing the samba, dressed as a woman, with a large cassava tuber tied under his skirt. With this beginning, Amado introduces the reader to a rollicking, bawdy world inhabited, it seems at times, by the entire population of Brazil.
The novel is divided into five parts, each part chronicling a segment of Dona Flor’s life, the first dealing with Vadinho’s death, wake, and burial, and the stirring of Dona Flor’s fears of life without her husband. The wake is a great success, with people streaming in and out to pay their respects; everyone, it seems—from politicians to members of the exalted professions and the inhabitants of gambling parlors and houses of ill repute—has a story to tell of Vadinho and his deeds. Yet if Vadinho’s wake is a success, it pales in comparison to his burial procession. In the opinion of one observer, it seems as if half the population of Bahia is there, more than any of the Carnival parades draws—proof, if any is needed, that Vadinho, gambler, rascal, and unfaithful husband that he was, knew how to make friends.
For Dona Flor this is small solace. With Vadinho’s burial, the reality of his absence becomes more pronounced, and Dona Flor struggles through a period of deep mourning. Through flashbacks (and certain pertinent digressions by the author), her life as a young girl, her whirlwind courtship, and her subsequent marriage to Vadinho is recounted. The memories of her life with Vadinho haunt her at every turn. To be sure, not all of her memories are happy ones. Vadinho, being Vadinho, had carried her through life, its highs and lows, sorrows and disappointments—all of its aspects. Now, with Vadinho gone, it seems as if she lies buried with him, and only the shell of Dona Flor remains, going through the motions of living. Not until she has pushed these memories aside, plunged them deep into the bottom of her consciousness, is she able to resume her life. In a symbolic gesture at Vadinho’s grave, she lays a bouquet of flowers and at the same time buries desire, love, things of the bed and the heart, in order to take up life again, the life of a decent, respectable widow.
Dona Flor settles into a routine that is slowly broken up by the insistent talk of matchmaking, marriage, men, and sex that her friends and neighbors continuously conduct in her presence. Though outwardly a respectable, upright woman, inwardly and at night, alone with her dreams, she is consumed by desire, by matters of the flesh. Even the most innocent of novels provokes in her all the desires she thought she had buried with Vadinho. Into her life at this time—when Dona Flor knows that to remain in this state may lead to insanity, while to do anything else would mean a loss of respectability or, worse, total ruination—comes Dr. Teodoro Madureira, the local pharmacist.
To Dona Flor, and indeed, all the women in the neighborhood, this comes as a shock, since in all the talk of matchmaking not one of them has mentioned Dr. Teodoro as a possibility. Yet once the possibility is entertained, everyone agrees that he is perfect for Dona Flor, a man of standing, respectable, and a fellow known within his profession—a profession, not merely a job, a profession with university credentials.
Dona Flor finds him acceptable, and a courtship, very different from her first one, ensues: a formal, proper, and respectable courtship, in which they walk, talk of their future, and make preparations for their wedding. At the wedding, everyone agrees that this time Dona Flor has achieved her deserved status, that finally she will have the happiness she deserves.
Dr. Teodoro and Dona Flor settle down to a life of respectability after their honeymoon, a honeymoon which Dona Flor finds a little disconcerting. She expects blazing lights and a night of complete abandonment, something of...
(The entire section is 1,682 words.)