Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 792

At the center of Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor Has Two Husbands are two characters, Flor and the narrator, an omniscient observer. The story is set in Salvador in the Brazilian state of Bahia, but they occupy distinct sectors within the city: a marginal underworld, an urban petty bourgeoisie, and a...

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At the center of Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor Has Two Husbands are two characters, Flor and the narrator, an omniscient observer. The story is set in Salvador in the Brazilian state of Bahia, but they occupy distinct sectors within the city: a marginal underworld, an urban petty bourgeoisie, and a provincial, small-town interior. Each realm has its own pretensions and survival tactics, and the narrator must be both a knowing intimate and a distanced observer, allowing the characters, with distinctive, though categorized, personalities, to emerge from their respective backgrounds. The narrator’s position in turn places the reader in and above the setting as an engaged, sympathetic, yet critical and bemused observer.

Characters such as Dona Flor and Dr. Teodoro form the distinctive environment of Salvador and the novel. They belong to a striving middle class, surviving through discipline, acceptability, and collaboration; suffering intrigues, calamities, and declines; attempting good humor; and bearing the mockery of others. The other population is the underworld, that of Vadinho, Mirandão, and the rakes, scoundrels, gamblers, and prostitutes around them. This is a world of trickery and unctuous flattery, petty gains and dramatic losses, conniving and superstition, fellowship and getting along, and benevolence and knavery.

Among the many ironies suffusing Bahian society and the novel is that of religion. For middle-class Bahia, this religion is Roman Catholicism, organized in parishes and historic churches and supervised by clergy and vigilant sodality ladies. Its adherents pursue fortune and hope, and flee temptation and misfortune by recourse to votive-lit petitions and urgent masses. The underclass resorts to Candomblé, the spiritual synthesis of African gods and myths with Catholicism. Indulgent and easygoing, its followers, nevertheless, must be ever vigilant to trickery and the evil eye. They must themselves take recourse to otherworldly arts, relying on the rituals and incantations of their priests and priestesses.

These two spiritual worlds weave the reality and fantasy that torment, then finally reconcile, Dona Flor in her search for love and marriage. Flor’s public and private needs become reconciled in the unique social and spiritual norms of Salvador. In portraying the numerous characters who define this environment, the novel achieves a unique sense of a particular time and place in Brazil, a Latin spirit blended with deep African rhythms. The narrator, joined by the reader, views with irony and some skepticism this landscape and its populace. However, the narrator is filled with the tolerance his compatriots possess, thereby imbuing the reader with his sympathy, even tenderness.

Amado was born on a plantation in Bahia, the historic center of the northeast region and deeply formative of Brazilian society and culture. Bahia’s long tradition of slave-holding forged the synthesis of Afro-Brazilian culture, manifest in the religion of Candomblé, the martial art of capoeira, and the alluring flavors of Bahian cooking. Although his mother taught him at home to read, Amado’s formal education began at a Jesuit school in the state capital, where his impressive writing skills were first encouraged.

Amado began his literary career as a high school student, joining the circle of rising young writers in Bahia. He was accepted into law school at the University of Rio de Janeiro at the same time he published his first novel, O país do carnaval (1931; “the country of carnival”). Living now in the nation’s capital, the young Amado, who survived financially by working as a journalist, became the intimate of a generation of luminaries in modern Brazilian fiction, poetry, and belles lettres, including Vinícius de Moraes, José Américo, Rachel de Queiroz, Gilberto Freyre, Graciliano Ramos, José Lins do Rego, and Rubem Braga.

Amado married in 1934, with the first of his children born the following year. He then published well-received novels, among them Cacáu (1933), Suor (1934), and Jubiabá (1935), which were translated into French and praised by writer Albert Camus. These and other works celebrated the endurance and vitality of the rural, agricultural populace, and lambasted the grinding poverty they endured. Amado joined the Communist Party, following the example of numerous Brazilian intellectuals and cultural figures who opposed the authoritarian rightist regime. Amado was arrested as a political prisoner twice under the regime.

With its overthrow, however, he became a Communist delegate to the assembly that produced the democratic constitution of 1946. In the following decade, however, dismayed by Soviet excesses, he left the party. Beginning in 1958, with the publication of Gabriela, cravo, e canela (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, 1962), he entered the second phase of his literary career, popularizing worldwide a folk mystique of Bahia and Brazil. Dona Flor belongs to this latter phase and is as renowned as Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. Both novels were made into popular films and television dramas. Amado was elected to the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1961.

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