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...
(The entire section is 792 words.)