Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 654

Though the style is comedic, the novel deals with serious and thought-provoking themes. It is a story of two worlds; of a clash between good and evil, where good and evil are not so sharply defined that a person can easily distinguish them; of love in all of its forms;...

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Though the style is comedic, the novel deals with serious and thought-provoking themes. It is a story of two worlds; of a clash between good and evil, where good and evil are not so sharply defined that a person can easily distinguish them; of love in all of its forms; of the meaning of happiness and respectability; of a battle between spirit and matter. Above all, however, it is a celebration of life.

By embodying the struggle between good and evil, between spirit and matter, in the character of Dona Flor, Amado is better able to point out and attack the hypocrisy of a society that makes such a struggle necessary. Dona Flor finds it necessary to bury desire, love, the things of the bed and of the heart when Vadinho dies, in order not to be tempted by that part of her that Vadinho so generously satisfied. She does so because if tempted, she might succumb, and if she succumbs, outside the institution of marriage, she loses (in the eyes of her neighbors, that is) the other side of herself—the decent, honorable, respectable side. In the society that she inhabits, it is the outward appearance of these qualities that counts more than the actual possession of them.

For Vadinho and Dr. Teodoro, no such problem exists. For Vadinho, a child of the street, illegitimate, there are no restraints whatsoever. He knows at first hand the hypocrisy that exists in the world, and he will have no part of it. Generous to a fault with his love (physical) and prodigious in his excesses, he suffers no disgrace, not only because he is a man but also because, unlike Dona Flor, he has nothing to protect.

Dr. Teodoro, Vadinho’s exact opposite, is a very respectable gentleman, and in everyone’s mind (including Dona Flor’s) he confers his respectability on her when they marry. Yet before he marries, he tarries with prostitutes without inflicting damage on his reputation. There is no doubt that he is decent, honorable, and respectable, but he embraces these traits so tightly to him that spontaneity and unbridled joy have no room to penetrate. Where Vadinho has no restraints whatsoever, Dr. Teodoro has too many, and it is to Dona Flor’s sorrow that he brings his respectability to bed with him. Even in their food preferences, Vadinho and Dr. Teodoro are opposites—Vadinho will eat anything, the more exotic, the better; Dr. Teodoro has no taste for spiced foods.

Dona Flor’s nature encompasses both of these extremes—indeed, she has need of them in order to survive—but she must have them in balanced measures, not in extremes. Because of this, Vadinho and Dr. Teodoro are both good and evil, life and death. To choose the unbridled passions of Vadinho means death to the decent, honorable side of her; to choose the monotonous happiness of the respectability and security of Dr. Teodoro means death to her spirit, or, given her character, death to her decent, honorable, respectable nature, because sooner or later she would seek out, with one or another or many, the passions represented by Vadinho.

Amado expresses these themes not simply with his characters but with his skillful use of narrative structure and clean, graceful, poetic language. In the recounting of Vadinho’s escapades and his life with Dona Flor, the story moves with the rhythms and sounds of Bahian popular music (Vadinho’s music), then slows with respectability before and during Dona Flor’s marriage to Dr. Teodoro, in tune with his amateur orchestra, Vadinho’s music submerged just beneath it.

During the climactic struggle of the novel, the mood is discordant and chaotic, with no sense of rhyme or reason. When Dona Flor emerges victorious, at peace with herself, in balance, walking down the street to the seashore, arm-in-arm with her two husbands, the mood, the sense of sound is harmonious, in balance.

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