Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625
*Rio de Janeiro
*Rio de Janeiro. Capital city of Brazil in which most of the novel is set. In keeping with Braz Cubas’s general lack of interest in his surroundings, Rio is depicted only in the vaguest and most generic terms; readers will be unable to form any precise visual image of what the city looks like. Although the narrative does involve travel between various locations in the city, exteriors are almost completely ignored in favor of moderately detailed attention to those interiors within which important plot events take place.
Cubas’s house. Secluded home of Cubas that serves as the love nest he shares with his childhood sweetheart Virgilia, who has made an unhappy marriage that propels her back into Cubas’s embraces. Their initial meetings occur at her home, where the unpredictable whereabouts of the servants make discovery a constant danger. Thus the establishment of a separate trysting place is both prudent and an emotional necessity for Cubas. So far as he is concerned, their cozy retreat is a symbol of his possession of Virgilia, a place where his ownership of the furnishings signifies his control over what happens amid them. For a while he even envisions the house as a kind of Eden on earth, although the passage of time and the intrusion of the outside world will eventually reduce it—as everything else in the novel is similarly reduced—to merely another example of life’s failure to live up to expectations.
Lobo Neves’s house
Lobo Neves’s house. Residence of Virgilia and her husband, Lobo Neves. Domestic normality and banality are the primary characteristics of this location, which is depicted as the conventional, and thoroughly unsatisfying, standard against which Braz and Virgilia rebel. The house is essentially a showplace in which Lobo Neves, a politician, can entertain his confidants and further his career, and the novel stresses that this is both a pathetic form of human aspiration and a hindrance to the love of Braz and Virgilia.
Sabina and Cotrim’s house
Sabina and Cotrim’s house. Home of Cubas’s sister Sabina and her husband, Cotrim. Their residence is represented as the site of another version of normalcy, the mutually faithful “happy marriage.” Its humdrum character is summed up by an old oil lamp in the living room, which though curved like a question mark has no answer to Cubas’s meditations as to how he should resolve his relationship with Virgilia. Although Braz respects his sister’s choice of a conventional life, his experience of her household reinforces his determination to follow a different path.
São Pedro Theater
São Pedro Theater. Site of an awkward confrontation between Cubas and his lover’s husband. The theater is notable as one of the few locations in which a social gathering figures in the novel’s plot. Though brief, the scene emphasizes the gap between the elegant dress of the audience and the vulgar concerns that dominate their lives. It also occasions one of Cubas’s many cynical reflections on human nature, as he hypothesizes that it is only by covering up their naked bodies that people are able to interest others in what lies underneath.
Marcella’s house. Residence of Cubas’s first adult passion, a courtesan of great beauty and even greater love of money. Marcella’s expensive furniture, art works, and jewelry strike the young Cubas as the perfect accompaniment to her charms, although he does not realize that it is only while he helps to pay for them that she will continue to see him. His subsequent understanding that Marcella’s feelings for him are strictly mercenary becomes a major reason why Braz adopts a pessimistic worldview.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 169
Caldwell, Helen. Machado de Assis: The Brazilian Master and His Novels. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. One of the primary translators of Machado de Assis’ work into English focuses upon his novels, with special emphasis on Epitaph of a Small Winner.
Fitz, Earl E. Machado de Assis. Boston: Twayne, 1989. An excellent general introduction to Machado de Assis’ life and work. Discusses all of Machado de Assis’ novels, as well as his plays, short stories, poetry, and journalism.
Nunes, Maria Luisa. The Craft of an Absolute Winner: Characterization and Narratology in the Novels of Machado de Assis. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983. Focuses on Ma-chado’s novels, paying particular attention to the characters and to Machado de Assis’ ideas about time.
Nunes, Maria Luisa. “Story Tellers and Character: Point of View in Machado de Assis’ Last Five Novels.” Latin American Literary Review 7, no. 13 (1978): 52-63. Discusses how these novels, including Epitaph of a Small Winner, use their unusual narrators to involve the reader in the text. Discusses Machado de Assis’ ironic humor.
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