FOGO MORTO (dead fires), the tenth novel by Jose Lins do Rego, marks his return to the themes of his original Sugar Cane Cycle, after four weak experiments in other fields. The author, descendant of an aristocratic planter family settled for years in Northeast Brazil, was educated for the law, but friendship with Brazil’s great sociologist Gilberto Freyre showed him the rich literary inspiration in Brazil’s ingenhos, or sugar centers, and turned him to fiction writing. Beginning with the novel PLANTATION BOY, Lins do Rego went on with DAFFY BOY, BLACK BOY, RICHARD, OLD PLANTATION, and THE SUGAR REFINERY, all dealing with the same characters. In 1943, after four lesser novels based on other themes, came FOGO MORTO, his masterpiece, in which some of the characters from the earlier novels reappear. The novel is marked by improved technique, a greater use of dialogue, less morbidity, and better character portrayal.
Some critics see in Victorino, the penniless, abused lawyer, a Brazilian Don Quixote, sure of what is right, hating bandits, cruel soldiers, and haughty plantation owners alike, and fighting all injustice, regardless of the cost to him. Like the Spanish don, Victorino was an aristocrat, related by blood to many of the important families of the region, but censuring their use of power because of his feeling for the common man. There is also a parallel with Don Quixote in the way Victorino was first ridiculed and then admired.
The main character, the crippled and ugly saddlemaker Jose Amaro, was a failure who tried to hide his sense of inferiority and cowardice behind a biting tongue and a scornful attitude toward everybody. He insisted that nobody owned him, or, as he expressed it more vividly, that nobody could scream at him. His only friends were the kindly black hunter Leandro, who occasionally left part of his bag at Jose’s door, and white Victorino, sunk so low that even the moleques, the black boys, mocked him in the streets, calling after him “Papa Rabo.”
Jose’s attitude toward the bandit, Captain Antonio Silvino, arose from the admiration of a coward for a man daring enough to brave the power of the plantation owners. The imagination of the saddlemaker built Silvino into a kind of Robin Hood, siding with the poor against the grasping landlords, especially at the moment when the bandit attacked the town of Pilar and sacked the strongbox of the prefect, Quinca Napoleon. Afterward, he invited the villagers to pillage the house. Jose was grateful because the bandit came to his defense when he was ordered evicted from the house his father and he had occupied for half a century. However, Silvino’s threats of interference stiffened the determination of Jose’s landlord.
Not until the end was Jose disillusioned and the bandit’s self-interest revealed. Attracted by rumors that Colonel Lula still possessed the gold inherited from his father-in-law, Silvino came after it, threatening torture unless the hiding place was revealed. In reality, the wealth was not at the plantation. Lula, vanquished by circumstances and about to abandon his estate for the big city, had sent the money ahead. An attack of convulsions momentarily saved the landowner from torture; the protests of Victorino brought him further respite; but it was the arrival of Colonel Paulino that drove off the bandit. Until he realized Silvino’s cruelty, Jose Amaro made sandals for him and his men, spied on his pursuers for him, and even got food and provisions to him when Lieutenant Mauricio and his soldiers were on his trail.
Jose’s feelings toward the wealthy plantation owners were determined by their attitude...
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