Last Updated on June 2, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 664
Gabriela is a migrant worker who arrives in Ilhéus to find work. She succeeds in this aim when she is hired by Nacib Saad to work as a chef at his restaurant. Here, she demonstrates her incredible skill as a cook. Due in part to her skills and in part due to her beauty, she is able to drastically improve the attendance enjoyed by Nacib Saad’s establishment, and he falls in love with her, partly from gratitude for this and partly from a genuine affection. This love is reciprocated, and the pair marry, but Gabriela doesn’t adjust well to the traditional ideal that her husband imagines for her, continuing to have affairs until it is discovered by him. After a short period of estrangement, the pair are reunited, though in a more casual relationship which enables Gabriela to continue her sexually expressive life. Gabriela is modern and progressive in her view of sexuality and relationships, and in the novel, she represents the modernization of Ilhéus as well as Brazil’s broader culture.
A gentle, somewhat emotional man, Saad is originally from Syria, but he has come to Ilhéus to open a restaurant, which he calls Vesuvius. He is delighted to find a chef of Gabriela’s capability and soon falls in love with her, though his dream of making her an upstanding and respectable wife backfires when he discovers that she has been having an affair with the son of a native cacao planter. Rather than exercising what tradition dictates is his right and murdering his wife, he fires her from his restaurant, though he soon realizes that he has not lost his affection for her, nor she for him.
Mundinho is the son of a prestigious family from the capital. He has fled to the provinces partly for personal reasons—to get over a failed love affair—but partly for genuine political idealism. He desires to break the iron grip of the colonels and of the antiquated traditions they represent, and he is swift to earn the support of people in the town by his educational reforms and his funding of engineering projects to improve local infrastructure. His zeal and energy ultimately pay off when his political interests win local elections and begin to introduce the reforms he had promised—reforms that he feels are only the beginning of a more ambitious project to remake Brazilian society from the ground up.
Ramiro is Mundinho’s political foil. His age and economic influence as a cacao planter associate him closely with the old order, and he has exerted an influence over local politics for many years. He is not above pursuing criminal means to maintain this position, as indicated by his involvement in a plot to murder one of Mundinho’s supporters.
Though a married man and a close friend to Nacib, Tonico still enters into an affair with Gabriela that compromises her marriage, a marriage that he had been responsible for arranging and signing into law. He does not have his father’s cunning political mind and is sometimes careless in his many affairs with women, not hiding them at all from his wife.
Malvina is a restless and energetic young woman who fears the restrictions of a traditional marriage, as planned for her by her parents. She reads literature that the old guard consider scandalous, and she enters into an elicit love affair that prompts a violent response from her father. This is the final straw for Malvina, who leaves the town in protest.
Colonel Jesuino Mendonca
Jesuino Mendonca was furious to discover his wife having an affair—so furious that he murdered both her and her lover. The fact that at the end of the novel he was punished for this crime stands as testament to the fact that the new order has triumphed over an old order wherein his actions would, far from being punished, have been seen...
(The entire section contains 1175 words.)
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