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...
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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 as honorable.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 511
Gabriela, a mulatto girl from the backlands. She comes to Ilhéus, in the Brazilian province of Bahia, to escape the drought. Her physical charms, including cinnamon-colored skin that always smells of cloves, and her ingenuous personality make her irresistible to everyone she meets. She is hired by Nacib Saad, the owner of a local bar. She lacks formal education, but her ability to prepare delicious Bahian dishes and her beauty soon make the bar popular. Gabriela and Nacib become lovers, a situation that pleases the girl. For her, sex is a natural part of life that should be shared with whomever she chooses. She and Nacib marry, making her a member of an exclusive social circle. The trappings of affluence restrict her physically and emotionally. Their marriage is annulled after Nacib finds Gabriela in bed with another man, but soon the estranged lovers are reunited and resume the same type of relationship they enjoyed before their marriage.
Nacib Saad, the Syrian owner of the Vesuvius Bar. He passionately loves Gabriela and wants to be the only man in her life. He marries her but soon notes that her passion is not as intense as it was before the marriage. When he finds her with Tonico, he wants to kill her, as any betrayed Brazilian husband should. He cannot do so, and in failing, he reflects the modern attitude gradually taking hold in tradition-bound Ilhéus.
Mundinho Falcão, a young businessman from a prominent family in Rio de Janeiro. As the political rival of Ramiro Bastos, Mundinho represents progress in Ilhéus. He hires an engineer to devise a plan to remove a sandbar and obtains accreditation for the local school. Such contributions turn the community toward a more modern way of life.
Ramiro Bastos, a wealthy old cacao planter who has controlled local politics for decades. His influence in government has been valuable in the past, but he finds himself challenged by the young, dynamic Mundinho Falcão. Bastos represents the traditional patriarchal system of Ilhéus.
Tonico Bastos, the son of Ramiro Bastos. He lacks his father’s political talents. A regular at the Mount Vesuvius Bar, he works as a notary public. In this capacity, he prepares the documents for Gabriela’s marriage to his best friend, Nacib. Known as a ladies’ man, Tonico struggles to keep his affairs secret from his wife.
Malvina, the daughter of cacao planter Melk Tavares. She reads “controversial” books and insists that she does not want the kind of traditional marriage that her parents have. Her love affair causes gossip and precipitates a brutal beating by her father. Unable to tolerate such a repressive atmosphere, Malvina leaves Ilhéus.
Colonel Jesuino Mendonca
Colonel Jesuino Mendonca, a planter whose murder of his wife and her lover becomes the talk of Ilhéus. According to tradition, he acted honorably and should not be punished. As progress spreads throughout the area, however, tradition is replaced by justice, and he receives a prison sentence.