Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is a complex novel that marks an important change in the direction of Jorge Amado’s writing. The new direction represents a fresh, invigorating movement in twentieth century fiction in general. Earlier in his career, Amado favored novels in a political vein written in the mode of gritty realism. Starting with Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, however, Amado’s fictive canvases become brighter in tone, his plots more wildly imaginative (including frequent use of the supernatural), and his characters more varied and colorful. The development of the novel of realism, from Miguel de Cervantes through the great nineteenth century realists such as Leo Tolstoy and Gustave Flaubert, seems to have reached a climax with the modernists—Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and William Faulkner prominent among them. Thereafter, in the eyes of many readers and critics, a stagnation set in, not relieved until the appearance of the great Latin American Magical Realists such as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. Amado has earned a place among this latter group.
Although Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is a complex novel, it is not difficult reading. In contrast to many of the modernists, who often seem to design deliberately inaccessible fictive structures, most Magical Realists seem to take as a primary goal the ancient one of delighting and entertaining the reader. One senses that Amado is writing in much the same spirit as the authors of the chivalric romances that Cervantes so entertainingly parodies. Rather than Magical Realism—a term borrowed from art criticism and often misleading when applied to literature—the term “romance” better prepares readers for the style and technical strategies of Amado’s later novels.
Gabriela is within the Romantic tradition; she would be out of place in a novel of traditional realism, which would emphasize her ordinariness. Amado’s Gabriela, however, is extraordinary to the point of mythic proportions. Gabriela does not walk but “glides.” She is not simply a capable cook and lover but is “perfect” as both. When she enters and smiles, the whole room glows; when she is unhappy, the whole world loses its zest for life. Professor Josué maintains that a prospective lover should not write for her a sonnet—a sophisticated, polished, and studied form—but a ballad, with its implications of raw emotions, passion, and violence. Subthemes of the novel include adultery, jealousy, and violent reprisal, the stuff of ballads and romances.
The novel is divided into chapters that alternate between the romantic crises of Gabriela and her associates and the political crises faced by Mundinho Falcão as he attempts to invade the entrenched power structure of Ilhéus. The principals in this latter plot line—Falcão, Colonel Ramiro Bastos, and Colonel Cariolano Ribeiro—are based, if not on specific historical individuals, on actual historical types. Amado provides richly detailed backgrounds for these characters, along with astute analyses of the economic, cultural, and political forces that shape them. This historical realism shows Amado augmenting the Romantic aspects of his work. Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is every bit as political as the novels from the earlier phase of his career, but here he skillfully has it both ways: He teaches readers important political lessons while amusing them.
The two plot lines and the two goals—to teach and to entertain—are not mutually exclusive. Falcão is not part of a distant political establishment of which Gabriela and the denizens of her world are only vaguely aware. Falcão knows Gabriela and her husband, Nacib Saad, personally. More important, Falcão is touched by Gabriela’s world of emotion and romance. How much of Falcão’s drive to succeed, the readers might well ponder, derives from the fact that he fled to Ilhéus to make his fortune after an unhappy love affair? Is Colonel Bastos’s stubborn clinging to power based on genuine convictions or on the same sort of irrational, ingrained self-centeredness that drives men to see their wives as property and to murder suspected adulterers?
Just as the actors in the political plot line are caught up in the passions of Gabriela’s romance plot line, Gabriela is also affected by currents in the realistic political world. She makes her way to the city, for instance, as part of the historical movement of peasants from the countryside to urban areas, where they too often find their old mores and customs eroded. Hence, Gabriela begins to lose her zest for life—and the world around her likewise—when her husband insists that she wear shoes.
The action in the novel covers exactly one year, implying the cyclical nature of the changes besetting Gabriela’s and Falcão’s worlds. All are victims of change, just as all are in various ways instigators.