Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon

by Jorge Amado

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado is a powerful novel about personal growth, personal freedom, and societal and political change. Gabriela, the beautiful and skilled cook who works at Nacib’s bar in Ilhéus, is a free-spirited, multiracial woman whose indigenous roots and free spirit represent a pre-colonized Brazil. Gabriela is much admired by Nacib and the men of the town for her fantastic cooking skills and for her breathtaking beauty. Gabriela lives in a time in which Brazil’s political system reflects a conservative, colonized element of Brazil, in which women are subjugated and a few wealthy individuals dominate all others.

Gabriela, described as having cinnamon-colored skin that smells of clove, represents those who will not bow down to the regime. Patriarchal violence is firmly cemented in the laws of this Brazilian society. A commonly accepted practice exists that allows men to kill their wives if they find that they have had an affair, and the man who murders his wife does not face punishment. Gabriela’s refusal to be made into a traditional housewife represents a rebellion against this societal order.

When Nacib finds that Gabriela has been having an affair, his decision not to murder her represents the beginning of a change in the Brazilian society. Rather than murder her, as would be accepted by society and government officials alike, Nacib chooses to dissolve their marriage and fire her from her cooking position. Eventually, however, Nacib cannot deny his love for Gabriela and seeks to return to her with a newfound acceptance of her as a free, independent human being who can make her own choices in life.

This interpersonal story is reflective of a larger change throughout Brazilian society. The established, right-wing, conservative order in the story is being challenged by a left-wing political movement that is spreading across Brazil. In the small town of Ilhéus, moderate politician Mundinho Falcão seeks to bring social change locally. His run for office is brutally resisted by the old, established order, but he eventually wins the election and reforms are put into place.

The colonel of the old order, who shot his wife for not following his monogamous morals, is put into prison for her murder, which signals a change in the previously accepted misogynistic norms of their society.

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