Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1051
In The Hour of the Star , Clarice Lispector creates a male narrator, Rodrigo S. M., to write the story of a young Brazilian girl who has recently moved to Rio de Janeiro. The narrator has caught sight of this young girl on the street. She is nothing special; the...
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- Critical Essays
In The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector creates a male narrator, Rodrigo S. M., to write the story of a young Brazilian girl who has recently moved to Rio de Janeiro. The narrator has caught sight of this young girl on the street. She is nothing special; the slums of Rio de Janeiro are filled with thousands like her, shopgirls and office workers sharing one-room flats, invisible and superfluous, silent in the clamor of the city.
The first quarter of the book is taken up with Rodrigo’s ruminations on why and how he is writing the story of this young girl. He declares that her story must be told by a man, for a woman would feel too much sympathy and end up in tears. The story must be told simply and with humility, for it is about the unremarkable adventures and the shadowy existence of a young girl trying to survive in a hostile city. Rodrigo feels the need to identify with his subject, so he decides to share her condition as closely as possible by wearing threadbare clothes, suffering from lack of sleep, neglecting to shave, giving up sex and football, avoiding human contact, and immersing himself in nothingness. He envisions this identification with his protagonist as a quest for transfiguration and his “ultimate materialization into an object. Perhaps I might even acquire the sweet tones of the flute and become entwined in a creeper vine.”
After describing the disastrous physical appearance of the girl, Rodrigo briefly rehearses her early history. She was born, suffering from rickets, in the backwoods of Alagoas, where her parents died of typhoid when she was two years old. Later she was sent to Maceio to live with her maiden aunt. The aunt, determined to keep the girl from becoming a prostitute, enjoyed thrashing her niece at the slightest provocation or no provocation at all. The child never knew exactly why she was being punished. The only education she experienced beyond three years of primary school was a short typing course, which gave her enough confidence to seek a position as a typist in Rio de Janeiro.
At the moment Rodrigo’s story intrudes into her life, the girl is about to be fired. Her work is hopeless—full of typing errors and blotched with dirty spots. Yet her polite apology for the trouble she has caused inspires her boss to modify his dismissal into a warning. The girl retreats to the lavatory to try to recover her composure. When she looks into the tarnished mirror, her reflection seems to have disappeared; her connection to even her own existence is as fragile and tenuous as is Rodrigo’s commitment to identifying her. It is nearly halfway through the text before he even allows her a name.
One day, the girl garners enough courage to take time off from work. She exults in her freedom: the luxury of having the room to herself, of indulging in a cup of instant coffee borrowed from her landlady. She dances around the room and contemplates herself in the mirror. It is a moment of sheer happiness and contentment. On the next day, the seventh of May, a rainy day, she meets her first boyfriend; they immediately recognize each other as northeasterners, and he asks her to go for a walk. He also inquires her name, and for the first time in the text the girl is identified:
—Maca — what?—Béa, she was forced to repeat.—Gosh, it sounds like the name of a disease . . . a skin disease.
Macabéa explains that her name was a result of a vow her mother had made to the Virgin of Sorrows.
Although the meetings of Macabéa and Olímpico are rain-drenched, their relationship is parched. Conversation is strained, for what little Macabéa has to offer is scorned as foolish or nonsensical by Olímpico. She costs him nothing; the only thing he treats her to is a cup of coffee, to which he allows her to add milk if it does not cost extra. The one kindness he has shown her is an offer to get her a job in the metal factory if she is fired. The high point of the relationship occurs one day when Olímpico decides to show off his strength to Macabéa by lifting her above his head with one hand. Macabéa feels that she is flying—until Olímpico’s strength gives way, and he drops her into the mud. Not long after, he drops her entirely. Olímpico has become enamored of Macabéa’s workmate, Glória.
Maternally sympathetic to Macabéa, Glória recommends a doctor to her when she is feeling unwell and lends her money to consult a fortune-teller who has the power to break bad spells. The doctor diagnoses Macabéa as suffering the preliminary stages of pulmonary tuberculosis, but the words mean nothing to her. He is appalled by her diet of hot dogs and cola and advises her to eat spaghetti whenever possible. Macabéa has never heard of the dish. As for the fortune-teller, Macabéa accepts the loan, asks for time off from her job, and takes a taxi to see Madame Carlota.
The fortune-teller cuts the cards to read Macabéa’s fortune and immediately exclaims over the terrible life that Macabéa has led; then she sees a further misfortune—the loss of her job. Turning another card, though, brings a life change. All of Macabéa’s misfortunes will be reversed: her boyfriend will return and ask her to marry him, and her employer will change his mind about firing her. A handsome foreigner named Hans will fall madly in love with her and shower her with unimagined luxuries. Macabéa is astounded; she embraces Madame Carlota and kisses her on the cheek. She leaves the fortune-teller’s house in a daze. When she steps off the curb, she is struck by a hit-and-run driver in a yellow Mercedes.
The narrator observes Macabéa, who is lying on the pavement bleeding, and wonders about her death. Macabéa gathers herself into a fetal embrace and utters her final words: “As for the future.” The narrator lights a cigarette and goes home, remembering that people die.