Jorge Amado World Literature Analysis
Jorge Amado was the most illustrious Brazilian novelist of the twentieth century. Within Brazil, Amado was seen as a national treasure, while abroad he was considered by many readers and critics to be almost the personification of contemporary Brazilian letters. Many of his novels have become classics of Brazilian literature; several have found an international audience. His novels have been made into films, and almost all of Amado’s novels have been translated into numerous languages. Amado’s novels, however, are not without controversy.
Amado’s career can be divided into two basic phases: the pre-1958, or pre-Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon phase, and the post-1958, or post-Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon phase. In general, Amado’s pre-1958 novels are gritty and proletarian. In these works, Amado chronicles the struggles of the downtrodden and oppressed, and he champions their causes. The author’s sympathies, as reflected both in the description and the actions of his characters, are clearly on the side of the underdog. His rather one-dimensional, rebellious, proletarian heroes speak the language of the masses and show themselves to be more virtuous than their oppressors. Amado, through virtually every element of these frequently heavy-handed works, leaves no doubt as to the message he wishes to communicate.
This is not to say, however, that Amado’s pre-1958 novels are not worthy of praise. The novels of this period have been lauded for how vividly they portray the Brazilian underclasses and for, in many cases, their inclusion and equally vivid depiction of Brazil’s Afro-Brazilian culture (in Jubiabá, for example). Even with their heavily politicized content, some of these novels present love stories, or at least love subplots, the treatment of which borders on the lyrical. Virtually all the pre-1958 novels, from the best (the consensus choice being The Violent Land) to the weakest, show the aspect of Amado’s fiction that most readers and critics alike consider to be the author’s greatest strength. He is, quite simply, a master storyteller.
Had Amado quit writing prior to 1958, he would have been considered a major writer of the so-called novel of the Brazilian northeast and his fame within Brazil would have been assured. It is the works he published beginning in 1958, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon being the first of these, however, that won him international fame.
The Amado of Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon and that of subsequent novels was in many ways a new Amado. The change was not one of political conviction but of approach. Amado’s post-1958 novels continued to expose and denounce social injustice. The realism and proletarian directness of his earlier novels had been replaced, however, with irony, picaresque humor, parody, and satire. The new Amado still favored the lower classes, clearly, but his support of them and his antipathy toward the privileged classes no longer came across in heavy-handed fashion. Rather, there is an exaltation of the former and parody of the latter. Correspondingly, while the pre-1958 Amado novels are very serious works, the post-1958 Amado novels are frequently downright funny, with the upper classes almost always the butt of the joke. Amado’s social message still gets through; it is merely conveyed in a more entertaining and an artistically subtler package.
The post-1958 novels are also frequently more sensual and freer in general with respect to social mores. In these novels, Amado celebrates the freedom to pursue a life unrestricted by bourgeois values. His colorful characters—from rum-swilling bums to sexually uninhibited young women to naked ghosts—with whom Amado consistently sympathizes, flout Brazil’s proper and regulated middle-and upper-class society.
Amado’s pre-1958 novels and his post-1958 novels do have more in common, however, than the author’s sympathy for the downtrodden. One element found in both phases of Amado’s career is his celebration of Afro-Brazilian culture, and, in fact, this element appears even stronger in the post-1958 Amado. Amado continues to be the master storyteller in his second phase; in fact, he appears to have only gotten better in this area.
Amado’s works are not without controversy. He has been criticized for exploiting the misery of the lower classes and for romanticizing and even, in his second phase, idealizing and trivializing their lives. He has been criticized as well for promoting racial and cultural stereotypes, for bordering (in post-1958 works) on the pornographic, for demeaning women (this despite the fact that many of his strongest and wisest characters are women), for repeating episodes and characters, for stylistic sloppiness, for being technically uninnovative, for being superficial, and for being too popular. All of this combined has led several critics to decry the quality of Amado’s works and to challenge his place in Brazilian literature. Despite the controversy surrounding his works, however, Amado remains one of the most widely read and most internationally famous Brazilian novelists.
Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon
First published: Gabriela, cravo e canela, 1958 (English translation, 1962)
Type of work: Novel
The sensual love story of Gabriela and Nacib is set against the backdrop of a changing Brazil.
Gabriela is a beautiful, uneducated, young mulatto girl who, escaping the droughts in the Bahian backlands, walks into the town of Ilhéus in the 1920’s in search of a better life. She is hired as a cook by Nacib...
(The entire section is 2309 words.)