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Midnight Mass Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, Mr. Nogueira, is of indeterminate age as he tells his tale, but he was a young man of seventeen when the events occurred. A country boy from Mangaratiba, he has come to Rio de Janeiro to stay with Mr. Menezes, a notary whose first wife was Nogueira’s cousin, in order to prepare for his college entrance examinations. The Menezes household is composed of the notary, his wife, Madame Conceição, her mother, Madame Ignacia, and two female slaves. Nogueira spends some months living quietly with the family, which he refers to as old-fashioned. The only exception to the nightly routine of a ten o’clock bedtime is the weekly visit that Menezes makes to the theater. Nogueira would like to join him, as he has never been to the theater, but he discovers that going to the theater is a euphemism that allows Menezes to spend one night a week with a married woman who is separated from her husband. Conceição accepts her husband’s mistreatment of her passively, as she seems to respond to everything.

The events of the story occur on Christmas Eve, which coincides with the notary’s weekly theater outing. Nogueira has remained in the city to see the special midnight Mass. He sits reading in the silent house. The clock strikes eleven, he hears footsteps, and Conceição appears, dressed in her negligee. Without greeting him she asks, “Haven’t you gone?” Nogueira replies that it is still too early, and asks if he has awakened her. Conceição claims to have awakened naturally, but Nogueira notes that she does not appear to have slept. He discards the notion that she might be lying: She is, after all, a saintly, long-suffering, uncomplaining woman whose husband neglects her. A conversation ensues, which the mature narrator claims he never quite understood, and the rest of the story moves between their dialogue and the narrator’s reflections and close observations of Madame Conceição. He refers to her as thin and notes her...

(The entire section is 512 words.)