Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 478

Jorge Amado has developed his work, he says, “around the reality of Brazil, discussing the country’s problems, touching on the dramatic existence of the people and their struggle.” Imprisoned as a member of the Communist Party in 1935, Amado was exiled on two occasions; in 1937, after a national ban, his books were burned in a plaza by the Brazilian military.

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“The Miracle of the Birds” is representative of the author’s writing after 1958, which followed his break with the Communist Party in 1955. Although his focus remained the lives of the marginal classes, grim examinations of their plight yielded to humorous and highly sensual works. According to some critics, Amado tempered his social criticism with satire, irony, and ribald comedy. Others contend that Amado’s commitment to social reform inevitably dissolved into a greater passion, that is, indulging in the local color and exotic mix of peoples and cultures in his native region of northeastern Brazil.

This passion links Amado with Modernism, which dominated Brazilian literature and art beginning in the 1920’s. Modernism was less a cohesive “school” than a movement rejecting European influences and finding inspiration in the “real” Brazil, that is, in the backlands of the Northeast. A product of Modernism, the consciously “regional” novel became a staple of northeastern writers, probably based on the belief that the culture of this region was enriched by the racial admixture of its inhabitants.

For some critics, Amado’s works do not so much call for reform as promote a certain nostalgia. Daphne Patai, for example, asks how the writer can “seriously wish to change a society” in whose “foibles”—he “so obviously delights?” Patai interprets Amado’s humor less as satire than as burlesque. Such humor exploits rather than threatens the status quo.

A component of the status quo that Amado distinctly exploits, in the eyes of feminist critics such as Patai, is the ideology of Brazilian machismo. This view reasserts a primal claim of sex and biology on women. Arguably, one theme of “The Miracle of the Birds,” as of other works by Amado, is female sexual appetite. Although the author may claim that he depicts women as free agents in sex, Patai counters that he presents the stereotype of the woman “in heat,” unable to do without sex. They may be free in the sense of unrestrained sexual beings, but otherwise they are “dominated” by men. Amado’s female characters in the story are clearly dependent on men economically.

Patai is not alone in her assessment that Amado’s desire to entertain often overwhelms his ambitions as a writer of social protest. It is generally agreed that Amado is essentially a romantic writer, given to softening the hard edges of the squalor and injustice that he depicts. Whether making social protest palatable strengthens its effectiveness or in fact turns it into something else, critics continue to debate.

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