The Passion According to G. H.

by Clarice Lispector

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 725

Though the book is heavy with Christian allusions, especially to the Old Testament, what The Passion According to G. H. presents is a completely secular description of a spiritual rebirth. The trivial act of squashing a cockroach as she cleans her maid’s room strangely rattles the story’s narrator and leads her into a cascade of profound reflections on the scheme of things.

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The book centers on a few hours in the life of the narrator, who is identified only as G. H., as she sits in her servant’s room and thinks. The bulk of the text is taken up with a precise delineation of her thought processes as she reevaluates her life. This reevaluation, however, is not of the sort found in psychological novels, in which a character might reconsider past actions and resolve to make up for past lapses. What concerns G. H. is not any specific incidents but rather the tenor of her life. Thus, for example, thoughts on the animality of the cockroach lead her to ponder her own humanness, which, she learns, can be truly appreciated only by understanding its linkage to nature. This facet of her existence she has previously overlooked.

Abstruse as such a concentration on abstract issues may seem, the heroine’s spiritual journey is correlated with the specifics of her present lifestyle, her relation to her maid, and her past history. Concurrent with the unraveling of her previous, faulty spiritual constructions occurs a gradual revelation of her material circumstances.

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G. H.’s life is ripe for enlightenment because it is one of extreme artificiality. She is a rentier, that is, one who lives off the dividends of her investments. She sculpts, not as serious artistic activity but to pass the time. Her friends are fellow idle bohemians, isolated from the daily life of the average Brazilian, and G. H.’s relationships extend no further than friendships. She has no relatives or long-term interpersonal commitments. She is without real work, hobbies, or intimacies with others.

Such facts are scattered throughout the story, but G. H.’s connection to her maid, Janair, is given in a lump at the beginning. Though the servant had been employed for some time, G. H. knows nothing about her and has not been in her quarters since she was hired. Going into the room to clean up after the maid has abruptly left, G. H. is startled to find that the occupant had stripped the place of its clutter and sketched rude, primitive pictures on the wall, depictions that reveal Janair’s hatred for her mistress. Finding her superficial understanding of her employee totally exploded sufficiently disorients G. H. so that she can begin a reconsideration of her relations with the world.

Forced to see one relationship in a new light, the narrator is enabled to more purposefully allow herself to look at major events from her past in a new light. Her casual killing of a cockroach in the maid’s wardrobe leads her to remember an abortion she had undergone just as casually. Her quiet moments in the servant’s quarters lead her to think back to quiet times with an ex-lover and to acknowledge for the first time the depth of the love they had, which was expressed best in silence. In keeping with the novel’s philosophical bent, however, G. H. thinks of her abortion not to blame herself for the choice she made in eliminating her unborn child but rather in order to condemn herself for the offhanded, thoughtless manner in which she made the decision. This condemnation links to the central spiritual perception with which she leaves the room at the end: She must henceforth try to live without preconceptions so that she can approach every moment with heightened authenticity.

To crown and close this chapter in her life, these few hours in which she has thought and functioned more intensely than ever before, G. H. bends down and eats the cockroach. In this bizarre act of “communion,” G. H. both thanks the bug for being the guide to her spiritual reinvigoration, and, more important, physically acts out her new rejection of traditional social stereotypes, such as the belief that insects are inherently disgusting. After this ritual, G. H. is ready to leave the room and confront life with an altered and enriched perspective.

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