(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.

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.

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...

(The entire section is 725 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

A wealthy woman, G. H., finds herself alone without a maid, and without a lover. She is thinking about what had occurred the previous day, when she decided to clean out the small maid’s quarters at the back of her Rio de Janeiro apartment. However, the room of her former maid, Janair, already was clean and was almost devoid of material possessions.

G. H. remembers the following: The only signs of previous occupancy in the quarters are simplistic black etchings on the white walls that represent a woman, a man, and a dog. G. H. believes these drawings represent the maid’s disgust with her and her overindulgent lifestyle. G. H is resentful of this evaluation.

G. H. then opens a wardrobe and finds a cockroach scurrying out. Repulsed, she quickly slams the door of the wardrobe, cutting the insect in half in the process. She watches the viscera of the cockroach trickle out of its still-living body. Unable to look away, she starts a philosophical monologue that questions everything about her existence up to this moment. She says, in addressing her fear in life, that her fear was not the fear of someone who was going toward madness and thus toward a truth—my fear was the fear of having a truth that I would come to despise, a defamatory truth that would make me get down and exist at the level of the cockroach.

Finished with her monologue, she puts the oozing innards of the cockroach into her mouth and consumes it.


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cixous, Helene. Reading with Clarice Lispector. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990. Chapters on The Stream of Life, The Apple in the Dark, “The Egg and the Chicken,” and The Hour of the Star. The book includes an introduction by Verena Andermatt Conley, carefully explaining Cixous’s critical approach to Lispector. Recommended for advanced students.

Coutinho, Afranio. An Introduction to Literature in Brazil. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960. A major Brazilian critic assesses Lispector’s achievement, emphasizing her place in Brazilian literature and her powerful metaphorical and atmospheric fiction.

Fitz, Earl F. Clarice Lispector. Boston: Twayne, 1985. A useful introduction that includes a chapter of biography, a discussion of Lispector’s place in Brazilian literature; a study of her style, structure, and point of view in her novels and short stories; and her nonfiction work. Includes chronology, detailed notes, and a well-annotated bibliography.

Lowe, Elizabeth. The City in Brazilian Literature. Rutherford, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982. Discusses Lispector as an urban writer, focusing mainly on A cidade sitiada, The Passion According to G. H., and The Stream of Life.

Peixoto, Marta. Passionate Fictions: Gender, Narrative, and Violence in Clarice Lispector. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994. Written with a decidedly feminist bias, Passionate Fictions analyzes Lispector’s frequently violent subject matter, juxtaposing it with her strange and original use of language. Special attention is paid to the nexus with Helene Cixous and to the autobiographical elements of The Stream of Life and A via crucis do corpo.