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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 533

According to the town chronicles, Simao Bacamarte, one of the greatest doctors in Europe, turned down two extremely prestigious crown appointments to return to his native Itaguai and devote his life to science. He settled there and married Dona Evarista, the story goes, not for love, but because she seemed to him a biologically promising specimen to mother his children.

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When the children fail to come, Bacamarte dedicates himself to an exhaustive study of sterility. Realizing the therapeutic value of study itself, he hits on psychopathology, a then-unknown specialty in the realm, as a way not only to contribute to science but also to alleviate his disappointment in not having an heir.

He appeals to the town council for aid, and, to support him, it enacts a tax on the plumes on the horses that pull funeral carriages. With this money, Bacamarte erects the Green House, which will be both asylum and laboratory for his studies of mental illness. Within months, the Green House is home for madmen and madwomen of all varieties. Bacamarte becomes so involved in his studies of these pathetic cases that he ignores all else in life, and he finally has to send Evarista on her longed-for journey to Rio de Janeiro to keep her happy. Now free to labor without interruption, he develops a new theory that the slightest sign of lack of equilibrium is proof of madness, and by the time Evarista returns from Rio de Janeiro, the Green House is full to the rafters with people who have loaned away an inheritance, demonstrated excessive interest in a house (“petrophilia”), or are unfailingly polite.

Almost everyone in town by now has a relative or loved one behind bars, and a minor revolt led by the barber Porfirio (called “Stewed Corn”) thus swells to a mob and storms Bacamarte’s house. A troop of dragoons arrives to quell the disorder, but many of its number defect to the “Stewed Corners,” and in a matter of minutes the barber has taken over the town and deposed the council. Porfirio goes to see Bacamarte and offers a compromise,...

(The entire section contains 533 words.)

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