Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 807
The action of the novel (its full title is Tieta, the Goat Girl: Or, The Return of the Prodigal Daughter, Melodramatic Serial Novel in Five Sensational Episodes, with a Touching Epilogue, Thrills and Suspense! ) takes place largely in the fictitious northern Bahian backwater of Sant’Ana do Agreste, a tiny...
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- Critical Essays
The action of the novel (its full title is Tieta, the Goat Girl: Or, The Return of the Prodigal Daughter, Melodramatic Serial Novel in Five Sensational Episodes, with a Touching Epilogue, Thrills and Suspense!) takes place largely in the fictitious northern Bahian backwater of Sant’Ana do Agreste, a tiny and politically insignificant community whose backwardness is exemplified by its reliance on a none-too-reliable generator as its sole source of electric power. At the opening of the story, Tieta’s sisters Perpétua and Elisa, accompanied by the ubiquitous Dona Carmosina, are worried because the monthly allowance generously sent to them by their wealthy sibling has for the first time failed to arrive on time. They depend on this largess not only for a few small luxuries but also for subsistence, and anxiety over the absent check provokes a relapse of Astério’s chronic gastritis and a succession of prayers from the young seminarian Ricardo. Reluctantly concluding the worst, the family holds a funeral for their beloved sister and prepare to hire a lawyer to ensure the proper disposal of whatever inheritance might be forthcoming, whereupon they receive a letter informing them that Tieta has been in mourning for her husband and will soon make her first visit to Agreste in twenty-six years.
The town is electrified by the news of the visit of the benefactress, and practically paralyzed when the gorgeous widow shows up not in black but in a sexy blouse and sexier jeans and in the company of the irresistible Leonora. Perpétua contrives to persuade her wealthy sister to adopt one or both of her sons, but the heroine’s interest in her nephews is anything but auntly, and she soon seduces Ricardo, an event which so delights the priest-to-be that it brings about a crisis of faith. Meanwhile, the benighted town clerk Ascânio, already madly in love with Leonora, is attempting to electrify the town in the literal sense, by having lines brought into town from a government hydroelectric project. When his efforts fail, the well-connected Tieta dashes off a single telegram and gets the power company to reverse its decision.
Tieta is not really a widow but the former kept woman of a wealthy businessman, under whose tutelage she has become owner of the elegant bordello, whose clients are the good connections. In Agreste, however, she poses as the owner of a chic boutique and discourages visits to São Paulo on the basis of a rather different kind of propriety than the town imagines.
Another novelty for Agreste is the appearance of two creatures of such outlandish appearance that they are first thought to be Martians. These visitors turn out to be merely two more people from São Paulo, albeit on a somewhat more sinister mission than that of Tieta and her ward. Mirko Stefano, one of the “Martians,” is attempting to suborn selected government officials into allowing him and his company, Brastânio, to open a titanium dioxide plant in Brazil, and Agreste turns out to be one of the possible sites. He investigates the town’s power structure and concludes that if Ascânio becomes mayor, the lovely dunes of Mangue Seco could be expropriated for his purposes under the law of eminent domain. Only he and a few other insiders know that titanium dioxide is one of the most toxic industries in the world. The only initial opposition to the factory comes from Skipper Dário, who reluctantly becomes an opposition candidate for mayor. Mirko takes the impressionable Ascânio to the state capital, Salvador, and treats him to the pleasures of fine food, good wine, and pliant females, all of which help convince Ascânio of Mirko’s good intentions. The mayoral election heats up when Tieta convinces Ascânio’s patron to sit out the contest, and a legal battle starts brewing over title to the dunes of Mangue Seco.
Tieta tardily discovers that Ricardo has become an ardent practitioner of the arts of love which she thought he was studying only with her. As a result, she throws him into the street, nude, and when the ruckus awakens her astonished sister Perpétua, she pays, in cash, for having taken the seminarian’s virginity. The anticlimax of the Brastânio episode occurs when the company gets another, even better site approved. Demoralized by the whole process, Ascânio nevertheless proposes marriage to Leonora, who finally admits to her own and Tieta’s sordid past and then attempts suicide. His pride mortally wounded, Ascânio denounces the two women for what they are, and Tieta, Leonora, and the neophyte Maria Imaculada (one of Ricardo’s conquests) depart for São Paulo.
The paved street, originally named after an obscure congressman, is rebaptized by the townsfolk as “The Street of Tieta’s Light.”