The Violent Land

by Jorge Amado

Start Free Trial

Critical Evaluation

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Jorge Amado’s novel is titled Terras do sem fin (the endless lands) in Portuguese. This story is the standard-bearer of the cacao cycle in Brazilian literature, a series of novels exposing exploitation of cacao workers. Brazilian novelists have long been making a huge mosaic of Brazil with their novels, each novel being a tiny stone in the literary mosaic of that subcontinent, and Amado’s work is a worthy contribution and his masterpiece.

The Violent Land (first published in English in 1945) is the story of Bahia’s Panhandle, where a balmy climate, fertile soil, and lack of high winds make it one of the few areas on earth well suited for chocolate trees, whose weak stems and heavy pods need heat but cannot stand strong winds. Amado’s characterization is particularly representative of the raw frontier that the Panhandle of Bahia (a narrow strip stretching southward toward the mountains of Espirito Santo) has been for so long. The reader thus sees not only an area where the “colonels” and their heavily armed cohorts oppress the weak but also the Bahian sertão (backlands) in general, brimming with blood, old feuds, religious messianism, and fanaticism. Amado’s characters are thus not larger-than-life but authentic, flesh-and-blood realities from rural Bahia. His principal characterization flaw is an error of omission, for the warmly human types so common everywhere in Brazil, including Bahia, are lacking in the pages of The Violent Land.

This novel refreshingly explodes the oft-heard myth that Brazil, unlike Spanish America, is a bland and frivolous land not given to violence. Amado’s novel bristles with the violence and mystery endemic to the sertão, and it is for this reason that Amado’s title of The Endless Lands has been changed for the book’s English translation into The Violent Land. Amado paints a land fertile with blood, as his preface indicates. Set at about the end of the nineteenth century, when cacao was power, wealth, and life, the novel’s action portrays the enslavement of everything and everyone to the cacao pod. The shadow of cacao darkens every heart. It smothers finer instincts and levels all characters from aristocratic Colonel Horacio da Silveira to the more common Badarós. Nothing washes away the cacao stain. Workers in the orchards have a thick crust of cacao slime on their boots, and the colonels, lawyers, merchants, and jaguncos (hired killers) have cacao slime in their hearts.

The Violent Land reflects progress, however, for the colonels are drawn as a crude but civilizing force in Brazil’s historic “march to the west” that opened up the once trackless sertão. Amado was born on a cacao plantation in 1912 and admired the fazendeiros (ranchers), such as his own father, who settled the raw Panhandle, crossed lands, built roads, and founded towns, all this through heroic strength and what Amado terms “the poetry of their lives.” The novel’s first scene, symbolically enough, is aboard a ship drawing away from the black-tile roofs of the baroque city of São Salvador de Bahia. The passengers aboard are immigrants to the rich but violent lands of the Panhandle and are discussing property, money, cacao, and death. They sing a sad song that presages disaster, but that night, in their staterooms and steerage quarters, they dream of laden cacao trees.

Landscape is an important factor in The Violent Land and reflects Brazil’s intrinsic beauty. Amado paints the golden mornings dawning over green palms, the red soil under the cacao trees, the blue-green waves of the sea, and indigo skies. One also sees stormy nights, wild Brahma cattle, birds, and snakes. Trees are almost idolized, especially...

(This entire section contains 982 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

the cacao. Above all, Amado lyrically paints the forest in the uninterrupted sleep that it enjoyed before the colonels came. Days and nights pass over the virginal expanses of trees, along with winter rains and summer suns. The waiting forest is like an unexplored sea, locked in its own mystery: virginal, lovely, and radiant. Amado also presents the varied Bahian racial types, from Scandinavian-like blonds to Latin brunettes and Hamitic blacks. One also sees the colonels in khaki trousers, white hats, and gun belts as well as the leather-cladjaguncos, legendarily ferocious oncas (wild cats), ranch tools, and folklore.

Fear is an additional element in the story. The forest’s mysteries incite fear—Ester hysterically fears snakes and is haunted by the phobia that they will one night invade her house en masse. The backlanders tell many snake stories, while dogs howl at night, rain clouds are dark, and nights are jet-black; but the violent Badaró family and the jaguncos do not know fear. The Badarós even read the Bible daily for they, like the endless lands that they so ruthlessly penetrate, are many-sided.

Lamentably, the storied and colorful old city of São Salvador de Bahia does not loom in The Violent Land. Little, pastel São Jorge dos Ilhéus, “a city of palms in the wind,” is, however, well depicted. Its streets are lined by palms, but it is dominated by the cacao tree, for the scent of chocolate is in every conversation, and each colonel’s fortune can be measured by the size of his mansion. Inland from the pastel town, on every red-dirt road leading into the cacao lands, are crosses without names.

Brazilian novelists complained for decades that the harsh, nasal, Germanic-sounding Portuguese language in which they wrote was “the Graveyard of Literature,” a literary cul-de-sac. The Violent Land, however, was translated into more than twenty languages, and translations of other novels into foreign languages have since been opening Brazilian literature to the world. Amado’s masterwork also helps reveal that the key to Brazilian literature is not chronology, or style, or study of influences, but geography. The Violent Land is to be read and regarded as a work of the land of Bahia.