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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 237

Jorge Amado’s novel concerns the early 20th-century colonization of northern Brazil to convert rainforest into agricultural land. The author explores themes of brutality and corruption used to subdue the lands and people. He contrasts the raw passion of the explorers who empathize with the untamed spirit of the land with the materialism and greed of those who want only to profit from it. Drawing on actual events in Brazilian history, Amado condenses wide-ranging conflicts into a saga of two competing families, the Silveiras and Baldaros, who vie for control of the area. Within the larger theme of hypocrisy and deceit, he includes corrupt church officials whose worldly concerns contradict their stated mission to save souls.

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The Panhandle area of Bahia province, ecologically well suited for cacao cultivation, was for centuries an untamed frontier out of reach of agricultural expansion. Rough terrain and the entrenched efforts of a few early settlers made the area inhospitable to the newcomers who saw the limitless potential of commercial exploitation. Amado exposes the political machinations of local bosses that accompanied or sometimes threatened the legal bases for land allocation, including the gangs of enforcers who subdued all attempts at worker organizing. Using sexualized imagery for the land in combination with portrayals of erotic passions among the men and women who flock to the territory, Amado draws a parallel between human nature and the unrestrained power of the land before human conquest.

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