(Waldomiro Freitas) Autran Dourado Malcolm Silverman - Essay

Malcolm Silverman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Only two key factors qualify to differentiate among Dourado's varied works: external structure and stylistic creativity. More persistent are the similarities which interrelate them: an at times dense côr local or local color into which or in front of which Dourado's customarily troubled characters struggle with (in) themselves, sometimes successfully, most of the time not, to make their lives bearable. (Fun, per se, would be entirely out of the question in the serious, even somber context of Dourado's fictional world.) This pattern may vary from melodrama to tragedy in the classical sense, but it is always introspective, always personal to the point of intimate, always defensive bordering on paranoid. Negativeness is often confused with fatality, pathos with fear, and sex with love. There is little collective spirit (except in a background context); instead, one senses a universal separateness in which all major figures prefer to wile away their time brooding to themselves….

[Tortured] introspection is, then, synonymous with the psychologically oriented fiction to which Dourado adheres. Whether it be short story, novelette or full length novel—the very same structural differences alluded to at the outset—the constant or end result is identical. What evolves, chronologically, is the author's overall style, and hence his progressively more effective ability to probe and expose his personages' psyche. (p. 610)

Teia (Spider Web, 1947), both the author's first published work and the first of two novelettes, provides for an explosive situation later recreated and embellished in Ópera dos Mortos [Opera of the Dead; also published as The Voices of the Dead]. Dourado creates a controlled and static environment along the lines of a chemical experiment: a boardinghouse occupied by a domineering matriarch, an attractive young lady and a small girl, into which he injects a foreign element, Gustavo, the confused narrator protagonist. The consequent chain reaction envelops everyone, bringing hitherto inner conflicts, within Gustavo and between and among the others, to an intolerable (and unsustainable) level…. The result is that the matriarch triumphs, the young Iady falls irrevocably under her sinister influence (teia), the martyred child dies … and Gustavo flees by the same door he entered, thus neatly closing the novelette in the exact way it opened….

The same cannot be said for Rodrigo of Sombra e Exílio (1950), Dourado's second work and first novel, whose tragic and pathetic demise, i.e., insanity, comes about only when he finally stops vacillating and acts. Set into a depraved family circle à la Nelson Rodrigues, composed of his widowed mother Marta, unfaithful wife Sílvia and mostly absent brother Artur, a reincarnation of his hated father, and Sílvia's lover, Rodrigo struggles successfully against mental catatonia on the one hand, and an understandable inferiority complex on the other. (p. 611)

In Tempo de Amar (Time to Love, 1952), Dourado's next novel, there is a notable breakthrough on all planes: the author's preferred and persistent character type suddenly becomes three dimensional and refined. He no longer is shown to be what he is, passing from troubled puppet to troubled actor. Setting is now correspondingly less confining and restraining, and Dourado's language less psychopathic. Indeed, the novel's two hundred and fifty pages allow Dourado, for the first time, to develop character creations instead of only atmospheres…. Succeeding novels have built on this ample pattern, as concerns both format and expansiveness of style.

The plot line of Tempo de Amar, taking place in the bustling, varied and colorful town of Cercado Velho, centers around lackadaisical Ismael, who has just returned home after graduating from boarding school, and his difficult integration into Cercado Velho's bourgeois society. Urged on by his father, Ismael reluctantly foregoes his "security blanket" …, exchanging his endless daydreaming there for a boring clerkship. Night hours, though, are spent meandering through town, visiting the local brothel and passing chronic insomnia. Finally … he meets Paula, a bright, attractive, but ill-treated girl who, for his promise of escape from Cercado Velho, has sex with him. Motivated more by cowardice and disinterest than premeditated deceit, Ismael soon ignores Paula…. Now pregnant, Paula decides to leave on her own, nobly refusing to pressure the spineless Ismael for his complicity. In any event, she does decide to invite him, one last time, to leave with her, and start a new life. Predictably, he does not accept…. What starts out as a primarily personal conflict imposed on a collective backdrop ends up inverted: Ismael ceases to be even an ineffective individual, giving further corroboration to Cercado...

(The entire section is 2012 words.)