On a lazy Sunday afternoon, we are delighted to present you;
José de Alencar’s Iracema: A Tale of Love, Betrayal & Brazil
Iracema is a Romantic novel by José de Alencar which was first published in 1865. It is set in the Northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará during the first Portuguese incursions into the Americas. Edwin Johan Santana Gaarder looks at how the novel depicts the early years of the Brazilian nation.
José de Alencar’s novel tells the story of Iracema, a native virgin, and Martim, a Portuguese coloniser who, despite the cultural barriers that separate them, fall in love. As a result, Iracema is forced to abandon her tribe, but her illusions of peaceful coexistence are shattered when she is herself abandoned by Martim, left only with their child. The tragic sorrow and sense of betrayal she feels eventually lead to her death.
Iracema (an anagram for América) has been read as an allegory for the birth of the Brazilian nation. Alencar, who was a leading figure amongst the Brazilian Romanticists, incorporates themes like colonialism, miscegenation, the clash of cultures, the war against indigenous peoples and migration. In the Brazilian state of Ceará and its capital Fortaleza, Alencar’s novella is treated with even more patriotic reverence, with statues of Iracema and Martim embellishing several points of Fortaleza’s beaches. Roads, buildings and neighbourhoods named after characters, places and events in the novella are also common in Ceará’s capital.
Lá o espera a virgem loura dos castos afetos; aqui lhe sorri a virgem morena dos ardentes amores.
[There he is expected by the blond virgin of chaste tenderness, while here the swarthy virgin of burning passion smiles at him]
In the story, the moment of sexual betrayal is an interplay between the cultural constructs built around the two races: white, dark; blonde, brunette; Christian, Indian; pragmatic, impulsive. It is also an example in microcosm of the tragic consequences of a failed relationship between two societies that never completely learnt to respect and trust each other, and also portrays the difficulties of melding different cultures. This dysfunctional coming together of cultures is intrinsic to the fear of the wise old Pajé: ‘…for album funesto presságio para a raça de seus filhos, que assim ecoou n’alma de Araquém?’ [… was it a tragic presage to his sons’ race echoing in Araquém’s soul?]
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