Language and culture are often intertwined, and literature has served as the mirror of a society since the creation of words. Through this mirror, we see who we were in the past, who we are at present, and who we will be in the future. For a country like Brazil, whose path to modern days has taken quite a few twists and turns, its literature examines the trials and triumphs that have created the Brazil we know today by taking us on a journey back to the pivotal times of its history.
As the only Portuguese-speaking country in South America, Brazil’s richly composed literature is often downplayed and rarely understood by the world. The country’s culture, society and literature are distinct from the rest of the Spanish-dominated Latin America, so much so that the comeback of “magical realism” rekindled by the Colombian Nobel Prize novelist Gabriel García Márquez burned across the whole continent in the 1980s except for Brazil. Nevertheless, it is because of the peculiarity of Brazilian literature that we are able to witness the transformation of Brazilian society.
Brazilian literature was, in fact, never “magical” since the Colonial Times. After Brazil’s independence in 1822, Brazilian literature entered a new era. Largely influenced by European literature, Romanticism sprang up in large scale in the form of poetry. Even so, the awakening of Brazil’s independence and national consciousness drew Brazilian intellectuals’ attention to local creation, and thus came into sight the extraordinary Brazilian Romanticism that has clearly absorbed the quintessence from Indianist folk literature, and in particular, folk poetry. Consequently, Brazil’s tropical flavored romanticism quickly entered a transition period to realism. Partly due to the necessity of lashing out at the feudal monarchy and slavery, and to reveal the reality of South American Indians’ life. Works of Castro Alves and José de Alencar not only served to break the shackles of sentimentalism, but also made the words or Brazilian literature hold greater social significance.
At the beginning of the 20th century, author Euclides da Cunha Inspired by Cunha, published one of the finest works in Brazilian history, Rebellion in the Backlands, in which he called attention to the “other Brazil” that only ten percent of the population dwelled, and the importance of realism to Brazilian literature. Inspired by Cunha, a great number of Brazilian authors started exploring the collisions among local and western values. One of the most globally known Brazilian authors, Jorge Amado, published his most critically acclaimed novel Gabriela in 1958; in which he presented the victory of the reformists from Rio over the dispute with local conservative forces, and provided a comprehensive demonstration of Brazil’s newly developed city in the 1920s and 1930s. In later years, like many countries after World War II, Brazil experienced rapid urbanization. This led to countless debates over the years and as a result stimulated the progress of literary diversification. Although diversified, Brazilian authors have never forgotten their pragmatic and realistic mission. Decades later, we now have the chance to revisit those days through Cristovão Tezza’s novel The External Son published in 2007. What seems to be a story about a young father and his son who suffers from Down Syndrome is actually a microcosm of the ostensible time.
Over the course of history, Brazilian literature has become more and more diverse. Changes in Brazilian society have produced many new writers of the century, among which are numerous diamonds in the rough. It is through the eyes of these outstanding writers and the uniqueness of Brazilian literature that we are able to appreciate the rainforest, Cachaça, and Samba dance from another perspectives. These writings produced by the Brazilian talents are just like the people who grew up on this land, who suffered, who struggled, and who are also sincere, vivid, and enthusiastic. Together, they complement the eloquent Brazilian society and culture.
Ruixuan Ran is a Student Assistant at Van Andel Global Trade Center. She is an international student from China, and is double-majoring in accounting and international business and minoring in French. She enjoys spending time with friends and family and experiencing cuisines, literature, music, languages and all the aspects of different cultures.