Brazil - Culture
Literature at the service of the nation
Cristiana Boaventura explains how, in the foundation of the idea of Brazil as a homeland, literature developed such an important role creating a Brazilian nationality. From São Paulo.
Indian theme as in the Romanticism.
Moema, 1866. Victor Meireles - Museu de Arte de São Paulo
Politics and fiction are unassociable in the history of national construction, says Doris Sommer. With this affirmation, the literary critic points to the fact that not only do activities related to politics help to create a concept of the nation for a determined people, in a given geographic space, but also literature, sculpture, music and, finally, the arts in general are essential for the foundation of a nation-state. For, the nation is a concept that is constructed. A national identity, among other things, is created. This in its turn is constructed based on what is believed to be the peculiarities of that homeland in counter position to other homelands. Accentuating the differences, we separate ourselves from the other, at the same time as we affirm our unity.
At this moment, literature is making its contribution when it shapes narratives, which cooperate with the construction of a common past, helping and intervening in the construction of history. With politics, trade, language, religion, customs and history, it helps to establish in the nation-state a single culture that represents that people. To think that today, raising literature to a fundamental instrument in the formation of a nation, in the case of Brazil of the XIX century, may appear exaggerated, if we have as a parameter the small space reserved for it in the last decades, but it was not always like that.
In the foundation of the idea of Brazil as a homeland, literature developed a very important role in the creation of a Brazilian nationality, when the construction of the notion of an autonomous and sovereign state became necessary for the affirmation of the recently created independent Brazilian monarchy. However, in the face of what, was it necessary to affirm itself? Of the Old World countries. Especially Portugal and Spain, by the colonial process from which the countries of America were exiting, but also France, England, Germany that exercised strong trade and cultural influence in the tropics.
In the foundation of the idea of Brazil as a homeland, literature developed a very important role in the creation of a Brazilian nationality.
It was with our political independence, proclaimed in 1822, when we passed from being a colony of Portugal to an independent monarchy, that the defenders of the homeland faced up to the task of affirming and even creating an image for the recently founded Brazilian empire. As such, it was necessary to create images that highlighted what were the authentic aspects of here, what was national, the fruit of our history. That included the foundation of a historical and cultural heritage for the young monarchy since, differently from the already established European tradition, America had no appropriate history, at least no official history.
It is at this moment that literature is going to exercise an important role. Many writers engaged themselves in the production of a “national literature”, the manner in which were called the nationalistic fictions of the time that were dedicated to glorifying the country and that many times were confused with non-fictional Brazilian history. Novels and poems were valued, that venerated the nation and promoted nationalistic and edifying narratives. For that, two symbols lent themselves very well, accentuating that was “ours” and at the same distancing us from what was European: exuberant and Edenic nature, and the Indians, the native inhabitants of America, exotic enough to be idealized and elevated to heroes of the land.
The vision of nature as an earth paradise was not anything new. From the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500, the euphoric reports in the face of the discovered land already made the admiration caused by the Portuguese “flattening” felt, such as the famous letter of Pero Vaz de Caminha to King D. Manuel. In the VIII century, Sebastião da Rocha Pita in his History of Portuguese America thus described Brazil: “In no other region Heaven shows itself to be more serene, nor does the Aurora dawn more beautiful: Sun in no other hemisphere has such golden rays nor nocturnal reflections so brilliant (...); and finally the Terrestrial Paradise Brazil discovered where the rivers have their largest sources and courses.”(1). Nature serves then the perfect theme for babbling about a fertile land, blessed by God, and finally the real terrestrial paradise in which Brazil was lying in the splendid cradle as later would figure in the Brazilian National Anthem.
The Indian in turn, was also on the agenda some time ago. Rousseau, in his formulations on nature, created the thesis of the good savage, in which he was seen as good because he was not corrupted by society. Montaigne would write about Indians from a staging of Tupinambás, who were taken to the European continent, accentuating the exotic nature of the new continent. However, it was in the XIX century that the Indian moved on to become the model of representation of Brazil. More specifically were can talk about two issues that would help to promote the Indian to a Brazilian symbol. One of them (not directly indigenous) passes through the English pressure to put an end to slavery of the negroes here, there touching on this matter could be spiny enough to shake important commercial relations and even soil Brazilian history by taking on the horror of Brazilian slavery at the same time as the negroes were considered an inferior race. The second matter, as already mentioned, of the valuing of elements that were considered national, and the Indian, despite also being considered as an inferior race, could serve nationalistic literature, because he was the originating inhabitant of the American continent.
It was in this environment that the first nationalistic literary post-independence signs appeared, in the effort for the construction of a positive image for Brazil. Around this period also in 1838, the Historic and Geographic Institute was created, conceived out of the molds of the Historic Institute of Paris and in which all the artists who wanted to write Brazilian history would get together, for fiction or otherwise. Many artists received study scholarships for courses in Paris; painters were sent to Paris to learn the most up-to-date techniques and portray here our natural beauties; the writing of history books was incentivized. All that under the protection of the Emperor D. Pedro II and sponsored by the monarchy. At the beginning of his General History of Brazil, Francisco Adolpho de Varnhagen, writes: “The whole of Brazil knows that to the generous protection of your Imperial Majesty, the Historic Institute owes its existence and that as its immediate protector de facto, Your Imperial Majesty had it installed in the Paço itself, and attended its literary sessions with the aim of fostering the study of the Homeland History, so important to the splendor of the nation, general education and even the good government of the country”.
On this path, writers were incentivized to write poems and narratives that glorified the land, which showed to Europe that here also homegrown art was done and there was a collective effort to construct a grandiose nation. Well, Romanticism, the literary movement in vogue in Europe, fitted like a glove to convey nationalistic ideas, since, at the same time as it renewed the arcadic models produced previously, it brought as central themes nature, valuing of national things, the expression of subjectivity among others.
Writers were incentivized to write poems and narratives that glorified the land, which showed to Europe that here also homegrown art was done.
A group of young Brazilians, students in the then cultural capital of the world, Paris, was responsible for the first great transformation of our literature, with values now based on nationalism and conscious of the need to “define a new literature in Brazil, that was in the plan of art that had been the independence of political and social life
”, said Antonio Candido. In the city of lights, to which the eyes of Brazilians were turned, Gonçalves de Magalhães, Araújo Porto-Alegre, together with three others created and edited the first magazine for matters relating Brazil, the Niteroi
, in 1836. Magalhães, who would become for many the point of reference for Brazilian literature and a great incentivor of other literates, is the author of The Confederation of Tamoios
, an epic poem that narrates the conflicts between the Tupi and Portuguese. The other important writer who babbles to the Indian and nature of Brazil is Gonçalves Dias, the author of The Timbiras
, I-Juca Pirama
and Song of the Warrior.
José de Alencar comes to crown this already traditional path of literature, launching The Guarani and Iracema, which placed him among the greatest representatives of “national literature”. The Guarani, published first in chapters in a serial of the time, tells the story of the Indian Peri, who for love left his tribe to serve Ceci, a blond girl with blue eyes. To him are attributed all the traces that can identify him with the highest nobleness, as in this excerpt: “For me, the character of this Indian is one of the most admirable things I have seen on this earth. From the first day he entered here, saving my daughter, his life has been one sole act of abnegation and heroism. Believe me, Álvaro, he is a Portuguese gentleman in the body of a savage!”. Again, in Iracema, the anagram of America, it is the turn of the warrior Indian to make large sacrifices for the white and blond Martim, leaving her tribe to follow and serve him.
In the two books, nature is portrayed in an exuberant way, fantasized and idyllic, in an effort to present a perfect picture, while the Indian figures as the main character representing the authentic Brazilian hero. It is to solve the issue of race, that moral, religious and ethical values were transferred to the Brazilian Indian, so that the inferior in which it was then believed would be mitigated.
These and other representations helped then in the creation of a national image so as to give shape to the Brazilian nation and thereby construct the history of Brazil. Many of these representations created by writers who tried to create a national literature figure until today in our collective imagination, as for example, the accentuation of the possibly exotic character that there could be around here or the idea that we are blessed by God for such a pacific and abundant nature. In addition, if we ask the reason why, “we will be taken in the direction of the founding myth of Brazil, whose roots were set down in 1500”, as said Marilena Chauí.
(1). This excerpt has been highlighted in various studies for showing the vanity that were gain body in Brazil in the XIX century.
To know more:
- Antonio Candido. Formação da Literatura Brasileira. São Paulo: Fapesp/Ouro sobre azul. (1ª edição 1957).
- Doris Sommer. Ficções e Fundação: os romances nacionais da América Latina. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 2004.
- Leyla Perrone-Moisés.Vira e mexe, nacionalismo: paradoxos do nacionalismo literário. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2007.
- Lilia Moritz Schwarcz. As barbas do Imperador: D. Pedro II, um monarca nos trópicos. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
- Pedro Puntoni. Varnhagen e a História do Brasil. In: Brasiliana digital. Endereço: http://www.brasiliana.usp.br/node/454.
- Marilena Chauí. Brasil: mito fundador e sociedade autoritária. São Paulo: Editora Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2000.