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    Clarice Lispector Essay (1635 words)

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    Fictional pieces revolve around existentialism/absurdism (ex. Family Ties (1960), The Passion According to G.H. (1964), The Apple in the Dark (1961), An Apprenticeship or the Book of Delights (1969))

    -writes many fictional pieces revolving around the topics of human suffering/failure, the mortality of humans, individuals who are alone or come to realize that they are alone and are trapped in hostile situations, wanting to escaping hostile situations, and the fear felt when confronting the concept of nothingness. (ex. Family Ties, many of her existentialist/absurdist works)

    -pits the emotion of wanting to live against the knowledge that death is inevitable (ex. “The Chicken”)

    -animals. Often depicts animals as beings that are able the most to feel emotions in the purest sense due to their primordial state of being. (ex. “The Buffalo”, “The Chicken”)

    -focuses a lot on females. Family Ties deals with how women are repressed by the social and familial ties around them. Other works with female main characters include: The Passion According to G.H., The Hour of the Star (1977), An Apprenticeship or the Book of Delights

    -The relationship poverty and power have within Brazil as well as class issues (ex. The Hour of the Star). Hints of new topics that Lispector may have wanted to write had she not died

    Language and Techniques:

    -original works are in Portuguese

    -uses normal situations that are thought to be controllable and then turns them into uncontained, chaotic experiences (ex. stories in Family Ties, The Passion of G.H.)

    -tends to start off a piece with a silent or unsettling mood and then transform the mood into a more stronger, overwhelming emotion. (ex. “Happy Birthday”, “The Chicken”, “The Daydreams of a Drunken Woman”, basically almost everything in Family Ties as well as her other existentialist/absurdist works )

    -often uses crises that characters experience in order to initiate a character’s epiphanic moment. The crises are often triggered by mundane events. (ex. Family Ties, The Passion According to G.H., many of her other existentialist/absurdist works as well)

    -Has a probing style of writing. Lispector tends to write questions about life rather than answering them. Intensifies the reader’s feelings of bewilderment/doubts about the world around them. (ex. Family Ties, The Passion According to G.H., many of her other existentialist/absurdist works as well)

    -Style of writing/the descriptions she uses in her pieces often have a surrealistic nature to them


    -1950-1954: Brazil experiences inflation and growing national debt under Getulio Vargas’ dictatorship. Discontent among the army and people.

    -1964-1985: Brazil under military rule with some moments where democracy seems to have returned. In the beginning, there was a lot of media censorship and trade unions were suppressed. Discontent among the people, protests and guerilla warfare arise (Lispector also protests against the military rule). There was rapid economic growth around the late 1960s-early 1970s but many were still poor.

    -1970s: Brazil suffers from inflation. Unemployment rises. Many are poor. Unhappiness among the people. However, the military rule became less oppressive.

    – 20th century: women most active and influential as writers/artists (ex. Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton). Lispector follows this trend.

    -Brazil’s Women’s History: mainly patriarchal society. Typical housewife setup and women were trapped in a stifling role society assigned to them.

    -Generally(20th century): young people are less sexist than their parents. Few women in positions of power. The next women’s rights movement closest to 1953-1977 begins in the 1980s but there was a buildup of resentful/rebellious feelings women had in regards to their stifling roles in society which may have influenced Lispector’s writings.

    Lispector’s Works: Notes:

    – The Passion According to G.H.: About a rich woman whose maids leave her which results in her finding a cockroach in an otherwise clean room. She freaked out, stepped on it, and had a major epiphanic moment about life/death

    – An Apprenticeship or the Book of Delights: About a woman who learns about pleasure after meeting a philosophy teacher who tells her she knows nothing of pleasure and is therefore not ready to enter a relationship with him. She goes through a personal journey and discovers love, hate, fear, and pleasure.

    – The Hour of the Star: Narrated by a writer who does not know what to write. The narrator (a man) tells the story of a 19 year old girl he saw but does not know personally. This girl lives in a slum and life just sucks for her but she does not realize that her life sucks. She later dies by getting hit by a car. The narrator is disturbed at how seemingly ignorant this girl is about her depressing situation and throughout the novel, he discusses urges to elevate this girl’s life in some way/make it more important than it was but he understands that this girl’s life was just another typical uninteresting life that had no importance whatsoever.

    – The Apple in the Dark: About a fugitive who hides out in a farm owned by 2 sisters. He has an affair with one sister and the other betrays him to the police. The deeper purpose of the novel is to tell the story of a man who relearns how the world around him works after his crime sends him into a “golem-like” state (acts like a rock, doesn’t talk much, is like a servant to the sisters) on the farm. Another prominent topic in this novel is redemption through sin.

    Lispector Biography Notes:

    – 1952: In Rio de Janeiro, published a volume of 6 stories called Alguns Contos (Some Stories), moved to Washington D.C.

    – 1953: Second son born

    – Disliked diplomatic milieu (iow. Disliked the surrounding political environment due to her husband’s job)

    – 1956 à 1961: Apple in the Dark is finally published (it was written in 1956)

    o Repeatedly rejected by publishers

    o Longest novel, most complex

    o 1962: awarded Carmen Dolores Barbosa Prize for best novel

    – 1959: left husband and returned with sons to Rio de Janeiro

    – 1960: published Family Ties ß struggled financially to get it published

    o Immediately well-received, sold very well

    – 1964: published The Passion According to G.H. and The Foreign Legion

    – 1966: Grievous accident occurred to Lispector

    o Fell asleep after taking sleeping pills (to help her cope with her insomnia) with a cigarette in her hand

    o Cigarette started a fire and she was badly burned

    o Right hand almost had to be amputated; she did not like thinking about it afterward and only said, “All I can say is that I spent three days in hell.”

    o Lispector still continued to write despite the pain during recovery

    – 1967: published The Mystery of the Thinking Rabbit

    o First children’s book

    – 1968: Separated with husband, worked against Brazil’s military dictatorship

    – 1971: began working on The Stream of Life

    o Struggled to complete it, was insecure and hesitant (which was uncharacteristic of her)

    o Published in 1973

    o Became “her finest work”, was claimed an instant masterpiece

    o One critic wrote that Lispector, “awakens the literature currently being produced in Brazil from a depressing and degrading lethargy and elevates it to a level of universal perennity and perfection.”

    – 1974: began to paint, increased work as a translator because of financial pressure

    – 1975: Invited to First World Congress of Sorcery ß increased her notoriety

    – 1977: published The Hour of the Star

    o Most famous work

    o Brazilian poverty, marginality (*NOTE: marginality, I believe, is referring to cultural marginality, where the text has been exposed and molded by two or more cultures)

    o The name of the protagonist, Macabéa, was based on the Maccabees, a Jewish rebel army who reasserted the Jewish religion through conquest in the 100s BCE

    – December 9, 1977: Death of Lispector due to ovarian cancer, on the eve of her 57th birthday

    Brazilian History

    · 1889-1930

    o This period was known as the Old Republic of Brazil

    o This period saw the monarchy of the Empire of Brazil replaced with a republic

    o While the government was technically a democracy, it was highly corrupt and all but controlled by an oligarchy of large landowners and local officials from the coffee industry.

    o Many people did not have the right to vote (or were under pressure to vote a certain way), there was little in the way of free presses and lots of economic and social inequality

    o On large plantations known as Latifundium, a system where large numbers of poor worked for wealthy owners was in place

    o In addition, there was an unofficial model of government (the coronelismo system) in place in which power was held by a local official known as a coronel through the act of exchanging favours for loyalty (patronage)

    o Near the end of the period, a new educated middle class rose up to challenge these ideals

    · 1930-1954

    o The stock market crash of 1929 was the event that brought the old system crashing down

    o After an election in 1930 widely regarded as rigged, Washington Luiz was elected

    o However, he was deposed in a coup by the military and replaced by the populist Getulio Vargas

    o Vargas oversaw the drafting of a new constitution which was more liberal leaning than the previous one

    o In 1937, with the country in fear of Nazism and Communism, a communist plot to assassinate politicians known as Plano Cohen was discovered, providing the pretext for Vargas to suspend civil liberties and shut down congress (effectively becoming a dictator)

    o Vargas was an unusual dictator, as he had support from both the masses and the military. He used his power to do things that were actually needed in the country, like providing a minimum wage and professionalizing the civil service by creating the DASP (Administrative Department of Public Service) so qualified people could get jobs, rather than rely on people with political connections

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