Favor and Slavery in Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant



Considerations on the novel by Manuel Antônio de Almeida

Memorias de um sargento de milicias (1853) is based on modern historicism and the romantic principle that, in the wake of discourses on the emancipation of nations, created the category “people” as a local collective character.[I] The identification between the poor and the Brazilian people resorts to the vogue of nationalism that promoted the invention and recovery of popular traditions as an affirmation of local particularity.[ii]

Within Manuel Antônio de Almeida's novel, the author's empathy with popular culture is manifested in the passage about the feast of the Holy Spirit, when the narrator issues one of his rare praises to the country's folklore traditions, especially to the festive group who, in circles, tell stories or sing ditties: “It was a pleasure to walk among them, and listen here to the anecdote told by a guest of good taste, over there, the modinha sung in that passionately poetic tone that makes one of our rare originalities”.[iii] Another more concise praise is found in the approach to the music that accompanies the three ways of dancing fado: “often the player sings a song in certain bars, sometimes with a truly poetic thought” (p. 101).

Drawn from Herder, the romantic cult of popular tradition conceives it as an organic, primitive, simple and spontaneous whole, in opposition to literate culture, considered artificial and cold. In Also a philosophy of history for the formation of humanity, the German philosopher combines Christian ideology with Rousseau's theses, stating that, in a primitive period of the ancient East, poetry, associated with music, had a strong influence on the actions and customs of the people. This period would also be marked by a strong religious tendency, ironically rehabilitated by the philosopher as the first philosophy and attempt to organize the world in a natural and creative way.[iv] In contrast, in the modern world, monarchical despotism and the “enlightened”, science, the educational system and formal artistic culture corrupt, for the author, customs, making cultural life frivolous. Tracing the praise of “holy barbarity” and disorder, Herder proposes that they would be the guiding principle of the creative effervescence of the Middle Ages.

Essentially poetic, the consciousness of primitive man thought, according to the philosopher, primarily through symbols and allegories, representing the world through fables and myths.[v] In this perspective, the popular song retains the moral effectiveness of ancient poetry, circulates, like this, orally and is linked to music, performing practical functions. Endowing itself with a wisdom alien to formal knowledge, popular tradition embodies the soul of a nation. Literary poetry, on the other hand, is intended for vision, is exercised individually and disconnects from practical life. For Herder, primitive natural poetry does not disappear with the passage of time, but keeps residues in the art of the people, returning in cycles of rebirth of their nation.[vi] Contrasting popular and erudite art, Herder proposes to recover traces of ancient poetry in uses, customs, ceremonies, superstitions, ballads, proverbs, troubadour songs, etc.

In an appropriation of these principles, Manuel Antônio de Almeida's novel presupposes the idea of ​​the degree of civility of the local inhabitant, but inverts and de-eroicizes them.[vii] collective life. In this satire, the alignment of Manuel Antônio de Almeida's novel with the country's folk tradition is also consistent with internal procedures of the picaresque novel that supports the creation of its fable in an appropriation or invention of popular types. To produce the anti-heroism of the abandoned orphan, the picaresque makes use of popular types such as ruffians, procuresses, lecherous clergymen, stable boys, employees of the War Arsenal and ucharias, cheating and lying bachelors, such as João Manuel, pages, loafers , charlatans, boquirrotas, intriguing women, prostitutes, among others.[viii] The effect of naive realism with which the profile of the rogue tends to be traced results from a literary interpretation of the so-called “popular” type.

Although the hypothesis is not ruled out here that Manuel Antônio de Almeida was directly supported by the classic rogue to reinvent the genre in his own way, it is also possible to consider, with Eugênio Gomes, which novels by Charles Dickens and Alexandre Dumas, writer chosen by Manuel Antônio de Almeida, also used traits of the rogue. Besides them, Almeida translated the king of beggars e Gondicar or Christian love, by Paul Féval and Louis Friedel respectively. In addition, certain XNUMXth-century production appropriates the types, actions and habits common to picaresque, but tends to avoid mere disqualification and may even dignify marginal heroes and, with that, reverse the traditional stylistic debasement of the trickster.[ix]

A certain lineage of interpretation of Memorias de um sargento de milicias says that part of his material would have been taken from an oral source, in the reports of an old friend of Manuel Antônio de Almeida. The Portuguese sergeant who settled in Brazil during the Cisplatine War, Antônio César Ramos, would have met Major Vidigal here. Later, he worked together with Manuel Antônio de Almeida in the Mercantile Mail: “he greatly appreciated Maneco Almeida, who, before going up to the newsroom, sought out the former sergeant, pulled his tongue, stored cases and customs from the good old days, to pass them on in his serials”.[X] Mário de Andrade recalls that proof of the oral source of the episodes reported by Memorias de um sargento de milicias was collected by the folklorist Melo Morais Filho (facts and memories) also in an oral source, in the testimony of César Ramos.[xi]

The hypothesis that the episodes involving the figure of Vidigal were collected orally is credible with the picaresque codes and with the romantic precept that the work of art should imitate cases and legends that circulate in local traditions. In this determination, the poet emulates the ancient bard, conceived as a simple and spontaneous genius who would possess the natural gift of recovering legends and customs of his country, thus incarnating the “spirit” of his people.

Manuel Antônio de Almeida preferred, as is known, to maintain doubt about the authorship of his novel, publishing it without signature in the Mercantile Mail. In the book edition of 1854 and 1855, he signed it simply as “Um Brasileiro”. When republishing the book in 1863, Quintino Bocaiuva attributed the authorship to him. By refusing to sign the novel in the two editions he prepared, Almeida may prudently have considered the political conditions of the time. A common procedure in the XNUMXth century, the publication of literary works without signature or under pseudonyms are fragile stratagems both to escape the censorship of imperial patronage, and the opinion of the political and literate elite, when the work and money acquired from the sale are considered dishonorable. of the work of fiction.

It is also a resource to create the illusion that the story is true, born of everyday experience. It is likely that, by insisting on anonymity, Almeida intended to create the fiction that the typical case of a cunning malandro, inherent in universal folklore, had been collected in the collective memory of the country. Regardless of having or not caught part of the episodes with César Ramos, the author figures in the collective memory and takes advantage of popular traditions in artistic and literary register, showing that he is “a novelist aware not only of his own intentions, but (hence his literary category) of the necessary means to carry them out”.[xii]

Along Memorias de um sargento de milicias, the narrator recurrently interrupts the story to establish comparisons between the past and the present. Recognizing similarities, the comparison can lead to the production of a continuous and negatively homogeneous timeline, linking 1808 to 1850. But by delimiting differences, the confrontation between the two historical periods can lead to a disqualification of ancient and contemporary social and discursive practices. In the latter case, the narrator engages in a polemic with the units of meaning that organize the literate culture of his time, parodying motifs, topics and genres inherent to nationalist historiographical and literary discourses. The novel disqualifies the cult of the nation, the longing for the land and the romantic appreciation of the feeling of love, adding them, in a desacralized way, to the characterization of ethnic groups and to the action of some of its characters.

The description of Gypsy culture appropriates the old and current prejudice against this ethnic group in the following terms: “The poetry of their customs and their beliefs, which is much talked about, left them on the other side of the ocean” (p. 98 ). In the verbal form “fala-se”, the indetermination of the subject distances the enunciator from the discourses that sweetened national traditions to deny the beauty of the gypsy culture practiced in Brazil and, with that, undermine the edification of national traditions. In the novel, the contradiction between a discreet appreciation and concomitant critical distancing from the discourses that worshiped local traditions can be better understood in the author's assessment that the figuration, in his time, of national specificity was excessive.[xiii]

At Leonardo's christening party, the narrator enacts the theme of nostalgia for his homeland in the modinha that Pataca sings in honor of Portugal: “When I was in my land,/ Accompanied or alone,/ I sang night and day/ At the foot of a glass of wine” (p. 69). In the song, the feelings that link the subject of the enunciation to his country of origin are associated with his former bohemian, unoccupied life, which produces the self-disqualification of the type and his feeling of belonging. Bouncing off its interpreter, the modinha draws a caricature of Pataca life in its country of origin and, with it, a slander against the Portuguese immigrant.

Among so many passages in the novel that demystify the romantic cult of love, one of them is formalized in the episode in which Leonardo Pataca resorts to the mystical works of the Caboclo to win back the love of the gypsy: “[...] from the still-warm ashes of an ill-paid love another was born that was not better allocated in this respect either; but the man was romantic, as they say today, and a drooler, as they said in those days; he could not do without a little passion” (p. 88). Judging the love codes of his time by those of the past, the interpretation that the rapid exchange of one love object for another was the result of a drooling sexual drive makes the romantic hygiene of bourgeois love naive.

Another desacralizing strategy of the love myth is found in the story of Leonardo and Vidinha's courtship. According to the narrator, the fact that this passion was stronger than the one previously nurtured by Luisinha contradicts the “opinion of the ultra-romantic, who put all their bellies in their mouths for that – first love –: in the example that Leonardo gives us learn how lasting it is” (p. 259). In the second part of the novel, Leonardo's free sexuality motivates his nature and his amorous conduct. The protagonist then experiences two almost simultaneous sentimental adventures, in such a way that they appear, disappear and reappear at the whim of circumstances. Supported by foundations that are far from transcendent, the narrative of her sentimental adventures also undermines and degrades the monogamous principle of bourgeois love.

In other passages of Memorias de um sargento de milicias, the intrusive consciousness comments or stages, in the action of its characters, the reproduction of ancient habits and customs, but which remain in their present, which continuously linearizes the time of kings. In these moments, the narrator adopts the ironic enunciative strategy when he pretends to believe that certain practices of the enunciation time are limited to the past. While painting the feast of the Holy Spirit from the Johannine period, he states: “However, let us always say what the Folias of that time were, although the readers will know more or less what they are about” (p. 178). Considering the contemporary reader to the publication of the novel in packet, the greater or lesser knowledge of this festive tradition by the audience testifies to their living experience at the party that the narrator stylizes. In the description of the processions, the comparison of the ancient religious procession with the current one apparently lends itself to establishing differences:

It is almost everything that is still practiced today, but on a much greater scale and grandeur, because it was done out of faith, as the old women of that time say, but we will say, because it was done for fashion: it was both the tone of decorating windows and doors on procession days, or compete in any other way for the brilliance of religious festivities, such as having a dress with ham sleeves, or wearing a formidable jungle gym two hands high (p. 163).


In the opening segments of the excerpt, the comparison between both times results in the superlativization of ancient processions to the detriment of those that were practiced in the author's time, since before they were of “greater scale and grandeur”. But then, the narrator contrasts his reading of the processions with the perception of the elders, according to which the supposed splendor of the previous festive practice was due to the greater religious fervor of the time. By proposing, however, that the ornamental exaggerations were responsible for the interpretation of the elders, the narrator lowers the legitimacy of the participants' faith to a lower level of priorities. Religious conviction as a demonstration of the grandiosity of the ancient event loses strength in the face of the mania for ostentation. In the contrast between the two antagonistic perspectives of the event, emerges, on the one hand, the nostalgic and partial feeling of the elderly and, on the other, the controversy with the memory of tradition.

The feigned restriction of the narrated action to the Johannine past conceals the criticism of the enunciation's present. The religious ritual practiced by Leonardo Pataca to win the love of the gypsy consisted of prayers by three Caboclo priests, performed around Leonardo Pataca, who was situated at the foot of a bonfire. The narrator comments on this practice: “it wasn’t just ordinary people who gave credit to the sorceries; it is said that many people in high society at the time would sometimes buy fortunes and happiness for the comfortable price of practicing certain immoralities and superstitions” (p. 88). The expectation that resorting to works and mystical entities can contribute to doubling one's fortune is also not restricted to Johannine times. It is nothing new to say that in the Brazilian past and present, politicians and people from different social and ideological backgrounds resort to expedients. In another ironic approximation between practices of the two Romanesque periods, Vidigal's method of recruiting soldiers by snare-hunting poor individuals through the streets of Rio de Janeiro is reproduced in the First and Second Reigns.

Before being co-opted by the imperial government and becoming Viscount of Inhomirim, Sales Torres Homem published, under the pseudonym Timandro, the antimonarchical and nationalist pamphlet O people's libel (1849), in Mercantile Mail. The text interprets the government of d. Pedro I as a result of a coup d'état that, covered "with the mantle of the emperor", destroyed the freedom of the native literate and economic elite, censored the press, corrupted the electoral legislation and suppressed the right that allowed subjects to petition the emperor . The imperial government converted military conscription into a barbaric instrument of political coercion.[xiv]

In the analysis of the Praieira Revolution (1848), Torres Homem represents as ferocious the way in which the saquaremas, with Araújo Lima's cabinet, resumed, after more than ten years of liberal hegemony, power and control of the presidency of the Council of State. Among the strategies for repressing oppositionists, Torres Homem reports that members of the Conservative Party chained and subjected liberals and republicans, “owners, honest fathers of families”, to the condition of recruits: “before being thrown into the hold of warships, they are given in spectacle, in the most public streets, to the Portuguese mob, who triumph and cover them with boos and balloons” [xv].

In view of the discussion by Memoirs of a militia sergeant of discursive, religious and military practices of his time, the novel’s opening sentence, “It was the king’s time!”, mobilizes a type of semantic duality typical of irony, repeatedly adopted by the narrator as a strategy to conceal criticism of the present. The phrase evokes the typical motif of the wonderful tale, whose action, characters and places are spatially and temporally indeterminate to universalize conflicts and human desires.[xvi] As the sentence that opens the novel does not particularize the prince then said to be sovereign, nor the date of his rule, it can refer either to the period d. João VI, or the entire imperial period until then. The irony inscribed in the phrase derives from the transposition of the figure of the monarch and the institution of the monarchy to a mythical time, pretending that it had disappeared from present history. In the critical distance that he asserts in order to deny, the assumption that they are part of a lost period of human history is strange to their validity in the Brazilian XNUMXth century.

Whereas certain social practices, habits and customs reported in Memorias de um sargento de milicias are temporally indeterminate, so also Rio de Janeiro figures, by metonymy, Brazilian culture in general. This hypothesis is reinforced when one considers that the novel creates characters that are much more representative of collective life, conceived as social and national types. Almeida's fiction seeks to represent social, cultural and religious phenomena inherent to the country, whose residues are reproduced even today.

Em Memorias de um sargento de milicias, the repeated review of nationalist assumptions leads to a unique understanding of Brazilian culture. For her, Brazil is the result of the sexual mixture between different ethnic groups. Throughout the novel, the parties, beyond being a mere document and a picturesque approach to Rio's cultural life, are basic allegorical procedures for “apprehending the contact and interaction between different cultures, producing metamorphoses and changes”.[xvii]

The pictorial and scenographic representation of the local culture transforms the festive and religious manifestations into a stage where the ethnic and cultural multiplicity of Brazil is enacted. Thus, in the stylization of gypsy life, the author favors their assimilation to the local culture: “[…] here they brought bad habits, cunning and trickery, and if not, our Leonardo can say something about it. They lived in almost complete idleness; there was no night without a party” (p. 98). The cunning, trickery and idleness with which the narrator replaces the old and current prejudice against the gypsy do not distance themselves from the profile that Leonardo acquires throughout the book. Thus, since he was a boy, he can already “say something about” the subject.

Throughout the novel, figurations of what was called foreign “influences” in the cultural life of the country multiply. Alongside the gypsies and the strong presence of the Portuguese, the portrait of capoeira in the figure of Chico Juca, the procession of goldsmiths, opened by Bahian women, and the barbers, “composed of half a dozen apprentices or barber officers, ordinarily black”, makes clear the heritage of African culture. At Leonardo's christening party, people dance to the sound of fado, alternating with minuet French and the challenge of Portuguese origin. Add to that the presence of Spanish habits through the Portuguese way. In the description of Comadre's profile, the mantilla refers to this heritage which, transplanted to the country, loses its original charm to become, in the narrator's perspective, an instrument of female gossip, a function that Macedo will hyperbolize in The women in mantilla (1870)

Manuel Antônio de Almeida represents a kind of religious syncretism in the country when he stages the Portuguese Leonardo adhering to caboclo mysticism, and the adaptation of gypsy and African religiosity to Catholic rituals. Among other examples of this fusion, the music of the barbers, played inside the feast of the parish of the master of ceremonies, was composed by “half a dozen apprentices or barber officers, ordinarily black, armed, this one with an out of tune piston, the other with a devilishly hoarse horn, formed a bewildered but resounding orchestra” (p. 143).

The awkward orchestra and the disharmony of its instruments metaphorize a course of life and customs far from the rational action of the administered world, reinforcing the trait of society that has in informality the laws of its sociocultural practices. The cast of characters formed by Portuguese, Africans, French, Spaniards, gypsies and indigenous people thus overlaps with the interpretation of Brazilian culture formulated by nationalism and official historiography which, in its Indianist version, tends to privilege the exclusive fusion of the aboriginal with the Portuguese. In the family tree of Memorias de um sargento de milicias the aboriginal culture, quickly named in the figure of the Caboclo, barely appears.

Manuel Antônio de Almeida's novel seeks to describe, analyze and present in a plastic and dramatic way the ethos and, in the midst of it, the way in which the poor escape the “eternal subjection of necessity” and circumvent the country's adverse economic conditions.[xviii] A critic of culture, the author negatively composes the “Spirit” of the nation. In addition to the characters, the social institutions of the period, such as the family, the church, educational teaching or the judicial and police system, everything is filtered, to speak with Mamede Jarouche,[xx] by the narrator's mischievous laugh, apparently not judgmental.

To the division of parts of Memorias de um sargento de milicias initially according to the life of the father and the child and, in the second part, considering the stories of the adult son, it corresponds to the symmetry that is established between their experiences in these two different moments. Both suffer two or more amorous adventures, quickly change partners, are arrested after sentimental intrigues and released thanks to the intervention of third parties. It is about seeing the legacy of one in the other.

Analogously to the picaresque, the opening chapters of Memorias de um sargento de milicias describe the genealogy of the anti-hero, relating the humble origin of Leonardo's parents. His modest lineage tells that he was the son of a father who, in Portugal, had worked in street trading and of a poor villager in the vicinity of Lisbon. Reformulating the picaro, the narrator adds the anti-Portuguese sentiment to caricature the Portuguese immigrant. Father and mother bequeath free sexuality and love inconstancy to their son. The miserly trait that earned Leonardo the nickname “Pataca” is comically staged by the contradiction between his mania for complaining about the lack of money and the facilities it provided in quickly winning the love of the gypsy.

The serious aspect of Manuel Antônio de Almeida's criticism of Leonardo's nuclear family targets informal marriages, considered illegitimate. At a time when he forges one of the obstacles to carry out the marriage of Luisinha and Leonardo, forbidden to sergeants, the narrator thus judges informal unions: “This means we are talking about, this caricature of the family, very fashionable at the time, is certainly one of the causes that produced the sad moral state of our society” (p. 335). In the novel, all marital ties considered “irregular” are common among the poor. Also in a great majority of them this type of union implies adultery, short duration and quick separation. In Leonardo's life, family breakdown triggered the end of maternal and paternal commitment, abandonment and adoption, as if these three facts derived from that one.

The physical facilities of the school attended by Leonardo Filho have, among other factors, consequences on his student life. In it, precariousness reigns, the infernal racket of children and birds trapped in cages suspended from the walls and ceiling of the classroom. These conditions frustrate the boy's expectations, who “was a little freaked out by the appearance of the school, which he had never imagined” (p. 132). On the first day of school and after four rounds of paddles, Leonardo communicates to Padrinho, during the break between the two school shifts, his decision to drop out of school. Faced with the father's argument that it is necessary to learn, the child retorts saying that "it is not necessary to be spanked". In the boy's reply, the narrator employs a technique typical of irony when he shifts the critical analysis of the violence of the educational method to the immature child consciousness. In the afternoon of the same day and after twelve more spankings, Leonardo left school for good.

In the episode in which the protagonist and his sacristan friend demoralize the master of ceremonies, the author's anticlericalism accentuates the weak "vigor" of this priest's intelligence. Born in the Azores and educated in Coimbra, “on the outside he was a complete Saint Francis of Catholic austerity, on the inside refined Sardanapalo” (p. 141). Even though he broke his vow of celibacy with the Gypsy, his sermons were preferably about “honesty and bodily purity in every sense”. The moral conduct of the clergy undermines their credibility and authority over the two sextons, Leonardo among them. His rebukes and sermons produce “no effect upon them in the sense of amending them.”

The determining factor in Leonardo's entry into the world of vagrancy is found in the system of favor and co-option. The theme occupies a reasonable number of small and central episodes, characterizes the character, gives the title and becomes the explicit agenda of three chapters: “O – arranjei-me – do compadre” (I: IX), “The aggregate” (II: X) and “Efforts” (II: XXII). Thanks to the Comadre's intervention and the favors of the Lieutenant Colonel, Leonardo Pataca, when he landed in Brazil, ascends to the rank of mayor and, later, is released from jail. As a child, the son escapes absolute misery through the favors of the Godfather. Expelled from home for the second time by his father, he could count on the services of Vidinha's family to survive. Due to an arrangement again by Comadre, Leonardo becomes a servant of the royal crib. Also through the intervention of the “godmother” and with the support of d. Maria and Maria Regalada, he wins Vidigal's sympathy to get rid of the sergeant's rank and make his marriage concrete. It is not, therefore, the work of chance and fate, as the narrator maliciously suggests, that Leonardo always wins everyone's favor. Disseminated by social practices and culture in general, favor, as “our almost universal mediation”[xx], is one of the main means to which the Leonardos, in the time of kings, resorted to survive and ascend in the social hierarchy.

Character devoid, like the others, of individuality, the allegory inscribed in the profile of Leonardo's adoptive father also unfolds from his designation as “Godfather”. Represented as a social generality, he embodies and lives in his life story the author's analysis of one of the effects of the sponsorship system. In the commentary on Padrinho's previous life in Portugal, the narrator comments that, between the two types of aggregate produced by the favor system, one of them becomes “very useful, because the family took great advantage of his services” (p. 141). His condition as an associate of the Portuguese barber implied exhaustive work without pay since childhood. But in an irony directed at the institution of favour, the third person restricts it to the Joanine past: “in the time when the events we are narrating were taking place, there was nothing more common than having one, two and sometimes more aggregates in each house” ( p. 257).

Padrinho's rogue life, bequeathed to Leonardo Filho, dates back to the moment he was rejected by his parents and abandoned in life. In the house of the barber who took him in, the Godfather assumes, says the narrator, the roles of son, domestic servant, householder and foundling. To pay for sustenance and housing, as a child he took care of the domestic chores in the house where he went to live. After learning to shave and bleed, he must hand over all of his work money to the owner of the barber shop. The requirement that he continue to pay room and board forces him to take on extra work. He decides to escape this work regime when he is summoned to continue taking responsibility for household chores. By reproducing his status as an aggregate in Leonardo's life story, Padrinho perpetuates and bequeaths to the Johannine culture, in a non-tragic way, the experience he brought with him from Portugal.

Manuel Antônio de Almeida illustrates the second type of aggregate in Leonardo’s actions: a “refined vagrant, he was a veritable parasite who attached himself to the family tree, who partook of its sap without helping it to bear fruit, and what is more still, it even came to the end of it” (p. 257). If Padrinho gets rich thanks to the theft of money from the captain of the slave ship that brought him to Brazil, Leonardo Filho rises in the social hierarchy thanks to the various legacies.

Em Memorias de um sargento de milicias, apparently absent, slavery is spoken of by the application of the culture of arrangement and co-option in human actions and relationships. In the author's contemporaneity, the literate discussion interprets the practice of favor and the supposed idleness of the free poor as effects of the slave labor regime. Theme of one of the chapters of Meditation, by Gonçalves Dias, one of its characters points out that this mode of production impedes the adoption of formal work and the construction of the country's infrastructure, producing what was then said to be the weakening of its industry, that is, of the set of economic activities in the country. country. In people's libel, Sales Torres Homem regrets that the preservation of slavery and competition with the Portuguese for the already fragile so-called free labor market left misery to the free poor natives.[xxx]

A scathing analysis by Manuel Antônio de Almeida on slavery can be found in the chronicle he published in 1851, before writing his only novel. The article was produced as an indignant dissent from the organic memorial, by Francisco Adolfo Varnhagen. This text, in turn, was initially published in two parts, in 1849 and 1850, in the magazine soursop, in the years that involved the discussion and enactment of the Eusébio de Queirós Law prohibiting the slave trade. To deal with the ban, Varnhagen proposes – among other measures to clean the city streets and limit enslaved people to rural economic activities – hunting, roping and training them at work. Its text revolves around arguments favorable to the recovery of the flags.

In his polemic with Varnhagen, Manuel Antônio de Almeida adopts the recurrent reading that Brazil is a country far from civilization. In this straying from the path of progress, he recognizes that he was wrong when he supposed that “all those stupid, atrocious, inconsequential means with which it was once intended to tame our people had put an end to the barbarism of colonial times”.[xxiii] Always from the position of the nation's march, appealing to humanism, fraternity and conciliation between ethnic groups in struggle, Almeida sketches a tragic portrait of the conditions of life on slave ships. He establishes a parallel between the methods of these ships and those of the bandeiras, which highlights their frontal opposition to the slave production regime.

“(…) to set up a flag, it is enough to gather a hundred men, even slaves, a hundred ambitious men, a hundred idlers, because no one who has them will leave their job to go on that horrible manhunt and leave… leave without fear of cruises, leave with the letter trademark or authorization from the presidency, because the author [Varnhagen] does not want, to the greatest scandal, that these batches of blood lack official character! Arriving at a village of Indians, these caravans of destruction, armed with superior weapons and with the thirst for greed, ordinarily surprise those unwary people in the middle of their sleep at night; fall on them; they destroy, they kill... they kill a hundred to take a prisoner, because it is known that they do not give up easily, but fight with effort until death. They return later with the spoils of the carnage”.[xxiii]

Almeida's text accuses Varnhagem of disguising the desire to enslave the Indians when he proposes that they should be submitted to guardianship or protectorate. The author recalls that, in the not-too-distant past, the free Afro-descendant worker, submitted to the tutelage of a master, was obliged to carry out an excessive amount of work under the lash of cruelty and to deliver the results of his production to him. .

Memorias de um sargento de milicias it sets up the conflict between rich and poor and a hierarchy within the layer of the dispossessed that can, in this case, be confused with competition between immigrant and native workers. Social segregation is mimicked in the disposition of the characters by urban geography. The fictional distribution of housing owned by landlords and whites, on the one hand, and poor whites and mestizos, on the other, also implies spatial segregation. In a homology between Rio's characters and topography, immigrants tend to inhabit the center of the city, while the others are located respectively on the adjacent margin of the central region or on the outskirts of the city.

Major Vidigal's house is located on Rua da Misericórdia, in an original area of ​​the city and stronghold of its foundation. In it and in its surroundings, the Customs, the War Arsenal, the Caixa Econômica, the Court of Appeal, the Chamber, the jail and the royal press were installed. In this same socio-spatial pole, the litigant character of the novel, d. Maria lives on Rua dos Ourives. With the arrival of the court, the street became a center for the luxury trade in gold and jewellery, close to Rua Ouvidor and the elegant dressmakers and French shops.[xxv]

The Caboclo, in turn, inhabits the mangrove region or Cidade Nova, where Campo dos Ciganos was also located. The extension of this open space comprised “from the sea to the slopes of Morro do Desterro (Santa Teresa), extending to the Mangue, it was the mouth of the sertão”.[xxiv] In the time shown in Memorias de um sargento de milicias, Cidade Nova was occupied by several brotherhoods “which brought together various trades, mulattoes, captive and freed blacks, who installed their chapels in that distant space, unassisted by collective equipment and devoid of hygiene and habitable conditions”.[xxv]

At a bordering point of the prosperous center and in an intermediate location between this and the impoverished Cidade Nova, there was Rua da Vala, currently Uruguaiana, where Vidinha's family house was located and where Leonardo attended the school, where Manuel Antônio de Almeida also lived. during childhood.[xxviii] At the time the novel was produced, the street concentrated the city's poor prostitution zone.[xxviii]

The narrator's sympathy for the dispossessed and native population layer can be observed in his way of representing Vidinha, one of the few characters in the novel who escapes frank caricature. Contrasting her with the tame Luisinha, the narrator's affection for her does not derive only from the young woman's charming sensuality, identified with her mixed origin. Unlike most of the characters, who have a certain mania, Vidinha's inclination only tempers her charm: each of her sentences was interrupted with “a prolonged, resounding laugh, and with a certain falling backwards, perhaps graceful if not was very affected” (p. 240). Represented as beautiful, intelligent and flirtatious, the young woman is an excellent singer of popular songs. When selecting and commenting on the songs from the girl's repertoire, the narrator avoids sweetening them, which goes against his criticism of the excesses of local color. The modinhas interpreted by Vidinha are sometimes just “insipid”, sometimes they enrapture listeners in general. Representative of the native woman of the country, poor and mestizo, she becomes an allegory of the precarious life restricted to this portion of the country's inhabitants.

In the set of male characters, dispossessed and free, the confrontation between the Portuguese and the Brazilian worker can be observed in the facilities for gaining employment and in their different types of occupation. Leonardo Pataca, when he disembarked from his trip to Portugal, soon had the help of fellow countrymen to rise from peddler to civil servant. Recurrently, the Portuguese d. Maria, the godmother, has the power to mediate the favors of some protector, usually the Portuguese lieutenant-colonel, for the benefit of the two Leonardos.

Alongside the Godfather, the allegory of the godfather is also part of his designation as “Godmother”. With the exception of the pardo Chico Juca and Teotônio (another excellent singer of modinhas, who speaks and “admirably” sings in a “black language”) who “vegetate without occupation”, Vidinha’s cousins ​​are employed in the factory and warehouse of articles warlike elements of the Army's Royal Arsenal.

Manuel Antônio de Almeida's social satire targets the effects of the country's socioeconomic system on his “little lives”. An inverse metaphor of what was then established as the “typical Brazilian character”, the mischievous boy[xxix] de Memorias de um sargento de milicias he becomes a malandro tailored to his experiences. Under the topic that social life corrupts, the action of the inhabitants and the entire local culture contribute in some way to Leonardo's vagrancy and foolish moral and educational formation. Family breakdown, paternal discretion and violence, the educational system, the police, the religious order and the action of members of the estate, such as the Lieutenant Colonel, in short, the constant experience within the system of favor and protection transform the poor citizen and native in the national version of the traditional picaro.

As he goes through these experiences, Leonardo develops and completes his training until, in adulthood, he becomes “a complete loafer, loafer-master, loafer-type” (p. 173). His story and that of his two fathers is, in short, the critical synthesis of a process of social ascension not only through trickery, like Padrinho, but, above all, through favor. Faced with the absence of the formal labor market, Vidigal's repression against alleged vagrants becomes seriously comical. From the perspective of the author, nationalist in his own way, liberal, abolitionist, antimonarchical and anticlerical, the system that institutes slavery and makes so-called free work unfeasible is the same one that represses the idleness of the free poor who live on its margins.

*Cilaine Alves Cunha is a professor of Brazilian literature at FFLCH-USP. She is the author, among other books, of The beautiful and the misshapen: Álvares de Azevedo and romantic irony (Edusp).

Modified version of the article “People and popular culture: Memoirs of a militia sergeant” published in Diadorim Magazine, v. 17, no. 1, 2015.



[I] On the proliferation of discourses on the subject “people”, published in newspapers and periodicals and by contemporary authors of Manuel Antônio de Almeida, cf. JAROUCHE, Mamede Mustafa. Under the empire of the letter: press and politics in the time of Memoirs of a militia sergeant. Doctoral thesis presented to the Department of Classical and Vernacular Letters of the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences of the University of São Paulo, 1997, p. 136-147.

[ii] See ORTIZ, Renato. Romantics and folklorists. Popular culture. São Paulo: Olho D'Água, s/d.; and also BURKE, Peter. Popular culture in the modern age🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1999.

[iii] ALMEIDA, Manuel Antonio de. Memorias de um sargento de milicias. Org., intro. and notes Mamede Mustafá Jarouche. São Paulo: Ateliê, 2000, p. 149.

[iv] ROUCHE, Max. “Introduction” in HERDER. Unite another philosophie de l'histoire. Paris: Aubier, Éditions Montaigne, undated, p. 12-13.

[v] See BURKE, Peter. Popular culture in the modern age, P. 32-33.

[vi] Idem.

[vii] On the lowered construction of Manuel Antônio de Almeida's characters, cf. GALVÃO, Walnice Nogueira Galvão. cats bag. Critical essays. São Paulo: Two Cities Bookstore, 1976, p. 27-33.

[viii] Cf. FRIEIRO, Eduardo. “From Lazarilho de Tormes to the son of Leonardo Pataca”, Criterion. Magazine of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Minas Gerais, Jan.-June, 1954, p. 71. Cf. Also. GONZALEZ, Mario. The Antihero Saga. São Paulo: Nova Alexandria, 1994, p. 286-287.

[ix] GOMES, Eugene. “Manuel Antônio de Almeida”, in: Aspects of the Brazilian novel. Salvador: Aguiar e Souza Ltda., 1958, p. 60.

[X] ANDRADE, Mario de. “Memoirs of a militia sergeant”, in: Aspects of Brazilian Literature. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1978, p. 129.

[xi] Idem.

[xii] CANDID, Antonio. Formation of Brazilian Literature, vol. II. São Paulo: Edusp, 1979, p. 217.

[xiii] ALMEIDA, Manuel Antonio de. “Inspirations of the cloister by Junqueira Freire (from Bahia)”. Chronicle of 18/06/1855, in: scattered works. Introduction, selection and notes Bernardo de Mendonça. Rio de Janeiro: Graphia Editorial, 1991, p. 46-47.

[xiv] MAN, Francisco de Sales Torres. The Libel of the People, by Timander. Org. Anfriso Fialho. Rio de Janeiro: Typography of the Constituent Assembly, 1885, p. 45-46.

[xv] Ditto, p. 67.

[xvi] CANDID, Antonio. “Dialectics of malandragem”, in: The speech and the city, P. 27. For a discussion of the indeterminacy of time in folktales, cf. GOTLIB, Nadia Battella. story theory. São Paulo: Ática, 1988. p. 17.

[xvii] RONCARI, Luiz. Brazilian literature: From Early Chroniclers to Late Romantics. São Paulo: Edusp, 2002, p. 549.

[xviii] BOSI, Alfredo. A concise history of Brazilian literature. São Paulo: Cultrix, 2006, p. 141.

[xx] JAROUCHE, Mamede Mustafa. Under the empire of the letter: press and politics in the time of Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant, p. 151.

[xx] SCHWARZ, Robert. To the winner the potatoes. São Paulo: Two Cities, 2000.

[xxx] TORRES MAN, Francisco Sales. The Libel of the People, P. 60-61.

[xxiii] ALMEIDA, Manuel Antonio de. Indigenous civilization. Two words to the author of “Organic Memorial”, (Chronicle of 13/12/1851), in: scattered works, op. cit., p. 7.

[xxiii] Ditto, p. 11.

[xxv] Cf. GERSON, Brazil. Stories from the streets of Rio. Rio de Janeiro: Livraria Brasiliana Editora, 1965, p. 116-17. Cf. also COARACY, Vivaldo. Memories of the city of Rio Antigo. Belo Horizonte: Itatiaia; São Paulo: Edusp, 1988, p. 353-354.

[xxiv] COARACY, Vivaldo. Memories of the city of Rio Antigo, P. 72.

[xxv] Same, same.

[xxviii] Cf. REBELLO, Marques. Life and work of Manuel Antônio de Almeida. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 2012, p. 27.

[xxviii] Cf. GERSON, Brazil. Stories from the streets of Rio, P. 124. Cf. also SOARES, Luís Carlos. The people of Cam in the capital of Brazil. Urban slavery in Rio de Janeiro in the XNUMXth century. Rio de Janeiro: 7Letras/Faperj, 2007, p. 177.

[xxix] For an analysis of the topic of the mischievous boy as a metaphor for “the people” in the nineteenth-century Brazilian cultural context, cf. JAROUCHE, Mamede Mustafa. Under the empire of the letter: press and politics in the time of Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant, p. 155.

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