Graciliano Ramos and The Malavoglia

George Grosz, "The Convict" Monteur John Heartfield After Franz Jung's Attempt to Get Him Up on His Feet ("Der Sträfling" Monteur John Heartfield nach Franz Jungs Versuch ihn auf die Beine zu stellen), 1920


The presence of Giovanni Verga's novel in Graciliano's work

Vague but constant, the biobibliographical references to Graciliano Ramos' practice with the Italian language are always suggestive. Two passages on this topic are worth mentioning: one, the hilarious chronicle by Graciliano (1929; 1976), “Professores improvisados”, from 1929, in which he tells, in the manner of “O homem que saber javanês”, by Lima Barreto (2010) , how he began, with lucrative intentions, to teach Italian in his community, adding “oni” and “ini” to the end of the words; the other, seriously, the obituary in which Otto Maria Carpeaux (1953) declares that Graciliano learned Italian in order to read the Divine Comedy and observes the affinity of the Alagoan with the “exile”, with the “parole di dolore, accenti d'ira” heard in the circles of hell.

Without any reference in Graciliano's documentation, another affinity, however, can be studied: the debt of expression and articulation of his work with Giovanni Verga. A palpable influence on Graciliano can be seen in the relationship between S. Bernardo and the Mast-don Gesualdo, a pioneer of self-made man. But the intertextual relations of Graciliano, a voracious reader from the countryside lost in the northeastern backlands, are very rich. The denial that Graciliano professes in “Alguns insignificant types”, when talking about Paulo Honório's creation, confirms the author's awareness of influences, always defensive with his ironic modesty: “Perhaps it would be useful for me to state that important writers, naturally foreigners, , had induced me to manufacture a soap opera. It would be a lie: my insufficient reading was leaving the last century. In the absence of anything better, there was a colonel at hand, an interesting individual, although he was not supported by masters with difficult names” (RAMOS, 1980, p. 195).

But even if the denial could be confession, and if there was a primary impulse of Mast-don Gesualdo for the inspiration of his novel, it is necessary, however, to observe the composite of literature that S. Bernardo absorbed and added to the body of his training, among others, fundamentally Faust, o communist manifesto, or Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë (cf. PAIVA, 2019).

If we continue with the thematic aspect, it can be seen that a favorable point for this survey is given in the preface of the Sicilian author to The Malavoglia: the project of approaching the classes announced there resonates in the distribution of approaches that Graciliano operated in his novels. In the aforementioned chronicle “Some unimportant types”, originally published in the magazine Dom Casmurro (RAMOS, 1939) and posthumously included in the collection Crooked lines, from 1962, Graciliano says, regarding the “bunch” of his characters, that it is “possible that they are nothing but pieces of myself and that the tramp, the murderous colonel, the employee and the bitch do not exist” (RAMOS, 1980, p. 196). In this way, there is the perception that a humanity divided into classes only arrives, between oppressors and oppressed, at the equitable distribution of the misery of life – a perception, moreover, very frequent in Marxist thought.

Graciliano's modernity led the construction of his work under the conceptualization of an independent and reflective Marxism in the search for understanding of his own northeastern reality, which distributed the tragedy between the "formation of the bourgeois", in Paulo Honório, the condition "screw" of the petty-bourgeois Luís da Silva, and the expectation of the revolutionary “proletarianization” of the helpless sertanejos pushed to the big city. It was this modernity, painfully comprehensive from the angle of historical materialism, that assimilated and surpassed Giovanni Verga's proposal of verism, as the Italian author presented in his preface to The Malavoglia – the project for the Ciclo dei Vinti (The Vanquished), later abandoned midway: “The Malavoglia, Master Dom Gesualdo, Duchess of Leyra: Deputy Scipioni: luxury man they are the same losers that the current deposited on the bank, after having dragged and drowned them, each one with the stigmata of his sin, which should have been the shining of his virtue” (VERGA, 2010, p. 9).

Graciliano's critical perspective was able to distribute human tragedy more consistently, equated with class struggle: from top to bottom, it reached the publication of his implicit project, fully completed, with S. Bernardo (1934) Anguish (1936) and Dried lives (1938)

But there are more subtle and significant aspects in Verga's presumed influence, which are at the same time – due to the refined and definitive aesthetic conquest of his expression – more indirect and diffuse, in relation to his presence as a formative source of all modern literature, mainly in relation to what Leo Spitzer qualified with the title “L'originalità della narrazione nei Reluctantly” (1956). In this essay, Spitzer starts from the statements of another critic to discuss his analysis and re-propose the omnipresence of the free indirect speech em The Malavoglia, which would characterize the narrative voice of this work as “choral”. The essay, transformed into the cornerstone of his critical fortune, adds to other aspects that have been stereotyped as common sense devoted to the approach to the novel.

Within this framework, it is common to mention the program of “impersonality” of verismo, placed as an uncontested fact of its making, which thus would have suppressed from the Reluctantly the voice of the narrator, in search of the most rigorous objectivity and distance. Reading the novel with a more naive spirit, disarmed of those critical stereotypes that crystallize its reception, one realizes that, in fact, the author's intention to omit the narrator's ponderous and cultured tone has the reverse effect of surrendering to the voice of the humble, in a backfire that completely annuls the objectivity and distance that was intended, thanks to the solidarity and empathy with the represented people to which it gives voice.

This is what Benedetto Croce realized from the start, when he commented with good-natured irony on the neophyte pretensions of verismo in its impossible proposition of “impersonality”, a clear mistake, since “art is always personal” (CROCE, 1922, p. 18) . But – the critic points out – being useful to arouse more scrupulousness in the aesthetic construction, the mistake of the verist proposal was found in Verga by the author's approach to his Sicilian origins, portrayed with affection, in the tasty expressiveness of the popular language that he mimics. Thus, in one of the painful final scenes of I Malavoglia, when saying goodbye to the house that the youngest brother Alessi had recovered, the “house of the medlar tree”, the nest of all the misfortunes suffered by the innocent and kind family, the “voice” of the eldest grandson of old 'Ntoni looks, for a long time, at all that lost world of yours, with moist eyes. Quoting the passage, Croce exclaims: “Here is how the 'impersonality' of Giovanni Verga is made, and because it is made that way, we love his work” (1922, p. 30).[1]

The concept of parody can be applied to the mimetic condition of this representation, mainly from Tynianov, as Ana Paula Freitas de Andrade saw when diagnosing the characterization of “impersonality”, which Verga seeks to stage, with the procedures of parody and stylization (ANDRADE , 2006, p. 12) – which ultimately reveals a circumvention of the programmatic impositions of naturalism-verism, operated by the prestidigitation of an innovative impersonal narrator.

Such innovation formalized in the “world-proverb” of the Reluctantly has thus been evaluated by Antonio Candido the complexity of the composition of his language, which the critic calls “the voice invented by Verga”: “It brings the narrator closer to the character, thanks to the intimacy provided by a kind of extension of the free indirect style, whose virtues usually appear interspersed among the other modalities, but here they are so to speak permanent (what Zola had done in L'assommoir, I think for the first time in the history of literature). Hence the homogeneity, which overcomes the author-character dichotomy, typical of most regionalisms, and raises a powerful sense of reality, within the consciously adopted linguistic artifice” (1998, p. 109).

Antonio Candido refutes the blame, attributed to Naturalism, of being routine and not very innovative, remembering how Zola's “relentless descriptivism” was bequeathed to Joyce's technique or to the objectualism of nouveau roman: “The stylistic solution of L'assommoir, for example, is in itself a revolution, which represents the first irreversible step towards incorporating spoken language into the style of fiction, by creating a narrative voice that, although acting in the third person and representing the author, is not distinguished qualitatively from that of the characters, chosen from another social sphere. This was made possible in part by the use of free indirect style; but it goes further, insofar as it is a kind of general suppression of the difference in tonality between the direct and the indirect” (1998, p. 105-106).

Although the critic emphatically emphasizes the importance of Zola and his possible influence on Verga, it is important to remember the specificity of “originality"Of The Malavoglia, so that one can demarcate in the Italian work its pre-eminence in the flow of intertextual currents of formation of modern literature in the 1988th century, despite its reception having gone through complex processes, as indicated by Alfredo Bosi in “Verga vivo” (XNUMX): a presence perhaps little noticed due to the peripheral situation in opposition to the prestige of French literature. However, Spitzer points out: “The 'free' or 'choral' indirect speech of Reluctantly, it should be noted, is different from that of Zola, even though he was the unrivaled master of the description of the collectivity […]; the writer allows himself to 'live' (erleben) the feelings of these groups, leaving the reader in suspense as to the reality of what his 'choruses' say, but free indirect discourse [erlebte network] Zola's choral remains reserved for certain moments of the frenetic or hysterical effusion of the people, in which the boundaries between objective narration and subjective speech are destroyed, they do not penetrate the author's entire narration (SPITZER, 1956, p. 49).

Add to this the originality of the formal solution found by Verga, the common place, repetition and the saying, which Antonio Candido points out as essentially articulating elements of that narrative, twinned by the same axis of correlated meaning, which works as a “binding” in an architectural sense, because, in addition to free indirect discourse – seen by the critic as a “homogenizing indirect style” – these are semantically unified elements that “tie the narrative to language, due to the popular, closed and recurrent world” (1998, p. 110). Hence, it is regrettable, as a theoretical loss, that Lukács, in The Theory of the Romance, have not highlighted The Malavoglia as an exemplary objectification of the “transcendental banishment” in the novelistic form of modernity, insofar as it could oppose these elements, inversely proportional, to the typical repetitions of Homeric formulas, in the way in which these are articulated with reassuring poetic beauty to the cohesive and balanced world of the epic . Likewise, Walter Benjamin, in “The narrator” (1985), could have commented on the situation of the “proverb” in this context in which the qualification of “closed”, contrary to the welcoming meaning of the epic and the world of the oral narrator, it means helplessness and no way out, where the ancestry of proverbial wisdom is illusion, deceit and stereotypical view.

Certainly following another traditional aspect of the critical appreciation of The Malavoglia and verism, that is, the fatalism as a result of the exemption that impersonality and distance entail, Antonio Candido ends his analysis by relating language and society to the sense of paralysis that the novel establishes: “Suffocation, therefore, in every way, translated by a petrified code” (CANDIDO, 1998, p. 122). As for the “merely photographic” verism, under a fatalistic angle, in which the narrator exempts himself from interference, Ivo Barroso's caveat to Gramsci's assessment is relevant: “This view led Gramsci to denounce Verga's 'an attitude of cold scientific impassivity' , which was limited to reporting without proposing solutions or changes. But the strength of his style, the sharp language of his dialogues, the agile brushstrokes with which he portrays the psychology of his characters make his short stories a document of social awareness, a sample of the circumstances in which the behavior of the disinherited and needy of society develops. province, asphyxiated by fatalism and religious constraints” (BARROSO, 2001).

This is what Candido recognizes, focusing on the formal aspect: “Reflecting on the style of The Malavoglia or certain exceptionally well-made stories, such as 'Rosso Malpelo', we cannot help feeling what is viscerally revolutionary in this suppression of barriers, in this approach to the people through the profound rhythm of their life, which is speech. The stylistic invention functions as a social leveling, in such a way that, even without any political allusion, and even without a clear intention of suggesting it, the novelist effects a kind of vast egalitarianization” (1998, p. 110).

Therefore, it is reasonable to prove in Verga and, mainly, in its The Malavoglia a fundamental seed of the modern narrative of the 1988th century, from which to consider the underlying dialogical relationship that Brazilian writers like Graciliano Ramos and Guimarães Rosa established with the Italian work. Thus, to think about such relationships, we can use the sensitivity of perception, corresponding to Spitzer's refinement, which Alfredo Bosi (XNUMX) presents with the opposition between Rosa and Graciliano, qualified by the critic with the pendular opposites of Heaven Hell. Graciliano's critical realism observes the difference in condition between the narrator and his underprivileged Dried lives, whose via crucis follows the historical materialism of the atheist angel with anguished expectation, unlike Guimarães Rosa, who empathically surrenders to the religiosity of popular culture: “The author [Graciliano] brings with him a knowledge that his critical conception of society does not see why repress. From there comes the possibility of making judgments about the behavior of the cowboy, judgments that would be unfeasible, for example, from the perspective of Guimarães Rosa, whose dealings with sertaneja sources are carried out on the level of identification and empathy” (BOSI, 1988, p. 14).

Thus, to the “corality” of Verga's free indirect discourse and its alleged “impersonality”, Rosa responds with full adherence to popular language, which the writer elevates to the height of a highly sophisticated literary stylization, in a symbiosis of “listening work”. in which the silent narrator fully delivers the indent of the speech directly to Riobaldo's voice in Great hinterland: footpaths. And, in his short stories, as Bosi reveals, Guimarães Rosa restores the credibility of the proverb as an experience rooted in the popular soul, endorsing its “providential” hope of the type “God is slow but does not fail”, due “not so much to a mysterious favor of chance as for the deep will, gestated in the heart of the creatures that wait” (BOSI, 1988, p. 25).

As for Graciliano Ramos, the atheist angel of history probes closely (see the film the wings of desire, 1987, by Wim Wenders) the emigrants from Dried lives through indirect discourse, responding to Verga’s “exemption”, with his critical affliction aware of the differences, which fraternally places, among the naive hopes of the underprivileged, the doubt of a conditional future time: “On one side, arm yourself a tactic of approximation with the mind of the sertanejo, because it is Fabiano's desires that are projected here. But, on the other hand, the conditional or potential mode (and not the simple future of the present) registers the doubt with which the narrator's vision works the cowboy's thought. He would rise, he would return, he would stay… The near becomes far. Proximity to the theme and distance from the narrative focus to the character's consciousness combine to shape Graciliano's critical realism” (BOSI, 1988, p. 11).

Fraternal, but without giving his voice to the “corality” of his helpless and silent people, Graciliano, however, presents a sliver of identity, perceived by the sensitive reading of Alfredo Bosi in the passage where the narrator of Dried lives presents Fabiano as someone who “admired the long and difficult words of the people of the city, tried to reproduce some, in vain, but knew that they were useless, and perhaps dangerous”: “I think of the strength of this but knew, where the character's reasons and the narrator's historical criticism converge. It is a shared certainty, it is a political truth that both have conquered. The cowboy Fabiano knew, as did I, the nonconformist writer, I also know” (BOSI, 1988, 14).

*Marcos Falchero Falleiros is a retired professor at the Department of Letters at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte


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[1] Excerpts from foreign language editions cited in this text are translated into Portuguese

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