The Horses of Platiplantus

Vasco Prado, ceramic sculpture with the Horse theme.


Commentary on the book by José J. Veiga

José J. Veiga covers the children's universe as intensely as Graciliano Ramos, Guimarães Rosa and Clarice Lispector. There, written by them, is the social portrait of our country in the treatment given to children, even in the stories with such particular narratives, related or not to the experiences of the authors.

In them we will find the child and the teenager starting their coexistence with the familiar world, nature, animals, violence, punishments, the initial responsibilities of homework and school, contact with death and with life, discovering different forms of space and expression. The expressiveness of the literature on José J. Veiga's childhood is in the nod to paths of hope precisely because it exposes aspects of violence and conflicts, caused predominantly by adults. As the boy narrator of “The factory behind the hill” says: “But hope, however small it may be, is a great force. A little bit of nothing is enough to give people a new soul.” There is also a strong presence of delicacy, such as the moving narrative about the child who has not yet reached degrees of responsibility, in “Roupa no coradouro”. In it, the boy fails to realize the seriousness of his mother's health, who continues to protect him and spare him from menial activities on the property.

In the book of stories The Horses of Platiplantus, published in 1959, there is a supremacy of the figure of the child, together with a narrative structure marked by the memorialistic trait, which could not, in this way, leave out the spaces inhabited by the characters who remember situations lived, but also situations of dreams and daydreams.

In “A Ilha dos Gatos Pingados”, the narrator, probably still a boy, not named, recalls an episode involving three other characters: Cedil, Tenisão and Camilinho. The narrative reveals, through the bias of remembrance and emphasis on memory, a story of friendship and resistance to external forces that is structured in the division of a territorial space: The island of the dripping cats, so named by them. This spatial context means a world apart, free from the control of adults, rules and injustices suffered and still corresponds to a kind of unique experience compared to other children in the locality.

In this environment, children are the conductors of their actions, they are free from the obligations imposed by the family or the school environment, but this does not mean a world without compromises and divisions of obligations, because the boys act on this space, transforming it from of collective work, without dissociating it from games. Which reminds us of the observations of Maurice Halbwachs, in the collective memory, in the chapter “Collective memory and space”: “When inserted in a part of the space, a group molds it to its image, but at the same time bends and adapts to material things that resist it. The group closes itself off in the context it built” (2003, p. 159).

For Silviano Santiago, in his essay “The realization of desire”, the boys, in “A Ilha dos Gatos Pingados”, want to escape community violence, and for that they explore and populate a space that distances itself from the divergences and obstacles common to the environment social coexistence of which they are a part. He also observes that the dramatic architecture of Veiga's tales builds on the proximity of divergent groups, one of which, the weakest, ends up suffering terrible reprimands as a result of the search for autonomy and freedom of action, as the boys are unable to make the island – a symbol of resistance to the community – endure in space and time.

The short story is characterized by the boy's narrative, emphasizing the figure of his friend Cedil, who has a mother and a sister, but suffers physical and psychological violence from an agent external to the family environment, Zoaldo, who is just this sister's boyfriend, always aggressive and who He shows his cruelty when he raffles off a firearm that he had taken from someone else in a fight.

It is in the figure of Cedil that the narrative explores not only individual angles referring to the life of this character, who suffers beatings and aggressions, but also the aspect of the child's vulnerability within this social space, since no one from the community interferes to put an end to the aggressions and punishments. . There is an experience of legitimizing brutality: mother, sister, neighbors, relatives and authorities do nothing for the boy.

In this way, the space of the house, so dear to Bachelard, in The poetics of space (2000) and in The poetics of reverie (2001), which means consolation, dream and acceptance, does not exist in Cedil's experience, to the point that he thinks about suicide, in one of the most touching passages of the narrative, thanks to the author's sensitivity in elaborating a dialogue that does not artificialize the understanding of the children about life and death.

After the conversation with the narrator of the story, the boy is left, then, no longer running away from home or the end of existence, but the occupation of a space isolated from the rest of the community, a space that becomes a consoling refuge, placing in evidence the work of children, the appreciation of their initiatives, without the interference and mediation of adult characters: “On the first day we planted the house's stakes, tied the beams and cut an armful of rod to braid the walls. Cedil wanted to make a wall anyway, with a branch of assa-peixe, just so he could sleep the first night. While he was sweeping the floor of the house very enthusiastic, I went out with Tenisão and we agreed that it was necessary to give up Cedil to escape impromptu; we first made a neat little house, with a loft and everything to sleep in, then he would move to it if he still had the inclination” (2015, p. 32).

“We made a little monjolo out of gameleira, it's easy to twist and pierce, it pissed for nothing all day, when we left we'd prop it up like a real monjolo. We made a light plant with a dam, a turbine house, a pole going up and down the hill, a small cup of insulator, wire and everything, we spent I think two spools of line” (2015, p. 33).

Regarding a kind of territorial demarcation exercised by certain groups of people, Halbwachs observes: “Each aspect, each detail of this place has a meaning that is only intelligible to the members of the group, because all parts of the space it occupied correspond to so many different aspects of the structure and life of its society” (2003, p. 160).

This consideration can be approximated to the secret experience of the boys in that space, because, united in a kind of fraternal society, they managed to deceive the families, the other adult members of the community and the other children, who could pose a risk to the secret of the island, as is evident in the figuration of the character Camilinho.

These first childhood relationships involve friendship, the social environment of coexistence with different personalities, the approximation of nature, the breaking of affective ties and the discoveries of bonds between human beings based on interests – aspects that are part of the formation of these boys and they represent the frustrations that will show a non-idealized childhood and prone to the interference of external factors: this is demonstrated by the outcome of the story experienced by the character Cedil, after Camilinho's betrayal, who reveals the island's secret to Estogildo, hostile and disloyal character, “who was constantly tripping up the others”: “And it didn't take long, it seems as if they were waiting for a trick. We didn't go there for a few days because Tenisão had a swollen finger with a pimple, it hurt a lot, we had to lance it, and toys without him were discouraging [...]. When we saw the smoke, we ran there, Cedil and I, Tenisão still couldn't. Everything was in shambles, the house, the factory, the poles pulled down, the little monjo overturned. Cedil wept with sobs, ran up and down showing the damage, crying out about the badness. I almost cried too just seeing his sadness. For us, the island was a toy, for him it was comfort” (2015, p. 35).

Remembering once again Halbwachs: “Space is a reality that lasts. It is to space, to our space – the space we occupy, through which we pass many times, to which we always have access and which, in any case, our imagination or our thought is capable of reconstructing at every moment – ​​that we must turn our attention, it is in it that our thought has to be fixed so that this or that category of memories reappears” (2003, p. 170).

In “A Ilha dos Gatos Pingados”, the reported memory is characterized in the figure of a character who is still a boy, but who has the right to speak, and reveals the strength of the memory that does not want to forget, that names and gives life again to those who did not have voice. As observed by Agostinho P. de Souza, in an interview with the author himself, collected in the book Behind the magical glance (PRADO, 1989), José J. Veiga captures the world of children's everyday life and multiplies the various folds of this space based on what is primitive in children: pretending. From this consideration it is possible to observe how small things acquire great proportion in the author's characters.

In this sense, in “A Ilha dos Gatos Pingados” we have a representation of space and its structuring in close relationship with the narrator, who has as a counterpoint in the narrative the places occupied by other children, by adults, by the family, by animals, by objects and the dreams themselves. The spaces inhabited by Veiga's characters transcend geographic boundaries, enabling a way of narrating that is attentive to the little things, to the strongholds, to the sensitive, happy and painful perceptions of childhood experience.

José J. Veiga's writing reflects a form of knowledge, regarding childhood, close to Jeanne Marie Gagnebin's thinking: “It [the experience] refers to the reflection of the adult who, when remembering the past, does not remember it as it really was. , but only through the prism projected onto it. This reflection on the past, seen through the present, discovers signs in lost childhood, signs that the present must decipher, paths and paths that it can resume, appeals to which it must respond, because, precisely, they did not come true, they were abandoned clues, tracks not traveled. In this sense, the memory of childhood is not idealization, but the realization of the forgotten or repressed possible. The experience of childhood is the experience of what could have been different, that is, a critical re-reading of the present of adult life” (1997, p. 181).

The way in which José J. Veiga presents the objects inserted in a space dominated by the vision of a child, in the story “Roupa no coradouro”, has a very peculiar aspect within the narrative structure, as the boy eager for freedom, who now has due to his father's business trip, he enters a kind of ecstasy and communion with everything around him. The tale begins with an unusual situation, as the father orders the boy to control the house and take care of his mother, who is sick. But in contrast to the disciplined family space desired by the father, the boy already dreams of what it will be like to inhabit this environment without the supervision of the paternal authority, and from the beginning of the story, he imagines inhabiting the house without having to give explanations.

The mother, as well as the father and the boy himself are not mentioned by name, unlike other characters that appear in the course of the plot. And this maternal figure is always working on household activities and maintaining the rural property, while the boy is not even capable of carrying out a message with responsibility, when she asks for it. And as it says in the narrative, "the mother asked, and the father ordered". In this way, the boy acts without any concern for the rules stipulated by his father, and continues in his adventures and games. He continues his days releasing stingrays, going fishing, advertising for a circus that appears in the city, and then entering the shows without paying, among other games described.

Sometimes the mother spoke in a delicate way that he shouldn't “abuse his father's absence”, and would change the subject right away so as not to seem authoritative, but the boy was really interested in being loose in the world. “Lying in bed, listening to my mother still doing one thing and another around the house, picking beans, grinding coffee for the morning, I thought I wasn't helping much, as my father had recommended, and I promised myself to change my life. But solving something lying down is easy, it doesn't take any work, practicing later is what is difficult, we leave it for later and never decide to start” (2015, p. 125).

Time for this character is very close to what Maurice Halbwachs comments in the chapter “Collective memory and time”, when he talks about emotions. The protagonist of “Roupa no coradouro” intensely emphasizes his experiences, games, the nature he observes, the description of the people who live with him and his family, as well as those who surround this space. In a story with a strong presence of memory, remembrance, the figure of the protagonist ends up revealing a world that still does not know the social division of time, as observed by Halbwachs. This childlike manner reveals an existence that is not yet implied in predetermined settings and durations. The boy still has no idea that very soon he will have a life conditioned to the time in which something is produced, by the strength of work, by profit and by accumulation. This is what will be well represented at the end of the narrative, with the death of the mother and the appearance of the maternal uncle, Lourenço, owner and entrepreneur, who will propose a partnership to the widowed brother-in-law.

Before that, with the arrival of the circus, the boy is increasingly abandoning his household chores. Despite recognizing that he does not properly help his mother, he cannot resist the call of the streets and playing with the other children. He even mitigates the guilt a little by inviting his mother to go to the circus, proposing the sale of his own pet chicken to buy her a ticket, which he promptly refuses due to other household expenses, recognizing, however, the kindness of the memory of the son, willing to get rid of a pet to give him a treat.

But not even after the circus leaves the city does he change his attitude, and soon after, his mother is bedridden, being assisted by Ana Bessa, a kind and helpful figure, but who does not spare him from good reprimands for the way she behaves. behaving. It is interesting to highlight in the narrative the shock the boy feels when he is called to attention by a person who is not part of his family. This is a striking trait in the stories in The Horses of Platiplantus, children being warned and attacked by individuals who are not part of their family nucleus.

It is worth mentioning that this is the first moment in which the private family space begins to be occupied due to the mother's illness and the character's immaturity to take care of her. Staying in the space of the house is no longer an option, but a necessity. And he shows discomfort when he sees his mother's things being touched by others. Which brings us back to Halbwachs' reflections on how we deal with objects, which end up representing a guarantee, a kind of stability and recognition of our space. These objects bring our personal marks, our personality.

The boy cannot accept the invasion of his home space: “I didn't leave the house that day or the next. Little by little, the house was filling up with people, more women, some with small children, others with already grown-up children, who kept teasing me to play. Women I knew by sight and found unfriendly fussed in our kitchen, made porridge for the children in Mother's bowls, or coffee for the visitors” (2015, p. 130).

Before the mother's health deteriorated, the narrative highlighted objects outside the domestic axis, as if everything within the family space meant dealing with tasks and working with the mother. It is only when the boy stays at home for a longer time that the pots in the kitchen, the stove, the veranda of the house are highlighted, and, more than once, the canasta in his mother's room is remembered.

The gradual way in which he becomes aware of the seriousness of his mother's condition is woven together with feelings of guilt and incomprehension in the face of what is happening, because for him the mother could not die, so much so that when he went to call the doctor, the Ana Bessa's request, it still takes a long time to make the call for help, as she wastes time seeing a monkey that appeared next to its owner at a door of the city's store, and, as a consequence, she no longer finds the doctor to provide assistance urgent.

Soon after, strange people start to arrive at the house, messing with things, praying, making food, talking and moving around the environment that until recently was occupied only by the protagonist of the story and his mother. There are also other children who play and laugh around the space, not realizing the imminence of death among them. This kind of invasion is painful for the boy. At that moment, Dona Ana Bessa is careful with him, realizes his fragility and treats him with the same affection as before. But when the priest arrives at the residence with the prayer book to attend to the mother, helplessness emerges in the child, who, in a very desperate way, realizes the seriousness of the situation.

The preparation of the physical space of the house to receive death, the sudden arrival of the father, the vision that the boy has of the mother delirious before passing away, end the narrative that, from the beginning, is woven in the delicacy of the details of the materiality of things as a whole. with the child's sensations when experiencing the spaces of the place where he lives, while dreaming of other realities for himself. Differently from “A Ilha dos Gatos Pingados”, in which the boys learn to live by sharing their experiences, in “Roupa no coradouro”, what emerges is the experience of the lonely child, even when he is accompanied in games and in space. familiar. Memory brings out the individual condition that is divided between intimate feeling and what can be expressed in front of the community.

The short story ends with the vision of the boy in front of his mother's clothes forgotten in the courtyard. Upon noticing these pieces laid out on the grass, he reactivates the maternal existence through memory, remembering the favorite garment she wore on hot days, characterizing one of the frequent aspects in José J. Veiga's narratives: real and everyday spaces being primordial paths to the space of imagination. The presence of the child in these narratives portrays a time that does not run out, thanks to one of the predominant child traits in the author's work, and extensive to the human condition: the vocation to contest.

*Mona Lisa Bezerra Teixeira holds a PhD from the Department of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at USP and author of The rough dew by Clarice Lispector (Ed. Idea).

Text presented at the Symposium Literature, space and memory, ABRALIC, Rio de Janeiro, 2017.


VEIGA, Jose J. The Horses of Platiplantus. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2015, 160 pages.


BACHELARD, Gaston. Home and Universe. In: ______. The poetics of space. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2000.

______. The poetics of reverie. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2001.

GAGNEBIN, Jeanne Marie. Memory, history and testimony. In: ______. remember forget write. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2006.

HALBWACHS, Maurice. The collective memory. São Paulo: Centauro, 2003.

PRADO, Antonio Arnoni (org.). Behind the magical glance. A conversation with José J. Veiga. Campinas: Editora da UNICAMP, 1989.

SANTIAGO, Silviano. The fulfillment of desire. In: VEIGA, José J. Os platiplantus horses🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2015.

VEIGA, José J. The island of dripping cats; Clothes in the coradouro. In: ______. The Horses of Platiplantus🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2015.

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