crooked plow

Image: Lucio Fontana


Considerations on the novel by Itamar Vieira Júnior


crooked plow, by Itamar Vieira Júnior, a little-known writer until 2018,[I] received consecration with the Leya Awards (in 2018) and Jabuti (in 2020). From the first readings, critics and audiences alike welcomed it with enthusiasm. The editorial success is due to several reasons: the novel raises the discussion about identity issues (whether of quilombola communities and the cultural value of the ancestral beliefs of traditional communities, or of feminism, by conducting the narrative by historically silenced black female voices that assume the role of recovering the memory of the community); re-elaborates the theme of regional literature, with a high degree of language stylization that mixes high vocabulary with the local term,[ii] takes up the theme of land and narrates the atrocities committed against workers (descendants of slaves), as well as the struggle for rights and social transformations undertaken by members of the Água Negra community, which suggests the defense of human rights.

Although all these traits are present in the novel, the study of how to crooked plow as a result of a reading about the Brazilian historical-social process and what is presented as an image of our present. It remains to investigate in the formal configuration the tension between authorial conceptions (which are deduced from the novel) and what literary figuration reveals about aspects of the current political and social imagination – even beyond the perspective of Itamar Vieira Júnior.

On a thematic level, the favorable reception values, in the novel, the resumption of the history of slavery and the transformation of the slave into a semi-servile worker, without salary or other minimum rights, and the struggle of parts of this population to conquer rights. With this, the novel becomes valued for being an aesthetic-political instrument for denouncing forms of work similar to slavery in Brazil today, as well as for claiming recognition, by the State, of these traditional communities as subjects of law. .[iii]

The novel covers a wide historical arc that goes from the times of slavery, remembered by the characters, to the present day, establishing continuities and differences in the mechanisms of oppression, which is always present. The narration sometimes takes on a certain didactic tone, which does not seem to have been commented on by critics. It is true that the plot seeks to legitimize this tone for internal reasons, as part of the quilombolas are unaware of their own history and identity.[iv] Thus, the explanations about the history of the origin of this population when narrated by Belonísia (in Part II of the novel) are integrated with the remembrance of what she learned from Zeca Chapéu Grande and what Bibiana and Severo taught the residents, so that it does not sound artificial.

But, in Part III of the novel, under the voice of Santa Rita Pescadeira, the history of slavery is passed on as a testimony of the enchanted woman regarding the brutalities against black people and especially against women (cf. p. 207). Here, the author seems to make use of an artifice, when the narrative voice implicitly addresses a specific reader (the well-thinking public, relatively enlightened about Brazilian history, which aspires to a rule of law). These separate reports show that crooked plow seeks, once again, to “reveal Brazil to Brazilians” (literate, urban, civilized), which had been the vocation of the novel since the 4th century. However, showing the permanence of “colonial” iniquities in a supposedly modern Brazil (the “Brazil painfully stranded in its own slave past”, as the XNUMXth cover of the Toda edition says) is, for a certain circle of readers, a recognition (and not “revelation”) of what social theory has been investigating for decades.

This is because today explanations about the permanence of backwardness in the modern have become routinized, either through a certain reading of the Brazilian critical tradition, or through some assimilation of international theories (especially on colonialism). This does not mean that what these theories claim is no longer based on Brazilian reality, but the expectations to which they were linked are no longer plausible: the future does not lie in progress with technological-industrial growth and urbanization, nor in the organization and traditional mobilization of the working class, nor in the universalization of rights by the capitalist State.[v]

From this point of view, the novel presents elements that indicate the blocking of the universalization of rights by the action of the State, with the maintenance of legal and paralegal mechanisms to prevent the action of combative leaders.[vi] Maybe that way you can understand why crooked plow it makes use of the magical resolution with the revenge carried out by the enchanted one. Such a solution, in short, points to the insufficiency of traditional forms of struggle and works as an impetus for the invention of new forms that the literary imagination figures in its own terms. This is the novelty of crooked plow, as we will try to demonstrate.

The link between the present and the historical past as interpreted by the Brazilian critical tradition appears refracted in the family history of Bibiana and Belonísia. The father, José Alcino, Zeca Chapéu Grande, is a descendant of slaves and former slaves who are recruited by landowners in miserable conditions: living huddled together in barracks, without the right to own a house or plant crops (p. 41). Donana, the sisters' grandmother, was born and lives on the Caxangá Farm, at a time when the workers could already build their mud houses. Zeca Chapéu Grande, one of his eleven children, still in Caxangá, goes crazy or is “enchanted”, as the two versions of his unwillingness to work and his disappearance tell. He wanders through the woods and, when he finds the Água Negra farm, belonging to the Peixoto family, he “asks for an address”, offering work in exchange for a place to stay and being able to “plant a garden” for his own livelihood (p. 185). He manages to settle there, start a family and look for his mother. With Salustiana, his wife, he has daughters Bibiana, Belonísia, Domingas, and son Zezé.

The living conditions of Água Negra workers remain the same as they were when Zeca was born, around 1918, and have remained so for a long time (at least until the 1980s). The servile mentality of Zeca and the other workers does not even call into question the conditions that are imposed on them: the houses have to be made of clay (never masonry, as this, for the bosses, could represent the risk of demarcating the time of presence of the families on the land and thus give them the right of usucaption, p. 41), and planting fields is only allowed for their own use, although sometimes the produce from the garden is taken by the boss and the manager of the farm, without the workers being able to prevent plundering or oppose it, because “the land is theirs” (p. 45).

For many years, life in Água Negra is not entirely crossed by merchandise. The community lives only on what it produces for itself in the fields from which it derives its means of survival, or with what nature gives it, fish and fruits. They feel satisfied with the possibility of subsistence “granted” by the landowners, and do not seem to have aspirations beyond that; the salary link is not even considered as a possibility, in an isolated region, relatively far from the city and dominated by the tradition of the colonels.[vii] Even in times of drought or flood, when the means of subsistence were scarce, “they ate what was left over” (p. 246). Residents know that, outside the farm, money is necessary (“To have anything [in the city] you needed money, anything. relatively free from bondage to money.

Over the years, however, the purchase of goods becomes a means of diversifying the restricted diet; for this reason, and already at the time when Belonísia and Bibiana are children, they go to the city fair, on the sly (p. 45), to sell what they extract from nature or manufacture (buriti pulp and palm oil) and thus obtain the money they need to buy groceries; when the longer drought compromises the production of the swidden, this becomes essential to meet food needs (p. 85).



Zeca Chapéu Grande is the representation of the worker who accepts the semi-servile condition without questioning it. He is respected by neighbors and sons of saints, due to his activities in Jarês[viii] and as a healer. His bosses and Sutério, the manager of Água Negra, also respect him for being a tireless worker, doing everything that is asked of him, including bringing new workers to the farm and mitigating conflicts between them and between residents and owners (p. 53- 54).

Its jarês are recognized by the community on the farm and in other regions, as well as by powerful whites. When Zeca Chapéu Grande cures the mayor's son, he demands the fulfillment of the promise that the city will hire a teacher to teach literacy to children in the community (p. 65).

Zeca's story is told by his daughters Bibiana and Belonísia, in fragments that gradually build up his figure as a hard-working man who, grateful for the welcome on the farm when he was unable to find a place to stay and had only his work force to offer, did not even confront it allowed no one to affront those who had welcomed him: the Peixoto, owners of Água Negra, which existed since 1932, on land obtained by the family at the time of the sesmarias. “Questioning ownership of the farm's land would be an ingratitude gesture” (p. 196). With his conciliatory attitudes, Zeca manages to prevent “greater injustices than those that already existed” (p. 196).

This is the life that seems frozen in time. In the historical arc of the novel, the present continues the era of slavery in the forms of semi-servile work and also in the cohesion founded on traditional sociability.

In the narratives of Bibiana (“Fio de corte”) and Belonísia (“Torto arado”), parts I and II of the novel, the history of the community from ancient times, which is being forgotten, is recovered in fragments and gradually composes the unit of the memory of these people. However, the continuity of tradition is opposed by the changes that occur mainly from the 1980s onwards. The sale of the farm, due to the disinterest of the heirs and the perception by Peixoto that there is progress in terms of workers' rights (“The Peixoto family heirs got old, and their children and grandchildren did not want to continue with the Água Negra property. The older ones knew us, but the younger ones didn't even know who we were, although they had no doubt that it was a problem for their business ”, p.176), brings changes in the living conditions of the community and in relations with the new owner.

Although the community continues to live on the farm, the patriarchal ties and favor relationships that sustained them are partly replaced by new forms of subjection. Salomão, the new owner, initially presents himself as a benefactor, proudly saying that nothing would change and that he had nothing against the blacks from whom he himself was descended (p. 210). However, he soon forbids the burial of the dead in the community's cemetery, Viração, citing environmental reasons (p. 179); to build his house, however, he cuts down buritis and palm trees, which, in addition to being part of the region's biome, are the source of production that the community sells (p. 211). It modernizes labor relations, with the institution of a wage regime. But, when Salomão installs the food shed, the residents there have to “buy” their supplies and, thus, not only do they never receive a salary in cash, but they also get into debt and are forced to remain on the farm (p. 197). The changes that this brings to the community are indexes of a historical process that, continuing the subjection of the worker, bring new forms of domination and oppression.[ix]



In a symbolic way, the division of the novel with Bibiana's and Belonísia's narratives shows – with a certain amount of mystery – that a change begins to occur in the family, with the rupture of something. The sisters, together, commit a transgressive act, going through the suitcase that their grandmother, Donana, had been carrying with her for many years and seemed to be hiding some secret. They discover a knife with an ivory handle and a shining blade, which enchants them. They want to taste the knife. Both are injured and it is Belonisia who has her tongue amputated (which is only clarified in the final lines of Part I)[X]. What used to be a usual fraternity, with childish fights and disputes, becomes almost symbiosis.

“We would be the same”, says Bibiana (p. 23), who starts to speak for Belonísia, and Belonísia expresses herself through gestures and expressions that Bibiana learns to translate. The knife then becomes a symbol of misfortune in Zeca's family and of the mystery of an unknown crime committed by Donana in former times. Horrified by what happened to her granddaughters, she takes the “evil” to the river (“Donana returned with the hem of her skirt wet. She said she had gone to the riverside to leave the evil there. I understood by 'evil' a knife with a handle of ivory”, p. 25).

The union of the sisters, however, begins to break up with the arrival of Salustiana's brother, uncle Servó, and his family, who settle in Água Negra as workers. One of their sons, Severo, attracts the attention of the two sisters and a conflict begins between them.[xi]. Breaking with established customs, Severo wants to leave the farm to study and have his own land. Bibiana recalls that “I had never met anyone who told me that a life beyond the farm was possible” (p. 73). She is already pregnant by him, she runs away with Severus, despite feeling that she is betraying her parents.

The rupture of the symbiosis between the sisters, narrated in the first two parts of the novel, marks the two paths that the plot takes, which show different possibilities of action in the Água Negra community.

Bibiana takes a progressive path, in which formal education (supplementary courses and teaching in the city) and political awareness lead her to militancy. Severo, her political mentor, believed that education in the city would allow him to change his life. When she returns to Água Negra, she kept in touch with “the people who taught her things, about the precariousness of work, about the suffering of the people of the countryside” (p. 156)[xii]. Instruction, thus, was articulated to its politicization.

In Água Negra, Severo mobilizes the community to create an Association of Rural Workers; Bibiana teaches on the farm and, with enthusiasm, teaches the children the history of the oppression of her people, the black people, since slavery.

Belonísia, on the other hand, has no interest in studies (because, when she has classes with D. Lurdes, at the time of the military dictatorship, the teacher, who praised the bandeirante heroes and later the military, taught that Brazil was blessed, p. 97 ), follows the path of his father, keeping alive the traditional knowledge: the cultivation of the land and the knowledge of nature: “With Zeca Chapéu Grande, I went deep into the forest on the way back and forth, and I learned about herbs and roots. He learned about the clouds, when there would be rain or not, about the secret changes that the sky and the earth were going through” (p. 99).

The silence she's been condemned to doesn't stop her from trying to talk when she's alone. The first time she takes a risk, as a child, she chooses the word “plough”, as it associates with her father's work, with that plow that is “trunk and old”, as he said (p. 127). But the unrecognizable sounds it emits were a “crooked, deformed plow that penetrated the earth in such a way as to leave it infertile, destroyed, torn apart”. From then on, she only dares to speak when she is alone. At these moments, she does not shy away from saying unspeakable words, “that would make [m] many run, fearing the virulence of a tongue”. The rancor-laden words “were screamed by my ancestors, by Donana, by my mother, by the grandmothers I never met, and who came to me to repeat them with the horror of my sounds” (p. 128).

Belonísia's path, therefore, is guided by the value given to working with the land, where the history of suffering and the ancestral beliefs of its people are rooted. His refusal of “progressive” forms of school instruction has a counterpart in the resumption of the memory of the family and the community. This journey also leads her to act against the oppression and male violence of her partner (Tobias) and the men around her (Aparecido, Maria Cabocla's husband who, drunk, beats her).

These two paths meet again when Bibiana and Severo return to Água Negra. Gradually, the distance between the sisters is overcome, although the acts of one and the other are different. Bibiana acts in the formation of children and unconditional support for Severo's militancy; Belonísia, as a continuation of paternal wisdom and as a figure who, when narrating, preserves the memory of what happened, in the remote past and in the near past.

Severo's life and death are narrated by Belonísia. She recalls that he told the workers that the ownership of the land by the Peixoto family dates back to the colonization period, when the native inhabitants were expelled or subjected to slave labor. In his speeches to the residents, Severo recomposed the history of Brazil from the perspective of the dispossessed: [He told] “That a white colonizer arrived and received the gift of the kingdom. Another white man arrived with a first and last name and they divided everything between them. The Indians were being pushed away, killed, or forced to work for these landowners. Then the blacks arrived, from far away, to work in the place of the Indians. Our people, who did not know the way back to their land, stayed behind. When the farms stopped producing because the owners were old and the children were no longer interested in field work, because they earned more money as doctors in the city, and they sought us out by surrounding land at the ends of the farm, we said that we were Indians. because we knew that, even if it was not respected, there was a law that prohibited taking land from an indigenous person” (p. 176-177).

Severo's work brings changes in the community, starting with the fact that he teaches them to recognize themselves as quilombola, which gives workers the feeling of belonging to an ethnic identity. In his speeches to the residents, he insists that they are dispossessed, that they are deprived of the rights that are recognized for traditional communities[xiii]).

With the influence of Severo's militancy with the residents of Água Negra, the moral order established by Zeca Chapéu Grande split, for whom Severo's attitude and actions were considered ingratitude towards those who had given them shelter (p. 196). ). Zezé, Belonísia and Bibiana's younger brother, accompanies Severo in his efforts to clarify and organize the residents. But both don't talk about it with Zeca, so as not to disrespect him and what he represented, in earlier times, in the life of the community.



The mentality that had dominated in Água Negra for decades begins to change: subservience is giving way to awareness of rights. Severo tells the community that work didn't bring them ownership of anything, except the shallow grave in the cemetery. That the right to compensation was only fulfilled after many delays and bureaucratic demands. That there was no salary. That, after the change of owners of the farm, the workers had to buy the products in their shed and thus became indebted (p. 196). That the house, made of clay, had to be redone from time to time (p. 186-187). That they had the right to brick houses.

Several workers join the fight and the community moves to conquer their demands. But Salomão goes on to threaten the engaged workers: “They drove their animals in the dead of night to destroy our gardens during the ebb tide. They knocked down fences, and months of work turned into pasture in the mouths of cattle. One day we were awakened in the middle of the night by a fire in our chicken coop. […] Other chicken coops were also set on fire, which made it clear that it was an organized action by the farmer with some workers” (p. 197-198). Police cars already circle the community.

In this context, Severo collects signatures to found the Association of Rural Workers. When he and Bibiana go to the registry office, several shots ring out: Severo is murdered.

Severus' death closes Part II. In III, “Rio de Sangue”, Santa Rita Pescadeira as narrator gives new development to the plot. The supernatural, which was previously an element of Água Negra culture (as it appears in the jarês or in the account of Zeca Chapéu Grande's madness), is no longer just a belief of the community[xiv] from which the illustrated look could distance itself – as something specific to this other, the quilombola – and starts to occupy the center of the narration. The form of the novel, therefore, assumes the magical dimension as a fictional reality.

The intervention of the marvelous and its function in the configuration of crooked plow were not duly investigated by critics, who tended to focus on literary-historical aspects of crooked plow, which rescues and joins, “in its own way, the tradition of the so-called regionalist novels that for many years shaped reflections on the paths and detours of the country”, as summarized by Rodrigo Soares de Cerqueira in his article “Between tradition and break"[xv]. As is known, the novels of the 1930s brought to the forefront of the fictional scene the ills of Brazilian underdevelopment, marking what Antonio Candido called a “catastrophic awareness of backwardness, corresponding to the notion of 'underdeveloped country'”[xvi].

Rodrigo Soares de Cerqueira does not specify the aesthetic-political meaning of regionalism “of the catastrophic awareness of underdevelopment”, which makes the approximation between novels from different eras problematic. In the historical moment of the regional novels of the 1930s, the denunciation of misery takes place in a context marked by the then plausible expectation that backwardness could be overcome and modernity implemented in Brazil[xvii]. In social theory and literary imagination (with the exception of Machado de Assis), there was still no understanding that backwardness was constitutive of Brazilian modernity, or even that the desire to assimilate with European centers was not viable within the framework of of capitalist modernity in the periphery, which structurally reproduces social inequalities, condemning vast sectors of the population to misery[xviii].

By giving representation to the quilombolas and their history of exploitation, crooked plow resumes the intention of showing the reality to Brazilians (from the city), in a historical moment, however, in which the perspective of overcoming is no longer materially plausible. For this reason, the progressive perspective included in the novel (with the appreciation of schooling and the organization of workers), although it remains a struggle, does not manage to carry out, within the temporal framework of the plot, effective transformations (even in the scope of what are minimal rights, such as housing, or unionization, made unfeasible by the authoritarian forces of those in power, who continue to act with the old and new forms of violence, by means of the Law, paralegal groups and, more recently, the evangelical religion)[xx].

As can be seen from this, this progressive (authorial) perspective assumes the institution of law for all as a way of overcoming secular inequities. It also assumes that the bourgeois rule of law can be achieved, without considering the effective functioning of capitalist exploitation, which denies it. According to this assumption, the path would be the traditional organization of workers (union, presence of a leader, training of the population through school and collective demonstrations, petitions, etc.).

But the plot of the novel shows that this is not enough. With the struggle to organize rural workers interrupted, it is only with the public disclosure of the murders of Severo and Salomão that the movement for rights can be resumed. Accompanying the storyline, however, there is in fact no actual achievement. If this happens, it will be due to the intervention of public agencies (p. 257).

This progressive perspective, as we said, is not the only one in the novel and it was interrupted with the murder of Severo, which ends Part II of the novel. Part III takes a new direction when, at a time when the community's traditions are falling into oblivion, the enchanted one intervenes to change the course of events.[xx]

It is significant that the narrative is led by Santa Rita Pescadeira, an enchanted woman who is far from everyone's memory. In her first appearance (still in Part I of the novel), when no one knows her anymore, the enchanted woman said that Bibiana “was about to travel the world on horseback, an animal that our family didn’t have […] That everything was going to change. […] That 'from her [Bibiana's] movement will come her strength and her defeat'” (p. 81).

The prediction of Santa Rita Pescadeira is fulfilled. And the narrative forwarded by his voice appears after the interruption of the political struggle caused by Severo's death. At that moment, she no longer has “housing”, as her horse (Dona Miúda) had died and there are no more houses for jarês. Aimless, wandering, it is she who clarifies the mystery of the knife: with it Donana killed her own partner because she found him in bed with her daughter, Carmelita. The daughter disappeared into the world. Donana kept the knife, stained with blood, as a symbol of her revenge and the loss of what was dear to her. But with the accident with the sisters, she had thrown it into the river. Belonísia casually finds the knife at the house of Tobias, the violent partner with whom she started living. Owner of herself, no longer afraid and subservient to Tobias, now dead, she can give free rein to what moves her: she cultivates the land, produces and trains in this cultivation, returning to her father's lessons. She is the figure who keeps tradition alive.

Two women, with different paths – Bibiana and her progressive impulse, Belonísia and her love of traditional knowledge – will be the horses that Santa Rita Pescadeira chooses to avenge Severo’s death and get rid of the atrocities of Salomão, the mastermind of the crime. The blood of the dispossessed, which flows from the past, is avenged in the owner's body.

Under trance, each of the sisters does what the enchanted one commands. Bibiana, while sleeping, is taken to find a hoe and dig until she builds a pit, or, more precisely, a fojo – a trap to hunt wild animals, made with a deep hole in the ground and disguised with branches and twigs. Belonisia, “the fury that had crossed time” (p. 261), murders Salomão, beheading him: “the jaguar […] fell over the edge of the pit” (p. 261).

To understand the meaning of Salomão's murder, it is necessary to remember that, although the workers' struggle became weaker after Severo's death[xxx], gains new impetus when they decide to build their brick houses. However, the owner goes to court with a request for repossession. The community, willing to face the judicial decision, probably favorable to the owner, mobilized for the confrontation: “if they had the order of a judge – they believed that it was possible due to the influence that Salomão had among the distinguished citizens of the region –, they would on the ground in front of their houses to prevent bulldozers from demolishing” (p. 256).

The confrontation does not occur: with Salomão's murder, new problems arise for the community, as everyone, especially Bibiana, is considered suspect. In Severo's murder, the henchmen and the mastermind had gotten away with it, and the official version of the reasons for his death was that it resulted from a conflict between drug dealers (p. 216 and 222). The owner's death is investigated based on reports of conflicts that Salomão created with the workers of Água Negra and other farms owned by him. “Disagreements with employees and neighbors were constant. Where he had gone, he left a trail of discontent and a desire for revenge” (p. 256). But the inquiry remains inconclusive.



In the novel, the possibility of conquering the rights claimed within the framework of bourgeois legality seems null. However, community mobilization is reactivated by the enchanted woman's intervention. Would the magic solution be an indication of the ineffectiveness of political action in traditional terms? Can the beliefs and traditions of the quilombola community, which are being forgotten, drive actions against iniquity?

It is Santa Rita Pescadeira who, in terms of the construction of the novel, revitalizes ancestry not only as an ethnic identity bond, but above all as a bond with the tradition of oppression suffered by black people. “I am an enchanted old woman, very old, who has accompanied this people since their arrival from Minas, from the Recôncavo, from Africa. Perhaps they have forgotten Santa Rita Pescadeira, but my memory does not allow me to forget what I suffered with many people, fleeing land disputes, the violence of armed men, the drought. I crossed time as if I were walking on the waters of a raging river. The fight was uneven and the price was carrying the defeat of dreams many times” (p. 212).

From the authorial perspective, the struggle for the rights of workers and traditional communities collides with the State that defends property. This does not mean that the struggle of the workers, in the known terms, is dispensable. But it's not enough.

Through the focus of the novel, the magical intervention implements the action of retaliation: Belonísia and Bibiana undertake the task of justice, in a trance that reveals the deepest desires to free themselves from ancestral oppression in the figure of the one who threatens the community in their struggle. If this fight is limited to the framework of bourgeois legality, with claims to enforce what is in the letter of the law, it cannot stand up to the delinquent power of landowners, who threaten and kill with impunity, in the name of economic interests. crooked plow, in its contradictions, hints at the limits of political action that the plot values.

Against such limits, the ancestry and beliefs that are present throughout the novel, in Part III become act that makes possible the continuity of the political action of the residents of Água Negra.

With Salomão's death, the community became publicly known: “Months later, the news of the murders [of Salomão and Severo] brought officials from public agencies, who heard residents in a process of repossession. That arrival was celebrated with relief. Everything remained uncertain, there were no deadlines for solving the problem, but that movement indicated that the existence of Água Negra was already a fact. They were no longer invisible, nor could they be ignored” (p. 257).

In an opposite direction to the defense of ancestry that asserts identity to be incorporated into the system, here it is a memory of the oppression suffered by quilombolas and an active response to the blood shed centuries ago, in revenge against the oppressor. Even if crooked plow seems to continue to defend the perspective of legal recognition of rights – without transforming the economic and social system –, the barbaric act that responds to the barbarism of the system is legitimized in terms of literary figuration.

It is not a matter of taking the performance of Santa Rita Pescadeira and ancestral beliefs into a literal proposition of political action. The literary imagination that is presupposed there is that of the resumption of ancestry as a force that impels the political struggle, a way to create perspectives of transformation (and not just recognition, by the State, of the quilombolas as subjects of law). Therefore, in the literary imagination, violence is necessary – because it fulfills the pact between the oppressed of the present and the past.

However, in the novel there also remains confidence in the progressive path, as it is thought of in traditional terms. The new community movement focuses on the right to live. And, towards the end of the novel, Inácio – son of Severo and Bibiana – says goodbye to Água Negra because he wants to prepare himself to enter the University and become a professor and, as his father had done, participate in the struggle for land. (p. 257)[xxiii]. When Inácio leaves, Bibiana and Belonísia, each on their own path – at school and on earth – forgive each other (p. 258), overcoming their sorrows.

Santa Rita Pescadeira may have acted for the last time, because a new social configuration is announced in Água Negra when the community may come to be recognized as a subject of law. The memory of the historical oppression to which she gives voice, however, remains alive, through the voices of the narrators Bibiana and Belonísia, and it is the foundation that sustains the continuity of the political struggle for rights.

the bet of crooked plow, thus, seems to consist in the combination of defending the enlightenment of workers – who become aware of their rights, the first condition for claiming them – and the political memory of the tradition of the exploited, whose symbols in Afro-indigenous culture have enchanted us of protection and revolt against oppression. The dimension of culture thus acts as a force that impels transformation; it, however, is not reduced to an aesthetic or identity statement, rather becoming a support for the emancipatory struggle.

The political meaning of the work thus combines, not without contradictions, the progressive perspective – in labor organization in claims for compliance with the Law – and the strength of ancestry as a memory of historical oppression. However, the authorial perspective seems not to take into account that this congruence finds obstacles in the violence of private property and the bourgeois State. Ancestry, in this sense, as an impetus for political action, can respond to that violence not only by retaliating (even if it symbolically intends to take revenge on the entire history of oppression). To direct the struggle towards effective emancipation, it would be necessary to break with bourgeois legality, always ready to yield to economic interests. But that doesn't seem to be on the horizon of Itamar Vieira Júnior, for whom the magic solution propitiates the search for law in bourgeois justice.

Even so, crooked plow, by presenting an act that escapes bourgeois legality, it questions the paths already given and frees itself from them to invent new forms of struggle in which the symbolic sense of the tradition of the oppressed (and not just the quilombolas) can bring social transformations, beyond claiming rights within the framework of the bourgeois state.[xxiii]

*Edu Teruki Otsuka He is a professor at the Department of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at USP. Author of Marks of the catastrophe: urban experience and cultural industry in Rubem Fonseca, João Gilberto Noll and Chico Buarque (Studio).

*Ivone Daré Rabello is a senior professor at the Department of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at USP. Author, among other books, of A song on the sidelines: a reading of Cruz e Sousa's poetics (Nankim).



Itamar Vieira Junior. crooked plow. São Paulo, However, 2019, 264 pages.



[I] The author had already published books of short stories Days, in 2012, and The Executioner's Prayer, in 2017 (finalist of the 60th Jabuti Award in 2018).

[ii] In the discussion about the re-functionalization of 1930's regionalism, it is necessary to differentiate the aesthetic and political meaning of this resumption in a historical context different from that of those years. It should be remembered that the regional literature of the 1930s deals with the “archaic” traits of Brazilian society, in what Antonio Candido called the “catastrophic awareness of backwardness”, at a time when the denunciation of such traits presupposed the perspective of their overcoming in reality. socio-political, today discredited. Furthermore, in order to avoid the picturesque and the tendency towards an “enlightened” aim of the narrator in the novels of the XNUMXth century, literary elaboration also innovated in terms of expression, giving artistic force to the point of view and culture of the dispossessed populations (it is enough to remember just one example). example: Gaucho tales, by Simões Lopes Neto). As we know, in the literature of the XNUMXth century, the most significant expressive innovation of a literature that goes beyond the classification of “regional” is that of Guimarães Rosa. (We follow Antonio Candido’s arguments here, in “Literature and underdevelopment”. In: Education by Night and Other Essays. São Paulo: Ática, 1989, especially p. 154.) In case of crooked plow, Itamar Vieira Júnior is anchored in the research he carried out as an INCRA employee and in his doctorate (Working is in the fight, Federal University of Bahia, 2017) about the quilombola community of Iuna (Tupi word meaning “black water”). These experiences allowed him to create the voices of the narrators with a tone in which, however, the cultured stylization of their speech predominates – in a very different way, if not the opposite, from the one that enshrined Guimarães Rosa. In one, the point of view of the inhabitants of the sertão is expressed through the stylization of their own modes of speech (prosody, vocabulary, syntax, imagery); in Itamar Vieira Júnior, the syntax of the standard, cultured norm predominates, which accommodates the localist lexicon to express the point of view of the quilombola culture.

[iii] For example, Ezilda Melo's essay, “crooked plow and the right of peasant women” (in Other words, 21/1/2022, available at, highlights, based on the novel, the importance of defending the rights of peasants .

[iv] One of the moments of formation of political and social self-awareness in the community occurs when Severo, already a militant in the cause of rural workers in Água Negra, associates the right to land with quilombola identity (affirmed there for the first time for the community). In the novel, for Severo and Bibiana, the affirmation of quilombola identity is articulated with rooting in the land and the struggle for territory: “We want to take care of the land where we were born, the land that grew with the work of our family”, says Severo (p. 187). The fictional fact is based on the struggles of the so-called traditional communities since the end of the 1980s. Cf.: Arguedas, Alberto Gutiérrez. “Ethnic identity, social movement and struggles for territory in quilombola communities: The case of Acauã (RN)”. GEOgraphy. Niterói: Fluminense Federal University, vol.19, n. 39, Jan.-Apr. 2017, p. 71-83. Available at

[v] As is known, the social protection State has exhausted its short existence since the end of the 1970s. In the Brazil of “redemocratization”, the 1988 Constitution incorporated historical claims, but always under the threat of military intervention (article 142 of the Constitution: “ The Armed Forces, made up of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, are permanent and regular national institutions, organized based on hierarchy and discipline, under the supreme authority of the President of the Republic, and are intended to defend the Homeland, guarantee of the constitutional powers and, at the initiative of any of them, of law and order.”). In the Lula era, managing the poor combined social policies and mass incarceration.

[vi] Remember that the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in 1996, launched the National Human Rights Program, after the massacre that took place in Eldorado dos Carajás.

[vii] Part of the action crooked plow takes place in a historical period prior to the mobilization for the demarcation of territories occupied by quilombolas. It was only in the 1980s that quilombola communities emerged on the Brazilian political scene, “constituting themselves as new collective subjects and ethnic groups, as part of a broader process of mobilization of groups calling themselves 'traditional communities'. One of the distinctive characteristics of the quilombola ethnopolitical emergence is the territorial character of the struggles [...], relating three deeply intertwined categories: ethnic identity, social movement and struggles for territorial affirmation” (Arguedas, cited article).

[viii] The practice of jarê has an African origin, with a mixture of indigenous and Kardecist influences. It only takes place in Chapada Diamantina.

[ix] Salomão is the authoritarian owner, who disrespects the history of the community, claiming that there have never been quilombolas in the region (p. 219). At the time of the Peixoto family, conflicts were resolved within the community itself; although there is abuse on the part of the powerful, the plot hints that the times of the Peixoto were better. There was violence and spoliation, but the acceptance of beliefs and jarês, as well as the calming role of Zeca Chapéu Grande, created relationships in which cordial ties were established between the owner and the community.

[X] The girls' injuries indicate the time when the fictional facts take place. For the first time they go to the city in a Ford Rural, which was manufactured in Brazil from 1975 to 1977 (from 1956 to 1975, the Rural was manufactured by Willys).

[xi] Conflict involves competition for man. Bibiana tells her mother that she saw Belonísia and Severo together, adding that they had kissed, which was a lie. Belonisia is punished and starts to despise Bibiana. Severo has to move away from Zeca's house. But the attraction between Bibiana and Severo overcomes family obstacles and they begin to meet. (By the way, it should be noted that the competition for the man is repeated with Crispina and Crispiniana, daughters of Saturnino, with different developments.)

[xii] The couple's political trajectory refers to the struggle for land and rights that took place around the end of the 1980s.

[xiii] This speech corresponds historically to what was established as a principle in the 1988 Constitution. Even after the enactment of specific laws (such as article 68 of the Transitional Provisions Act, of October 1988: “To the remnants of the quilombo communities that are occupying their lands definitive ownership is recognized, and the State must issue the respective titles”), they continued and continue to be breached, hence the growth of struggles for the recognition of rights, as Severo does.

[xiv] The sisters tell stories that involve the presence of the enchanted ones, but leave open the interpretation about the veracity of the entities' intervention. Tobias's death, for example, is quite revealing in this regard. After he offends the enchanted one by doubting her existence, he dies (p. 138). Was it Santa Rita Pescadeira who caused you to fall from your horse? Or was this due to an accident? Or again: are Zeca's cures due to supernatural action or to his knowledge of herbs and roots?

[xv] In: Magazine Piaui, No. 180, Sep./2021, p 78-81

[xvi] “Literature and underdevelopment”, cit., p. 142. For the critic, what characterizes authors such as Asturias, Alegria, José Lins do Rego and many others “is the overcoming of patriotic optimism [specific to XNUMXth-century regionalism] and the adoption of a different type of pessimism than that which occurred in naturalistic fiction. While the latter focused on the poor man as an element refractory to progress, they unveil the situation in its complexity, turning against the dominant classes and seeing in the degradation of man a consequence of economic dispossession, not of his final destination individual” [emphasis added] (p.160).

[xvii] The reference to the classics of the Brazilian critical tradition can be indicated succinctly by citing the names of Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, Caio Prado Júnior, Celso Furtado and, in a certain way, Gilberto Freyre.

[xviii] Analyzes of the indissoluble relationship between backwardness and modernity in the framework of Brazil's insertion in international capitalism can be read in Francisco de Oliveira, the platypus, and, from the point of view of the literary elaboration of the question in Roberto Schwarz, A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism. In contemporary times, the so-called “Brazilianization of the world” (as Paulo Arantes investigates in The Brazilian Fracture of the World) implies understanding that the dynamics of capitalism does not lead (and has never led) to the expansion of its supposed civilizing potential, but to the misery of vulnerable populations, as shown by the recent dismantling of the rule of law and the disintegration of “developed” societies.

[xx] Currently, the link between large landowners and the State, through police and paramilitary forces, has intensified. To this resurgence, social and cultural movements have responded with actions and productions, such as crooked plow can exemplify, when denouncing the conditions of life in the rural area. If today they present aspects of “modernization”, which include the presence of money in the relations between workers and employers, and access to modern conquests such as electricity and also consumer goods (vp 155, 179 and 205), they remain, however, under short rein on the workers' claims (the construction of masonry houses will be contested by Solomon). The traditional culture of these quilombolas is also forgotten, and on the farm evangelical pastors organize cults (p.226) that encourage conformism, to which several residents adhere.

[xx] In the representations of the community's cultural traditions, the enchanted fulfill the function of strengthening it and helping it to overcome the difficulties experienced by the lack of access to modern goods (cure for illnesses, help with labor, ancestral wisdom in dealing with land so that it produces more, a more integrated relationship between man and nature, etc.).

[xxx] After Severo's murder, lies were spread about the authors and the reasons for the crime. Even if Bibiana denounces them and insists on giving continuity to Severo's political work (p. 221) and even if at first there remains a desire for revenge on the part of the workers and a certain solidarity also from those who did not agree with Severo's actions, the struggle fades.

[xxiii] Unlike Ignatius, there are those who allow themselves to be seduced by the illusions of urban and mercantile life, abandoning ties with the land and the community: “Some young people no longer wanted to stay on the farm. They wanted city life. […] Life in the city, among travelers and merchants, was attractive” (p. 187).

[xxiii] The novel was the subject of debate in the “Contemporary Cultural and Social Forms” group, to whom we would like to thank for suggestions and contributions.

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