1. Difficulty level

This portal is primarily used to teach the Portuguese language. As the unbiased observer immediately sees, it is also about hearing, whereby what is heard should also be understood in some way, and speaking. Statistically speaking, hearing is likely to dominate here, because e.g. on television, radio, lectures, etc., one tends to listen rather than speak. Writing and reading is then subordinate. Listening comprehension can be trained in thousands of different ways, e.g. via videos on youtube or, like here, by having a book read to you. The only question then is which book. The opinions on this and the offers on the market are widely spread here. It ranges from stories that have been written specifically for learners, i.e. with a reduced vocabulary and simplified grammar, to simplified versions of novels that are significant for the relevant culture, to the setting of original works to music.

The first variant has never really made sense to the author. If you are already learning a language, then you should also want to learn something about the culture. The second variant is obvious, but requires that you rewrite the entire novel. We've done that with other languages and when we have time and leisure, we do that with Portuguese too. The third variant is then simply to set the original work to music. This procedure usually has a disadvantage. The texts were written for native speakers and therefore tend to be difficult. As for the novel O Cortiço, it is actually very, very difficult, lexically and grammatically. The lexical problems are numerous. Many words are used in a little-known connotation or have a meaning that they no longer have today, many terms refer to the Brazilian flora and fauna, or to customs and customs of Brazil in the 19th century, sometimes they are colloquial, or reflect the language usage of certain sections of the population, many idioms are no longer used today.

Grammatically, the use of the pretérito-mais-que-perfeito simples is particularly noticeable, which is no longer used today and is only briefly mentioned in the grammar section. It's worth mentioning, before anyone ponders too much, a + infinitivo is often used in place of gerundio, and not just as described in the grammar when used with estar. (Although both forms can occur in the same sentence!) Anyone who has worked through the grammar should understand the text to some extent, with the help of the translation, or be able to understand the grammatical construction to a large extent. The translation is not trimmed for beauty. As far as possible, an attempt was made to translate as closely as possible to the original. The author of these lines is seriously of the opinion that reflection on concrete grammatical constructions that appear somewhere is more beneficial than the box exercises so popular at school etc. Once you have resolved a grammatical construction and it then appears a few hundred times in a novel, then that fits and it is saved forever. It's definitely more fun, the author thinks, than filling in boxes.

The novel was read EXTREMELY slowly, basically speaking each word individually. So you have the opportunity to listen and follow the text word for word. Since Portuguese is an extremely listener-unfriendly language, European Portuguese even more so than Brazilian, this approach makes sense. The joining of words, so typical of Portuguese, only occurs in the later chapters. The last chapter is recorded at normal speaking rate. Those who have read the chapter on pronunciation should then have mastered the rules by the time they have listened to the novel.

As already mentioned, other novels could also have been read in, but this one is particularly important for the Brazilian culture, which is why we now say a few bars about it.

2. Importance of the novel

Anyone who enters O Cortiço on youtube gets over 23,000 hits. (Over 800,000 on google.) Students, teachers, university lecturers and other literature enthusiasts then explain what the book is about. This is simply due to the fact that the novel is part of the school curriculum. One can assume that German pupils will read Goethe's Faust at school, Italian pupils the Divine Commedia, French pupils a work by Molière, English pupils a work by Shakespeare and Spanish pupils Don Quijote with the same certainty that one can assume assume that Brazilians know O Cortiço because that's what they did at school. The author of these lines cannot say whether O Cortiço, with its sometimes very drastic depictions of reality and its deeply pessimistic view of humanity, is suitable school reading, but he would take the conservative position that young people / young adults should have an idea of possible success and the attempt to convince them of the inevitability of failure is only marginally effective. If that's the case, then they'll learn it soon enough, and if that's not the case, then you don't need to learn it either. The author of these lines takes a very pragmatic view of this.

It could be objected that the naturalistic novel, see below, holds up the mirror to the reader, that is, in school, to the students, which then causes them to desist from certain behaviors and return to the path of virtue, whatever that may be. The author only doubts that this can succeed. However, the novel is complex and cannot be reduced to a simple formula. The reader will recognize certain behavioral patterns, which the novel merely describes but does not explain, although ultimately they cannot be explained. Which goals a society pursues depends on which goals it specifically perceives as enriching, which in turn depends on which goals it can perceive as enriching, subjectively and objectively, has already experienced them concretely and considers them to be realistic. However, the author of these lines does not have the impression, as one often reads, that Azevedo is presenting us with "classes" or, what is supposed to be the goal of naturalism, the focus is less on the individual type and more on the model.

Since the work is school reading, google returns 109,000 hits with the terms O Cortiço interpretação. (Which is of course little compared to the more than 4 million hits that you get with Faust interpretation. You get over 2 million with Don Quijote interpretación. ) The interpretations usually focus on one aspect, sometimes O Cortiço is the most important example of that Naturalism, sometimes a fundamental critique of capitalism, sometimes the novel is intended to describe the depravity of society, sometimes to describe good Portuguese people who are slowly being "Brazilianized", sometimes to be the perfect introduction to the reality of life in imperial Brazil under Pedro II.

The author, on the other hand, considers the fundamental assumptions of naturalism to be wrong, which by the way is not a literary trend, but an image of man, the term "capitalism" is nonsense from the outset, that the author does not believe that someone is being "Brazilianized" either, or the phenomenon is more global and if the author wants to find out about the reality of life in imperial Brazil in the 19th century, he picks up a different type of book. Long story short: the part is quite complex. You don't have to like it, but it's complex. It is easy to explain why the author of these lines is not really enthusiastic. The novel definitely lacks a positive vision of success. (And the way it's written, it draws the reader somewhat into the pessimistic undercurrent.)

The novel paints a rather colorful picture of society, and not just 19th-century Brazilian society. He partly addresses social / economic conflicts and exploitation, partly he describes group dynamics, partly personal conflicts, partly the absence of fulfilling goals, partly he addresses the problem that the actors involved only react to incentives of the system. It is, so to speak, as confusing, complex, contradictory as the true raging reality itself and also asks the same fundamental questions.

3. Naturalismus

3. Naturalism

Despise only reason and science,
the supreme power of man,
Leave only in dazzling and magical works
encourage you from the lying spirit,
I already have you
Goethe, Faust

O Cortiço is considered the most important work of Brazilian naturalism. What naturalism is is quickly explained. In naturalism, the characters have roughly the same leeway that animals have in botany, and there are numerous images, also in O Cortiço, taken from the animal kingdom and used to describe human behavior. The Cortiço, the tenement barracks, is compared to an anthill, where everything is scurrying back and forth, men lose control a little, like the deer in the rutting season, life is throbbing, meaningless but ineradicable etc. etc..

Naturalism is better described by what it is not. We have no individuals who act unexpectedly, we have no transgression of reality, no idea of success that goes beyond the well-known Darwinian survival of the fittest and man has no possibility of consciously and rationally planning the world. So success simply means surviving, although it remains unclear why. Naturalism is scientific, the thesis is that, speaking in Marxist terms, being determines consciousness and, that is the Darwinian part, individuals adapt to given circumstances in the best possible way. The behavior of the actors involved is therefore completely determined by the environment. They are shaped by this and they adapt to it. This is, of course, complete nonsense, as is easy to see. Indeed, in Darwinian evolution, new species emerge as a result of adaptations to given circumstances. Man, however, does not always adapt to external circumstances, he shapes them and just as being determines consciousness, consciousness determines being. Powerful ideas whose time has come change the world. The Galapagos Islands, the microcosm Darwin used to illustrate his ideas, have not changed, but everything that crawls and flees there has found its niche. But if the Galapagos Islands had not been declared a nature reserve, people would have adapted the Galapagos Islands to their needs and not vice versa. So naturalism is not a literary current in the true sense, but an image of man, and quite obviously a wrong one.

According to the theory, naturalism should describe reality as precisely as Marxism describes the course of history and Darwinism describes the course of evolution. For the former, the author of these lines once produced a fat website, www.economics-reloaded.com, which is the quintessence, in short, that Marxism is pure nonsense. Darwinism, that is, the idea that the diversification of species is a result of adaptation, applies to flora and fauna. This is not the case for human societies, which tend to adapt their environment to their needs. Unfortunate philosophers like Herbert Spencer then applied the survival of the fittest to human society, especially to the realm of business, but then, unfortunately, it becomes idiotic. The competition that, according to the survival of the fittest, eliminates the weak is a highly ARTIFICIAL entity that performs an economically meaningful function. Competition ensures that several alternatives to solve a problem compete with each other and that the best one prevails on the market. Everyone benefits from this. Where there is no competition, e.g. where the service is regulated by state regulations, we have no alternatives and nobody knows how much money we could save with alternative solutions because there are no alternative solutions. However, we do not make an introduction to economics here, nor do we explain it in detail.

Naturalism is not the only literary trend that seeks to describe the world with precision. We still have Bertolt Brecht on offer. He not only wants to describe the world, but also to explain it at the same time. Anyone who believes that also believes that Keynesianism can be presented in the form of a novel, but anyone who believes that has a roof damaged.

Literary works are always a subjective view of things. This subjective view can go beyond reality, it can condense it, it can create its own reality, it can change the perspective on reality, it can sensitize for certain phenomena, it can say the unspeakable, it can take the reader on a long journey send and probably a lot more. However, it is never the precise description of reality. Even the famous question "what does the poet want to tell us with his work" is sheer nonsense. If he wants to TELL us something, then he should do it in God's name. In simple prose enriched with empirically reliable data.

So O Cortiço is certainly not a comprehensive account of the reality of 19th-century Brazil. This is evident from the simple fact that the novel is considered one of the most important works of Brazilian literature, which would hardly be the case if the characters appearing in O Cortiço had been typical representatives of 19th-century Brazilian society, because the characters who appear there simply don't read novels at all and in particular would not have thought of finding themselves portrayed there. The novel was already popular at the time of its publication and the author doubts that it would have been if Brazilian society as a whole had seen itself reflected in this novel. Nobody spends money just to be insulted.

Nevertheless, a central theme of the novel, the fate of the slave Bertoleza, coincides with the historical facts and even if the characters in the novel are somewhat simplistic, most readers from all over the world will know such unpleasant contemporaries. The novel describes ONE reality that seems intuitively plausible to most readers and that we find everywhere. In this respect, the novel is timeless. However, it does not describe the social, economic and cultural state of Brazil in the 19th century and anyone who also wants to see any social, psychological, economic or cultural theories in the novel that want to predict the course of human history is off the mark beyond the goal. Even if this had been Aluísio Azevedo's intention, which we don't know, because the facts are rather thin as far as biographical data is concerned, the novel resists such simple schemes. All of the figures would have had room to maneuver if they weren't just leaves that were swept through the air by the wind of world-historical tendencies, and although they all come from the same milieu, the Cortiço, they have very different and highly individual motives for leaving it or staying there and fail for a wide variety of reasons. If one reduces the novel to the illustration of a theory, one does not do justice to its complexity.

4. Geschichtlicher Hintergrund und Sklaverei

4. Historical Background and Slavery

A theme of the novel is slavery and this also forms the bracket of the book. At the beginning, João Romão obtains a license for Bertoleza, which, however, is a fake, which allows him to free himself from Bertoleza at the end of the novel by sending her back into slavery. Aluísio Azevedo lived from 1857 to 1913. The novel O Cortiço was published in 1890. The final abolition of slavery lasted from 1850 to 1888. (In 1850 the trade in slaves was banned, in 1871 the children of slaves were freed and in 1888 slavery was completely abolished. ) So the novel appeared two years after the final abolition of slavery.

So the process of abolition of slavery took place during the lifetime of Aluísio Azevedo, who was an opponent of slavery. Bertoleza's situation seems to have been typical of Brazil, or a form of slavery that only existed in Brazil. Bertoleza is the only "possession" of an impoverished and blind man and basically depends on her job performance. She does not work directly for him, i.e. as a personal service, but works independently and gives him part of the profits, although it is not at all clear in the novel how he can control how much she earns and what share he gets . To put it another way: The constellation described in the novel does not appear particularly realistic, but has a core of truth insofar as poor sections of the population also achieved income through their "slaves" by "lent" them. It is undisputed that the living conditions of the slaves in the centuries before or on the coffee / sugar cane plantations, mines etc. were still horrific at the time of Azevedo. However, this type of slavery appears only indirectly in the novel.

It can hardly be assumed that Bertoleza's fate, fictional license and subsequent re-enslavement, is typical. It's more of a dramaturgical element. As with all other great crimes of humanity, the Holocaust, the extermination of the Indians in North America, dictatorships of all kinds, the murder of 10 million Congolese in the Congo in the years 1888 to 1908, etc. play a role in the emergence of such developments as well as in the processes which ultimately stopped them, economic, social, cultural and political conditions play a role that, in their complexity, can hardly be portrayed in a novel. Slavery, for example, favored the landowners in the pre-industrial age, because this class in particular benefited from the fact that labor was available for free, and with economic dominance, this class also gained disproportionate political power. Developments similar to those we already know from the French Revolution and the American Civil War presumably ultimately led to the abolition of slavery. Since, in the course of industrialization, ever larger social classes were simply no longer interested in maintaining slavery, it was ultimately abolished. It can be assumed that the immigrants had no interest in slavery either, since it reduced the wage level to practically zero. A problem hinted at in the novel. At first, Jerônimo only finds a very badly paid job on a country estate.

The author did not find exact figures. For the period relevant here, 1850 to 1882, there is a census from 1872. According to this, Brazil had about 10 million inhabitants at that time, of which 1.5 million were slaves. Belonging to an ethnic group was also recorded in the same census. According to this, 58 percent described themselves as black or colored, 38 percent as white. (The remaining 4 percent belong to the autochthonous peoples.) Only this 58 percent, i.e. 5.8 million, come into question as slaves. That is, of the 5.8 million blacks and coloreds, 1.5 million were slaves and 4.3 million were free. These 4.3 million then obviously emerged from a connection between a white man, probably almost 100 percent men, and a woman with a different skin color and the father probably had no choice but to have his child, unless he was perversely inclined to be released into freedom. The 3.8 million whites are opposed to 4.3 million descendants of slaves. It is hard to imagine that these 4.3 million descendants of female slaves had a particularly great deal of sympathy for slavery. One can therefore assume that the system of slavery had lost all support economically, socially and culturally. The Lei Áurea of 1888 only abolished something that had already been abolished in fact, even if the laws still tried to cement conditions that corresponded less and less to the reality of life, especially the social situation, as described in O Cortiço, for everyone was similar. The immigrants, called the Italians in the novel, also lived under the same difficult conditions as the Creoles.

At least in the exaggerated novel-like depiction, the Creoles, e.g. Rita Baiana, identify themselves more with the African/Brazilian culture than with the European one, which in the novel also serves as an identification feature and status symbol of a social class, while the African/Brazilian culture is described as authentic . João Romão is embarrassed by his ignorance of this European culture when dealing with the Miranda family, whereas Jerônimo is shaken by the sensual force of Brazilian / African culture, among other things. So on the one hand we have culture as a status symbol and on the other hand authentic culture that is meaningful for its own sake.

But the conflict itself is not specifically Brazilian. In every culture there is a canon, the knowledge of which serves to form a group, without this necessarily meaning that this canon means something to the group members, i.e. that they would stick to it even if it no longer functioned as a status symbol and there are new cultural currents which are more closely linked to the emotional state and therefore prevail, even if they are unsuitable as status symbols, although the punchline in the novel is actually different. Miranda and João Romão's strength lies in the fact that they simply have no cultural interests at all and culture merely signals social status, whereby wealth is of course primarily what counts. Miranda and João Romão's strength lies in their complete insensitivity to anything but making money. This makes them much more focused than Jerônimo.

However, Jerônimo is caught up in the Brazilian / African culture in such a way that he gives up the economically more rational goal or is driven away from it. The conflict described is ancient. We find him in Homer's Odyssey. If Odysseus had not allowed himself to be tied to the mast of a ship, he would have been overcome by his sensuality and died. "Feelings" are ultimately what makes life worth living, at least the positive ones, but stand in the way of sustaining life. In the novel, the idiots, i.e. Miranda and João Romão, both insensitive to culture and only interested in social advancement, succeed, while those who seek authenticity, e.g. Jerônimo and Pombinha, fail or at least follow a problematic path, i.e. their path is considerable has collateral damage. The problem is old and already named by Goethe: you who gave life, you suffocate heavenly feelings in this earthly turmoil.

Overall, slavery was no longer an attractive business model at that time, i.e. from 1870 onwards. On the one hand there was en masse land that led to massive commercial arrivals from emigrants from Germany, Italy, Poland and Switzerland under Pedro II, on the other hand there were not enough people who could farm it. The new emigrants had no interest in slavery. On the one hand they were looking for work themselves and the slaves were a competition here, on the other hand they had none and consequently had to compete with estates based on slave labour. Incidentally, the increasing industrialization led to a need for qualified workers. In order to meet this need with slaves, one would have had to train the slaves, which in turn was incompatible with the status of the slave. Presumably, reason abolished slavery less than economic constraints. This in turn proves that the whole Marxist mumbo-jumbo is silly. You really only need cheap labor at a very primitive stage of economic development. When things get complicated, and it inevitably gets complicated, what you need above all is qualified workers, and that requires significant investments in qualifications. From that moment on, however, the capital is no longer in the purse, but in the heads, and they just have two legs.

5. Capitalism

João Romão is often referred to in the novel as o capitalista, the novel often understood as a criticism of the "capitalist" system. This is objective nonsense. The term capitalism means a historical development whose driving force is capital. However, if you look at how Karl Marx ultimately defines capital in 'Das Kapital', then, as with all classical economists, it is simply money. Work congeals into money and this money is reinvested by the "capitalist". The problem is that the amount of money available simply depends on the central bank. This can print more money in one night than all the capitalists in the world can squeeze out of the proletarian in a whole year. How much of it it produces depends on the production potential of the economy. Money is a claim to a part of the productive potential and simply has nothing to do with the production of the past. If in the FUTURE the capitalist can actually buy the machines he wants to buy because the resources for their production are available, then everything will be fine. However, whether he does it with money that he extorted from the proletarians or with a bank loan that is ultimately made available by the central bank is completely irrelevant. Many people will not understand this now, so reference is made to the book mentioned above.

It is only true that João Romão, like Miranda, was able to build on a capital stock. One because he lived extremely frugally and saved money at the beginning and the other because his wife brought capital into the marriage, which formed the basis of his company. In primitive economies that are only developing quantitatively but have no qualitative leaps, like Brazil's economy at the time, a seed fund is actually helpful, especially when the central bank, as often happens, is pursuing a restrictive monetary policy. It becomes more difficult when the economy grows due to qualitative leaps. In this case, the meaning shifts away from capital and towards human capital, i.e. qualified work. For example, in the novel, the only one in a position to negotiate with João Romão is Jerônimo, who is the only one who can optimally exploit João Romão's quarry.

It is indisputable that in every system there are low-skilled people and in the tenements only low-skilled people live, street vendors, laundresses, simple workers, who, however, contrary to the theory of naturalism, are extremely diverse. Piedade and Rita belong to the same "class", but are very different and cope with life's adversities in different ways and with different degrees of success. Contrary to what one reads everywhere, Azevedo does not make the mistake of imposing an abstract theory on everything and everyone.

Crucial to João Romão's economic success is also less the fact that he has a very cheap workforce in Bertoleza. The exploitation of one worker alone would hardly have allowed him to erect a building with 400 residential units. Crucial is the almost never-ending demand for cheap housing, cheap food and necessities, as well as its scams.

The "proletariat", represented in the novel by the residents of the two tenements, if you want to call it that, does not fail because of the "capitalist" conditions. It fails because of its tendency to violence and its declining morality.

6. "Brazilianization"

The "Brazilianization", which is then, according to the interpretation of the secondary literature, is an aspect of the novel, is touched upon more often in the novel, illustrated above all by Jerônimo. The inherently rock solid and boring Jerônimo is intoxicated by a surge of sensuality, feelings that overwhelm him, so that he is ultimately driven out of his bourgeois life. It does happen in the best of families, but it's unclear what's supposed to be Brazilian about it. It is an everyday phenomenon that someone breaks out of a "bourgeois" life and looks for something beyond convention. Whether one has to produce such enormous collateral damage as Jerônimo is another matter, although that also happens every day all over the world. The fact that in the novel the two genuine Portuguese, João Romão and Miranda, rise up economically and socially says little here and in particular any economist would have problems explaining the growth of an economy psychologically. There is no psychological explanation of economic growth, if we disregard Joseph Schumpeter, see the book mentioned above, and in particular this would contradict a "Marxist" explanation of economic growth. So if some interpreters interpret the work "Marxistically", which would be nonsense, then the "Brazilianization" doesn't fit, which is just as nonsensical. One cannot simultaneously explain economic growth with "capital accumulation" and with the psychological constitution of the population. There may well be psychological determinants that favor economic and social advancement, Schumpeter said these are specific characteristics of the entrepreneur, but no macroeconomic theory can be derived from them.

The determinants of economic growth are one of the most hotly contested areas of economics. There is little that can be said about this in the form of a novel, although it is questionable whether Azevedo actually wanted to make the statements that were subsequently attributed to him. In fact, the milieu in which the novel takes place is typically Brazilian. In other regions of the globe there are neither the musical genres and dances described in the novel, nor the flora and fauna described there, nor Creoles and mulattoes. It is also true that the novel describes the economic and social situation in Brazil in the 19th century. Large rubber and coffee plantations, which ultimately profited decisively from slave labor and dominated politically, only existed in the 19th century. But if the novel were reduced to a milieu study of 19th-century Brazil, it would lose its relevance, and incidentally all novels in the world are set in a certain milieu. If one follows this argument that the novel refers to the specific conditions in Brazil in the 19th century, then all novels of this world would be pure milieu studies without general, global relevance.

7. the state

The state appears in the novel as the police, court, law, and military, although it is corrupt, indifferent, narrow-minded and lacking in empathy at all levels and hardly finds any support among the population, apart from characters like Alexandre, who as a little policeman acts as a guardian who sees order and is proud of his uniform. Due to the fact that the Constitution of 1824, valid until 1889, linked the right to vote to income, only those who had at least 200,000 Réis annual income were entitled to vote in the province, while elections to the National Assembly required 400,000 Réis and 800,000 Réis to elect a senator entitled to elect the National Assembly about 1 percent of the population, which was then also, most likely, made up of large landowners. The scene described in the novel, in which hostile groups immediately unite against the state power when it wants to ensure order, is therefore plausible. The mass of the population was excluded from political decision-making processes, the state did not defend their rights and was therefore enemy number one. Even more magnificently than in democracies, types like Botelho thrive in such states with their admiration for everything military. There are guys like that in democracies too, and there are even a lot of them, as you can see by watching certain youtube videos, but in democracies the military is at least partially still integrated into society as a whole.

Botelho is fascinated by uniforms, flags, Gengtarassasa, military order, etc. The novel only describes the facts that undoubtedly exist, but without explaining them, although they can hardly be explained. In front of a video like this I had a comrade, or thousands of others, you sit in amazement and look like a pig into the clockwork. Like many of his contemporaries, Botelho does not think about what goals to achieve. The problem is described in this statement.

"Whether their commitment is right or wrong is of no importance here. The comrades died bravely in the line of duty. Rest in peace!" Common sense would rather teach you that the question of whether the bet is right or wrong is the very central question. Obviously, however, many contemporaries capitulated in the face of the complexity of the real world. To explain what ultimately happens psychologically here is like reading coffee grounds for advanced users. Under certain circumstances, weak personalities tend to identify with the order that they believe to be stable and powerful and to worship its insignia. This is all the more true when one identifies with this power and looks down on the losers for whose fate one feels no empathy. A similar type is Diederich Hessling in Heinrich Mann's novel Der Untertan.

8. Sexuality

Sexuality appears as supreme fulfillment in two places in the novel, once with Pombinha and Léonie and once with Jerônimo and Rita, both times the side effects are critical. Most of the time it appears as a disruptive force that, although it absolutely preserves life, destroys all value systems, goals and barriers. Only João Romão remains unaffected by their effect, or only begins to fantasize when his social status is secured. While it's never really clear why he actually wants to become rich, since his ascension is based on total renunciation of everything, unlike all other characters in the novel, he remains true to his path to nirvana. This fits in, in that he resembles Miranda in that he has no organ whatsoever for other irritations, e.g. music. "Culture" only becomes relevant for him, then he also feels his ignorance in this area, when he wants to marry into Miranda's family, where "culture" is a status symbol. So while for Rita Baiana dance and music is a spontaneous, purposeless expression of joie de vivre, for João Romão it is just an instrument.

Sexuality also shows its disruptive character when overcoming class antagonisms. Dona Estela, Miranda's wife, cares about her aristocratic descent, which still played a role in imperial Brazil under Pedro II, see below, but she nibbles on her husband's employees and whatever else she can get her hands on. Henrique, son of a plantation owner friend of Miranda's, is a customer of Pombinha, who comes from the tenement.

9. Suitable for school?

One can think about the sense and nonsense of teaching values in schools. One can ask oneself which values are conveyed there, should be conveyed and whether it succeeds. One can ask oneself, for example, whether Götz von Berlichingen is really suitable reading for ninth graders and suitable as an introduction to literature. Practically half of all school subjects, history, ethics, philosophy, religion, foreign languages, German, politics somehow intend something like "holistic" education, whatever it may be. Considering that this costs hundreds of millions of euros every year, one could of course worry about the goal <=> means ratio. However, since the goals are unclear, let alone measurable in an empirically reliable manner, it is also impossible to check whether the funds are being used efficiently. In the society debate, the discussion simply goes like this: the true, beautiful and good are conveyed and one cannot spend enough on them. The author now has no idea what's going on in Brazilian schools. He can only see how O Cortiço is taught there from the interpretations prepared for students on the Internet, which are numerous, see above. In fact, however, the population of Brazil is quite colorful with numerous shades of skin color and with the help of other external characteristics, such as hair that rises steeply like the leaves of a pineapple, Aluísio Azevedo then makes groupings, Creoles, mestizos, blacks, whites, etc .. to which he then partially ascribes certain character traits. Irrespective of the question of whether the terms Creole and Mestizo make sense, they are only defined for the first generation, in the third and fourth these terms become meaningless and independent of the question of whether the ascribed characteristics can be presented in an empirically reliable manner , the question arises as to how teachers deal with a situation in which the groups described in the book are part of the student population. If the author had to teach adolescents / young adults whose character is not yet established, he would refrain from such attributions. However, inquiries with Brazilians revealed that this is not a problem.

From this the author concludes, so purely intuitively, that O Cortiço is just as popular with schoolchildren as Untertan with German schoolchildren or Don Quijote with Spanish ones. They probably stick to summaries and synopses on retreats so that they are personally completely unaffected by the book itself. (The Divina Commedia is even better. The author of these lines once wrote a mammoth work about itdivina commedia. Italian students do it for THREE full years and the result is simply ZERO.)

The descriptions of intimate relationships are sometimes quite drastic, but that probably doesn't shock students in the age of gangster rap and the like. Obviously, the novel can also be part of an examination for admission to a university, see Você não leu, mas precisa saber: O Cortiço, de Aluísio Azevedo. On the page you get an explanation of the sayings that you have to complete in order to get through this exam. This is of course practical, then you don't have to read the novel at all. However, the author of these lines wonders whether the person who wrote this read the novel. On the site, people can prepare for the Fuvest, which in turn is a prerequisite for being awarded a degree, see Fundação Universitária para o Vestibular.

10. The characters in the novel in detail

The plot of the novel takes place entirely in the tenement. All sorts of ethnic groups, social classes, professions and characters come together in the tenements, and they basically only have one thing in common: the living conditions are precarious, although it is not the case that everyone is a victim of external conditions. Firmo, for example, is not a victim, he is a perpetrator. Jerônimo is not a victim of the circumstances, his failure has highly personal reasons. Incidentally, João Romão comes from the same social class as the tenants of his tenement, which makes it clear that there were options for action, at least in the novel. It is undisputed that there are differences in social mobility, to a greater or lesser extent in every country on earth, but the novel is just not suitable for illustrating this fact. Contrary to Marxist theory, social mobility is possible in this novel. A myriad of characters appear in the novel. Insofar as they are archetypes, i.e. they show something essential, they should be briefly introduced.

10.1 João Romão

The main character of the novel is João Romão. From the age of 13 to 25 he worked as an employee of an innkeeper and under much poorer conditions than the tenants of his tenements later. We don't know what happened before, whether he was born in Brazil or emigrated to Brazil with his parents, but unlike Miranda and Botelho, also "purebred" Portuguese, he is, before his rise, part of the ethnically diverse group Precariat, whereas Miranda and Botelho clearly distinguish themselves from this precariat, whereby in Miranda this distinction has an economic basis, while in Botelho it is purely a matter of fantasy. João Romão knows only one goal to which he completely subordinates everything, namely making money. Any means is right for him. Theft, fraud and exploitation. In contrast to the residents of the tenement, whose behavior is strongly influenced by emotions, most of which are of the kind that are on course for collision, João Romão acts consistently rationally in the sense of the textbook definition of microeconomics and does not get involved in the conflicts of the residents of the tenement drawn in with. In some cases, he even succeeds in deriving an economic advantage from these conflicts. It is striking that, until he connected with the Miranda family, he did not even flaunt his increasing wealth and thus made his social advancement public.

Regardless of his wealth, he wears clogs without socks, a simple shirt, simple trousers and continues to save every Réis from his mouth. What becomes more important later, when he forms a bond with the Miranda family, social advancement is irrelevant in the early stages. Here, too, he differs from his tenants, who are much poorer than himself. While some of them attach great importance to their appearance, João Romão, at least in the first two thirds of the novel, doesn't care at all.

Only in the last third does he want to free himself from his obscure ascent by marrying Zumira, Miranda's daughter. As is so often the case, self-made men rise from obscure backgrounds, which is all the more true the more an economy is in transition. Later, once he has become rich, he wants to forget the miserable conditions of his ascent. He's ashamed of the little scams in the sale, of the pathetic snack bar run by Bertoleza, of all the deprivations. By marrying Zumira, he documents, for himself and for others, that he has left all of that behind.

Apart from that, João Romão has no qualities whatsoever, much less any passions or interests. The character doesn't develop over the course of the novel. It shows up and then stays the way it was from the start. Absolutely unscrupulous, incapable of any empathy, completely unfeeling and fixated on one goal, namely to accumulate wealth. He has lost even the most elementary drive, which plays a significant role in the residents of the tenement and where Miranda and Henrique also allow themselves escapades. He is dating Bertoleza, but that plays no part in the novel and has no bearing on his business acumen. Presumably that should be a statement of the novel. The mentally, morally and emotionally shallowest of all the protagonists in the novel, so shallow that he has neither needs nor ambitions in other areas beyond making money, is also the most economically successful, while the much more complex and receptive Jerônimo fails, or one undergoes a radical change in personality. The thesis can be found "intuitively" plausible. Where there is nothing, nothing can develop. More complex personalities find themselves more easily in a field of conflicting goals, moral ideas, confused feelings, far-reaching interests and are more likely to perceive social / societal contradictions, they are then more likely to be confronted with complex questions to which they are looking for more complex answers. This naturally reduces the ability to focus on a target.

The author would say, however, that the character has turned out to be a bit woodcut-like and even if it existed in this pure form, it would not be suitable as a criticism of the "capitalist" or market-economy system, as the thing is correctly called. The market economy order does not need morality, because competition is a control mechanism that controls far more strongly and harshly than any morality. In the published opinion, we find a tendency to describe phenomena such as corruption, asset shifts through speculative profits, the elimination of competitors through unfair means, etc. as system failures. The system failure then consists only in the fact that the market economy has been restricted and not a failure of the market economy as such. However, we do not know whether Azevedo wanted to criticize the "capitalist" order at all, as is often claimed. Furthermore, it can be assumed that he was not familiar with the economics literature of his time, Adam Smith, Jean Baptiste Say, John Stuart Mill etc. So you should take the novel for what it is. An "intuitive", based on personal experience, description of reality. João Romão undergoes a transformation in his personality when he realizes that money alone is not enough for social advancement. He realizes that when Miranda becomes Baron. He then adopts all the insignia that distinguishes the socially superior and then sets himself apart from the residents of the tenement consciously and externally. However, the insignia of social advancement is not the Brazilian / African culture, but the canon defined by Portugal. He is now trying to acquire this knowledge by diligently, albeit unsuccessfully, reading, by going to the theater and concerts and by visiting the appropriate cafés. One may find that a complex issue is grasped intuitively here. A canon of education, which results from the nature of things, is not an expression of an individual development, but canonizes what a certain class demands of its members. This can be useful if cultural creations remain in space and can thus be experienced, even if the adherents of the canon attribute a merely systemic value to it, and bad if an obsolete canon is kept in the educational system.

Jerônimo goes the opposite way. In contrast to João Romão, who is simply incapable of experience and for whom culture is only relevant when it is systemically relevant, i.e. documents social advancement, Jerônimo, before his transformation, is the bearer of a specific culture, namely the Portuguese one. He replaces the Portuguese violão, actually more of a guitar, with the Brazilian guitar, Portuguese music loses importance as he penetrates Brazilian/African music. So while João Romão breaks away from the Brazilian / African milieu and orients himself towards the culture of the economically dominant class, Jerônimo is drawn to it like Odysseus to the singing of the sirens, but without being tied to a stake like the cunning Odysseus. which saves it from being shipwrecked. To the extent that he gives in to the intoxication, his previous life flies around his ears. However, this also only has something to do with Brazil to a limited extent. This is, so to speak, one of the oldest myths of mankind, described in thousands of novels, dramas, poems and songs.

If you want, you can see in João Romão the textbook case of homo oeconomicus, the person fixated solely on maximizing profits, but the novel lacks the corresponding counterpart to homo oeconomicus, competition. Only in competition does the homo oeconomicus develop a socially meaningful function. Furthermore, life in particular, and the economy in particular, is more complicated than the microeconomic model suggests, and even in the best of market economies there are many areas of social life where ruthlessness is rewarded.

Although, apart from the story with Bertoleza and Marciana, he is not guilty of much, apart from his petty thefts and frauds, the João Romão type is extremely dangerous when he appears in crowds. It may be economically positive, building houses for the common people, creating jobs, driving trade. But that doesn't change the fact that he's unsympathetic.

10.2. Jerônimo

Jerônimo is the only "real" Portuguese, which means he wasn't born in Brazil, but emigrated to Brazil with his wife and daughter. When he appears for the first time, he has already freed himself from the precariat because of his superior work discipline, which contradicts the Marxist thesis of social impermeability. In contrast to João Romão, who doesn't care about anything except money, Jerônimo, like his wife, longs for Portugal. His idea was originally to get rich in Brazil and then return to Portugal.

(This is what João Romão also wants in the last third of the novel, but not out of longing, but to savor his triumph.) In his early days in Brazil he was in the precariat, but he was able to get out of it through hard work. When he moves into the tenement, he is still separated from the other residents of the tenement, but is respected by everyone because of his demeanor and his moral authority. The misfortune takes its course when he sees Rita Baiana dancing. With Rita he gains a new perspective on his new homeland, which now attracts him so much that he forgets his old homeland and with it his wife Piedade. In the novel, Brazilian culture is on the one hand the unbridled, spontaneous joie de vivre, the immersion of all senses in pure life, but not exactly what is helpful in the disciplined pursuit of purely economic goals, especially given the side effects of drunkenness, violence, irresponsibility and chaos are. What characterizes Jerônimo at the beginning of the novel, sobriety, discipline, irresponsibility, professionalism, moderation, is completely lost.

It is undisputed that Azevedo constructs a fundamental difference between the culture of Portugal and the culture of Brazil, because he refers to this difference quite decidedly. The only question left is whether this difference is not of a fundamental nature and can be found everywhere. The author doesn't need to provide any examples here, the reader can easily find some for himself. Incidentally, what is called rational in economics, the optimization of a situation with regard to economic success, is likely to be quite irrational. Behavior can only be rational if the goal is also rational. It is even more rational to pursue a rational goal with irrational, non-targeted means than an irrational goal with rational, i.e. target-leading, means. Therefore, mankind staggers somewhat through world history. That's in the nature of things.

Jerônimo, like Rita Baiana, is a more sympathetic character, although the two ultimately create the overall chaos and Jerônimo ends up a drunk. Someone who is overwhelmed by his feelings is just more likeable than someone like João Romão, who has none at all. It should happen that people are driven out of life with an endless longing, but insensibility and total dullness do not offer an alternative either. (A topic that we encounter again with Pombinha, by the way.)

10.3 Miranda

Miranda's house is right next to the tenement, which Azevedo exploits to contrast the spontaneous lust for life of the residents of the tenement, albeit one that repeatedly degenerates into extreme wildness and licentiousness, against the sterile, hypocritical facade of bourgeois law. In the Miranda house, more or less everything is just a facade. The marriage actually doesn't work and is frozen in mere conventions, with Dona Estela enjoying herself elsewhere, with the result that Miranda is probably not Zulmira's father at all. Miranda's enterprise is based on his wife's dowry, whom he hates, but who he cannot part with for that very reason. It is implied, in the final section of the novel, that the whole facade is based on the exploitation of slaves.

Miranda sees no further opportunities to climb the social ladder through greater wealth and therefore resorts to obtaining a title of nobility, which, at least according to the novel, still has prestige in Brazil. (Which João Romão also assumes, because he not only wants to become a baron, but also a count.)

The work is difficult to place in time. One possibility would be to research the backgrounds of the buildings mentioned. The novel must then have been written afterwards. However, since Azevedo obviously wanted to write a novel that was critical of the time, the author assumes that it is set in a period from 1850 onwards. You can also roughly classify it based on wages. If only those people who, according to the law of 1824, earned more than 200,000 réis a year were allowed to take part in the elections to the provincial parliaments and Bertoleza had to give 240,000 réis to their master, then the inflation must have had a certain effect , since one can assume that 200 thousand is a house number. After 40 years that would have been halved, which is still a lot, but not completely unrealistic. Nobility titles such as baron, which Miranda receives, are granted by kings under the 1824 constitution, in this case by Pedro II.

Art. 102. O Imperador é o Chefe do Poder Executivo, e o exercita pelos seus Ministros de Estado.
XI. Conceder Titulos, Honras, Ordens Militares, e Distincções em recompensa de serviços feitos ao Estado; Dependendo as Mercês pecuniarias da approvação da Assembléa, quando não estiverem já designadas, e taxadas por Lei.

So the awarding of titles depends on merits and fees, which in turn are determined by Parliament. The fun was then really expensive. 750,000 réis for the title, 366,000 réis for the request and 170,000 réis for the registration, makes about 1.3 million réis, roughly the amount that Bertoleza had to pay her master in five years. But that doesn't answer the crucial question, namely what you actually get out of it. Originally, the title of baron was mainly given to landowners, especially those who owned coffee plantations, but also to industrialists, merchants and bankers, if they were of a certain size. Here and there one reads that the merits for the state, serviços feitos ao Estado, were emphasized in the certificate of appointment, although these were irrelevant, which was probably intended to distract from the fact that the titles were simply bought. Ultimately, the ability to pay was decisive. Should Pedro II, however, have checked the award individually and the payment alone was not sufficient, the title could be used to document that one is a respected member of society. At least that's true if the group you want to impress shares the values set by the imperial system under Pedro II. (One should not confuse this with the nobility titles that still came from Portugal. Dona Estela, his wife, inherited such a title, but this was only possible with Portuguese nobility titles.) Anyone who had been accused of lese majesté, practiced a craft or was of Jewish faith could not become a baron. It probably helped if you could document that you were friendly with the system if you needed any perks from it. Furthermore, many of Miranda's business partners were probably pillars of the system, above all the owners of the estates with whom he traded, and they probably gave preference to another pillar of the system in case of doubt. Anyone who is now having trouble psychologically understanding why someone would spend a lot of money on renewing their name should consider that some people try to get a title of nobility somehow and pay real money for it. It's still hard to understand, but at least it's a fact. You don't have to understand why the European nobility likes to cuddle with each other, but it's a fact.

Another factor that plays a role in Miranda is that he is financially dependent on his wife, since he cannot withdraw her assets from the company and she has an aristocratic title or is of noble descent. It is now of decisive importance for his self-confidence that he acquires an aristocratic title "by his own efforts".

Otherwise he resembles João Romão. Miranda has no interests, passions, goals, aspirations, or ideals, other than maintaining the facade of the upper-class businessman and respectability. Which brings us to the next $1,000 question. If the Miranda type is to be interesting, then, at least if one shares naturalism's concern to provide a description of society, it must be typical. Naturalism makes the claim that they adapt humans to their environment much like Darwin's finches. As mentioned at the beginning, this is unlikely to be the case, because people shape their surroundings in the same way they shape them. More plausible is the thesis that people behave in conformity with the system, i.e. react to the incentives of the system and the textbook version of the market economy system only rewards immediate economic success and not the contribution to the realization of any ideals or abstract goals. Although there are also things like public and merit goods and the internalization of external costs in economics, experience teaches us that profit maximization dominates. Even in subsystems of social life, the individual will respond to incentives. It shouldn't matter to the individual whether this is an abstract goal or an ideal. In addition, the individual is usually not intellectually capable of even recognizing the underlying ideal or, more modestly, the desired order.

So Miranda responds to the incentives offered to him and does not reflect on the internal contradictions of the system, which is bad in that the system to which he adapts only a few years later, namely in 1889 and with the beginning of the first republic , collapses due to its internal contradictions. Here, too, naturalism is wrong. It may be that people adapt to conditions, it would be more precise to say that they react to their incentive systems, but these systems are rarely consistent and stable and are then changed by people. It is possible that Azevedo wanted to criticize "capitalism", i.e. actually, if you choose the right term, the market economy, but this system is just one system among many and whatever incentive systems a system offers, positive or negative, there will be people who will react to these incentive systems. There is only one force in the novel that does not respond to the system's incentive schemes and that is sensuality. It stands in the way of the pursuit of profit rather than promoting it.

The basic thesis of the market economy is that it leads to the highest prosperity for everyone if everyone maximizes profits, whereby the game only works in theory under COMPETITIVE CONDITIONS that prevent any abuse through objective control. The idea of the market radicals à la Milton Friedman is then that the basic idea of the market economy should be extended to as many areas as possible, e.g. to the area of education. The competition itself has no goals, apart from the optimization of economic processes. So pure competition would also work with Mirandas and João Romãos. The desire to enforce ideals or to act morally is neither intended nor required in this system, but it sanctions deviance. This system works better than systems that rely on the moral integrity of the actors. No matter how many walls, for example in Cuba, ask the population to be like Che Guevara, it doesn't help productivity. People respond to concrete incentives and do not want to realize abstract ideals.

The problem is that pure competition has no goals other than efficiency and tends to sanction rather than encourage the realization of ideals. The culturally and morally completely hollowed out society is ultimately dead. The economy is no longer an instrument for achieving goals, but the goal itself. Anyone who now thinks that more culture will solve the problem is wrong, because, as depicted in the novel, it is culture is also a system of incentives. Their value is not absolute, but has a systemic function. The example of Jerônimo and Rita also shows that authenticity, in which concrete experience and not instrumental use is the focus, is not provided for in the system. In this respect, the novel can also be interpreted in a "Marxist" manner, but not as a criticism of the "capitalist" order. Anyone who does that falls short. Ultimately, it's about alienation. The alienated human being makes himself an instrument. Prepares himself in such a way that he reacts to the incentives of the respective system in a way that conforms to the system, which is all the easier to do if the individual himself has neither goals, values nor ideals. In textbooks on microeconomics, the market economy system sounds nice and, thanks to the drastic reduction in complexity, it can also be described mathematically. To the objection that in a pluralistic society it cannot be the task of economics to define goals, which is undoubtedly correct, one could of course reply that the actual core question remains unanswered. To be more specific: Guys like Miranda and João Romão will stop at nothing to climb the social ladder, which is exactly what they do in the novel. Bertoleza's death is accepted. When society lacks a compass, as was the case in Germany between 1933 and 1945, then such types become a problem.

10.4 Botelho

How to classify Botelho is written in the novel. Most often it is referenced as parasite. As far as the economic base is concerned, he actually belongs to the precariat but, for reasons that are unclear, is supported by Miranda. So he's not an archetype, because there shouldn't be too many people who are privately fed by anyone. Botelho is only archetypal in his admiration for everything military, flags, uniforms, marches, etc. Why this fascinates so many people, see above, is a mystery. Suffice it to say that the people fascinated by Gengdarassaa rarely think about the purpose of Gengdarassaa, or the suitability of Gengdarassaa to achieve a goal. To some extent, Botelho is Miranda and João Romão at their finest. While the latter are at least still promoting positive economic development, it has no function. Although he has the same absolute unscrupulousness, his "businesses" are pointless from a macroeconomic point of view, the fact that they work, that he lets João Romão pay him to arrange his marriage with Zumela only shows that this society is hollowed out from the inside and relationships are only established through money. Botelho shows, so to speak, in its purest form what happens when characters like Miranda or João Romão act in a system where pure profit maximization no longer has a socially meaningful function and parts of social life cannot be controlled through competition. The question is to what extent values and more complex goals can be conveyed if for the central area, the economy, this relevance of values ex catedra, e.g. in economics, is negated. Culture and values are, as we can learn from history, a thin patina that is very easily sacrificed to optimize utility.

10.5 Rita Baiana

Women are portrayed in the novel much more positively than men. In contrast to Jerônimo, who on the one hand has social obligations and on the other hand wants to climb the social ladder, which he manages to do thanks to his discipline and qualifications, Rita only lives for the moment, but intensely. Jerônimo ultimately fails because he is capable of intense experience and ultimately decides for the intensity of the moment and against reason. Characters like Miranda or João Romão are not at all exposed to this conflict because they are not capable of an intense experience.

Rita is well aware that her relationship with Jerônimo is taking her down a steep path and initially she massively rejects this connection. Only when events are precipitating, Firmo injures Jerônimo, Jerônimo tells her that he will definitely leave Piedade, her Firmo becomes increasingly scary and is happy when Jerônimo kills him, does she agree to the connection, although she still does would have understood if Jerônimo returned to his wife. She could not have prevented Jerônimo's civil life from falling apart because, regardless of her behavior, he no longer wanted it. If you want, you can also see in Rita Baiana, in terms of type, something like the creator or the medium of Brazilian / African culture. Culture is always an expression of a certain attitude towards life that critically expresses reality, celebrates it emphatically, condenses it, transcends it, mourns it or whatever. But where there is no such thing at all, as with Miranda, João Romão or Botelho, no attitude to life can be expressed either, because with them everything is under the primacy of economic / social advancement and culture is merely an instrument and symbol of belonging to a certain class . Where there is nothing that could be expressed, nothing is expressed.

Of all the women in the tenement, she leads the most free and independent life, even if she increasingly sees Firmo as a threat.

10.6 Leonie

Léonie originally comes from the same milieu as the residents of the tenement barracks, but taps into class-divided society where it can be tapped, namely as a high-class prostitute. She takes advantage of the disruptive nature of sexuality. She could appear in a picture by Otto Dix and is at the center of the whole mixture of bourgeois hypocrisy, violence, boredom, exploitation, while behaving responsibly in her immediate environment.

10.7 Pombinha

Pombinha comes from a well-off family, but after the bankruptcy of her father's company and his suicide ended up in the tenement block, which she can escape from by getting married. However, her husband is too stupid for her, so that she also becomes a high-class prostitute under the guidance of Léonie. Psychologically interesting is her first experience of lesbian love with Léonie. Although this experience is shocking for her at first, it has a lasting impact on her and the intensity of this experience lets her feel her husband's insignificance even more intensely. The novel is therefore much more than a depiction of class antagonisms or an illustration of the alleged characterization of the individual by the milieu. Pombinha could have continued with her middle-class life, but she was simply too bored. It is briefly indicated that Henrique, son of a plantation owner and thus a profiteer from slavery, is one of her customers. Her luxurious life, like that of Léonie, is ultimately based on exploitation.

10.8 Piedade

Even if one reads the opposite everywhere, the novel is not a sociological study in the form of a novel, which would not be of much use. If you want to write a sociological study, you should do it, but in prose and with empirically reliable data. However, Azevedo succeeds in drawing an infinite number of characters with just a few brushstrokes, which then cannot be integrated into a theory, but are initially only individuals. In the conflict between Rita and Piedade, you can't see any fundamental differences between a Brazilian mentality and a Portuguese mentality. The constellation is everywhere, with the exception of extremely religious societies. On the one hand we have Piedade, who loves her husband more than anything and cannot imagine life without him and cannot live without him, and Rita, who just lives for the moment. Whether Rita now does carpe diem without thinking about the future, or whether Piedade drives into the safe but boring future, is in the eye of the beholder, or the way it is presented and artistically processed. In reality, of course, the accompanying circumstances play a role. Depending on the circumstances, you will evaluate it differently. (At least if you don't have very clear moral concepts, such as religious ones.)

10.9 Firmo

Firmo is Rita's lover with considerable criminal energy and multiple murders. Rita lives with him from time to time. He is similar to Rita in that he flips his money frivolously with Rita when he has some. In his youth he was politically active, he specifically, it is insinuated that this was done with dubious methods, acquired votes. However, his commitment was not due to idealistic reasons. His goal was to get a job, which is supposed to be a motive for political activities everywhere, but he never managed to do it, which is why he then lost interest in politics.

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