Here’s a short story from Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector (1920-1977). Previously, we had a look at her rather engaging work Daydream and Drunkenness of a Young Lady.
This story deals with themes of poverty and sexism in 1970s Brazil. Its publication also followed shortly after the death of its author.
Hour of the Star
A hora da estrela (the Brazilian title) concerns the young lady Macabéa. She works as a typist. However, she’s also poverty-stricken and stuck in one of Brazil’s favelas (shanty towns—slums).
Her story is narrated by Rodrigo S.M. He takes an interest in her plight and states he wishes to explain her situation to the reader.
He begins a quite intrusive narration. It reminds us of Albert Camus’ The Fall (1956) in how it kind of forces itself on the reader.
Anyway, Macabéa is naive and whimsical. She enjoys drinking Coca-Cola and watching films, with a particular infatuation for Marilyn Monroe.
Although she’s aware she lives in poverty, she views the situation with a certain disdain. As in, she doesn’t think it’s something to fuss over.
She’s, in fact, mightily proud of her job as a typist as it means she’s somebody. Even if she’s in a rut from which there’s no escape.
"Maybe the northeastern girl had already concluded that life is extremely uncomfortable, a soul that doesn't quite fit into the body, even a flimsy soul like hers. In her little superstitious imaginings, she thought that if by any chance she ever got to a nice good taste of living—she'd suddenly cease to be the princess she was and be transformed into vermin. Because, no matter how bad her situation, she didn't want to be deprived of herself, she wanted to be herself."
Elsewhere she absolutely revels in the simple pleasures of life.
"So, the next day, when the four tired Marias went to work, she had for the first time in her life the most precious thing of all: solitude. She had a room all to herself. She could hardly believe that all this space was hers. And not a word was heard. So she danced in an act of absolute courage, since her aunt couldn't hear her."
She later gets a boyfriend, but he’s a cad. Rejected by him for a colleague, Macabéa visits a fortune teller and informed of ridiculous impossibilities—future wealth and fame.
All of which come to nought. Whilst Macabéa, as an uneducated woman in a sexist society, continues on with her daydreams.
Lispector said the story is about “crushed innocence” and “anonymous misery”, which makes it sound rather bleak.
However, Hour of the Star is engagingly sombre. Although Macabéa is simply one of millions cursed to a life of poverty, we found her attitude rather uplifting.
Her sunny disposition may be born out of quiet resignation (or blissful ignorance). But as reality is “too enormous” for her to grasp, her basic lifestyle appears to bring quiet happiness.
So, for us, Lispector cleverly works a narrative that displays Macabéa isn’t the problem. It’s society that’s at fault.
Film Version: Hour of the Star
In 1985, Brazilian director Suzana Amaral (1932-2020—she died in June at 88) adapted the short story for film.
Marcélia Cartaxo stars as Macabéa—the actor was only 21 at the time. She won an award at the 36th Berlin International Film Festival for her efforts.
Now 56, she’s starred in some 30 films and is still acting it up. Good!
The whole thing is available on YouTube to watch, but you’ll need to learn some Portuguese if you want to.
By all accounts, though, it’s a fine film that does the book a lot of justice.