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Literature / Dom Casmurro

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Original cover of the 1900 version.

Everything comes to an end, reader. It is an old truism to which may be added that not everything that lasts, lasts for long. This latter part is not readily admitted; on the contrary the idea that an air castle lasts longer than the very air of which it is made is hard to get out of a person's head, and this is fortunate, otherwise the custom of making those almost eternal constructions might be lost.
Dom Casmurro, Chapter CXVIII

Published in 1899, and considered by critics as one of Machado de Assis' masterpieces, and still taught at most brazilian schools today, Dom Casmurro is written as a fictional memoir where the narrator and main character, Bentinho (Bento de Albuquerque Santiago), recounts the story of his life, beginning with him being sent to a seminary to become a priest, but later moving to be a lawyer and marry his childhood friend, Capitu (Maria Capitolina). The climax of the story is when Bentinho begins to suspect that Capitu cheated on him with his best friend Ezequiel de Sousa Escobar, and that their child is not really his.

For years, the story was acclaimed, but considered as simply the tale of a man cheated by his wife. However, in the early 60s, american literary critic Helen Caldwell, popularized the theory that the book was intended to be ambiguous. Caldwell argued that Bentinho was a jealous, paranoid unreliable narrator whose account couldn't be completely trusted. From that point on, the debate over whether Capitu was unfaithful or not (and before that, if such ambiguity really was intended by the author in the first place) raged on.

Regardless of that, its witty, sarcastic humor, and later the ambiguity over whether or not the infidelity did happen contribute to the still-ongoing popularity of the book.

Dom Casmurro contains examples of:

  • Apple of Discord: Escobar eventually becomes this to Bentinho and Capitu.
  • Arc Words: Undertow eyes (Olhos de Ressaca), used to describe Capitu's alluring eyes.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The narrator routinely speaks to the reader.
  • Character Title: Dom Casmurro is a nickname given to Bentinho. A rough english translation would be "Don Grumpy".
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Ezequiel. His increasing ressemblance to Escobar as he grows older is what convinces Bentinho that Capitu cheated on him.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Bentinho and Capitu, but it doesn't end well.
  • Coming of Age Story: The first part of the book.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Bentinho is definitely this. It's one of the reasons why it's often argued that he made up the whole cheating scenario. But even if you don't believe that, the guy tries to kill a child because he believes they are another man's. (He stops himself, though...)
  • Did They or Didn't They?: The whole debate around the story, ever since the unreliable narrator theory was popularized.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: At one point, the narrator mentions the myth of Pandora's box, but the word used for box, in modern Brazilian Portuguese, now carries the same meaning as the word in the Country Matters trope.
  • Irony: Regarded as an excellent swimmer, Escobar dies by drowning at the sea when he overestimates his own ability.
  • Last-Name Basis: Ezequiel Sousa Escobar is always called just Escobar. Avoids confusion when the main couple names their child after him.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. Bentinho and Capitu's son Ezequiel is named after Escobar, and Escobar and Sancha's daughter is named Capitolina after Capitu's full name.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: If Bentinho really is Ezequiel's father. Also Sancha is implied to have outlived Capitolina (her daughter with Escobar).
  • Put on a Bus: After he is convinced Capitu cheated on him, Bentinho sends her to Switzerland, where she lives the rest of her days.
  • Riddle for the Ages: For those that subscribe to the unreliable narrator theory, whether Capitu cheated on Bentinho or not.
    • Alternatively, the riddle can be whether such ambiguity was meant by the author in the first place.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: José Dias, has the bad habit of embellishing his speech with unnecessary words.
  • Shout-Out: Several, there are references to The Bible, Classical Mythology, Faust and so on, also the main character watches Othello in the theater.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: A twisted variation: Bentinho sees a strong similarity in his son Ezequiel and the late Escobar, leading him to believe he was cheated on, but he still sees his dead friend on the boy and his affection wins over his rage, at least enough for him not to kill the boy.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Maybe. For a long time it was considered that the narrator was simply and clearly cheated on by his wife. It was only in the 60s that it began to be argued that Bentinho is paranoid, jealous, has a failing memory and is a lawyer (and thus trained in convincing others of his own version of the story), and as such his account can't be trusted. This has been a topic of lengthy debate.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Bentinho's description of Capitu's "undertow" eyes, comparing it to a return flow that draws everything in, is probably the most well known part of the book after the "supposedly suppoded" cheating affair.