Status: the Answer When Combining Race, Gender, and Social Mobility
Brazil in the 1800’s was a combination of two worlds, the European world, and the New World. Aluísio Azevedo depicts the conflict and synergism of the mixing of these two worlds in The Slum. The Slum is the story of a neighborhood where members of both worlds collide, forced to interact with one another and it becomes a microcosm of the entire country. The characters in this community each represent a facet of the two worlds. By looking at each character and the slum itself, it is possible to decipher Brazil. To gain status in Brazil there is a need to create the right impression and be able to navigate the culture of the times to gain social mobility all while following the rules laid-out for the different races, and gender. Two characters exemplify the ways to status: João and Bertoleza, with the slum they create as the backdrop and factor into status of the characters.
Although Brazil in the 1800’s was a combination of two worlds, the thoughts associated with status and ways of gaining it were based off the ideals of the Old world. Status was equivalent to racial purity or superiority, acceptable gender norms, wealth, and an overall irreproachable reputation. Racial purity or superiority means that there is no or little African blood in the family or the association with blacks is based off that of a master servant relationship. In regards to gender men were to be honorable, a man of his word, defender of his family, able be financial successful and a womanizer. A woman on the other hand was to be virtuous, keeping her maidenhood for her husband alone and being obedient to the men in her life. Europeans valued wealth as a way to providing status, wealth provided the ability to have physical symbols of status using servants and other luxuries. Wealth symbolized power in Europe because to have power meant a person had land and through the land, a person gained wealth and power.
Greed, thief, and ambition are choice words to describe João Romão. He is a Portuguese man who does nothing but dream of riches and acquisition of status. His desire of riches is similar to those of other Portuguese immigrants to Brazil, an opportunity to change their fates. João works hard for everything; sacrificing luxuries for himself in order to gain a strong financial base, which he believes, will give him the desired status. The drive to gain status also drives João the opportunity to exploit, his customers, employees, and his romantic interest. The cheating of his customer, occurred regularly to the point where he gave them change in expired money (The Slum, 169). The exploitation of João correlates to the exploitation of the Portuguese of Brazil. The system of government established in Brazil was one that encouraged mercantilism with all valuable resources sent to Portugal. He exploits his employees by taking or limiting their wages. To “help” an employee avoid his responsibilities to a woman he impregnated he states that the wage will go for a dowry but he keeps them for himself (The Slum 84). He also attempted to swindle Jerónimo with lower wages but was unsuccessful (The Slum 32). The real exploitation takes place with João’s romantic interest the first with Bertoleza and the second with Zulmira. The relationship with Bertoleza is out of convinces, she comes to depend on João for financial matters (he is her banker); she works for him and trusts him. It is when the trust develops that a romantic relationship develops (The Slum, 2). This relationship is easy to exploit because they are both striving to gain an economic foothold. João is Portugal gaining from a relationship with other lesser people. His employee, customers, and Bertoleza are the Brazilians gaining little for the work and resources they contribute. João worked towards a raise in his status and Bertoleza so she would be able to enjoy the fruits of her labor, she had some ulterior motives that will...
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