Gilberto Freyre Casa Grande Senzala

Topics: Racism, Miscegenation, Race and Ethnicity Pages: 5 (1948 words) Published: December 3, 2014
Gilberto Freyre’s Casa Grande & Senzala (1933) has been described as one of Brazil’s ‘founding fictions’. Discuss this concept paying particular attention to questions of race and to the impact of the book on Brazilian culture and society. When interpreting a work that is deemed a ‘founding fiction’, it is crucial to examine the social environments in which the given work was constructed as well as the author’s predecessors and external influences. When studying Gilberto Freyre’s Casa Grande & Senzala, it is of the utmost importance to consider figures from both Brazil, such as José de Alencar, and Europe, such as Frederick Nietzsche, who contributed to the ideas and philosophies that are manifested in his pioneering work. In order to comprehend the severity of the impact this text had, as well as the motivation behind the author, it is necessary to examine the other ‘founding fictions’ of the nation, the social environment in which it emerged and the effect it had on the both the Brazilian and the international readers of the 20th century. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ambiguous question of what their national origin constituted was prominent amongst Brazilian intellectuals. The official abolition of slavery in 1888 and the subsequent rise in numbers of Brazilian citizens of African descent can be seen to have caused the emergence of a necessary reconsideration of Brazilian identity and origins. Before the publication of Casa Grande & Senzala the widely accepted and shared view amongst intellectuals was that the large proportion of African ethnicity in society was both undesirable and detrimental. The concept of ‘branqueamento’1 was brought to the table by many intellectuals as a way of assimilating and eventually eradicating Brazil’s Black population. The main positivist idea that it represented was the attitude that ‘the interaction between race and environment’2 held more answers than the study of the ‘socio-economic conditions that generated poverty’3. This form of Social Darwinism thought and the solutions it propagated at first appeared to be a logical and ethical alternative to racial segregation that was prevalent in the United States during the early 20th century. However, Brazilian scholars had tendencies to side with European intellectuals, such as Arthur de Gobineau, a French Diplomat working in Rio de Janeiro during 1869 who publicly abhorred the amalgamation of races. He deemed its effects to be ‘rapidly effacing the best qualities of the white man, the Negro, and the Indian, leaving a mongrel nondescript type, deficient in physical and mental energy’4. In addition to this abhorrence of the idea of racial amalgamation was the widespread belief among scholars of the intellectual superiority of the Aryan race, leading to the conclusion that through ‘branqueamento’5, the ‘primitivism of African elements in Brazilian society continued to be seen as a challenge, if not an impediment, to modernity’6. Nevertheless, ‘branqueamento’7 was deemed the most logical solution to building a stronger and more stable society. This perspective, rather than granting intrinsic worth or valuing the presence of the blacks or mulattos, simply viewed them as an ‘intermediate step in the national process of whitening’8. Gilberto Freyre’s seminal work Casa Grande & Senzala, published in 1933 in an environment of national uncertainties regarding national identity, created a radical new vision for Brazilian intellectuals, through his coining of the term ‘racial democracy’ and propagation of ‘mestiçagem’, a term that came to be recognised as a ‘verdade nacional’9. One of the most severe effects of his work was its ‘turning of positivist race theory on its head’10. At the time of its publication in Brazil, this dominant mode of thought was refuted by Freyre’s assertion that miscegenation was ‘the core of national identity and evidence of successful adaptation to the tropics’11. The importance of this isn’t just in...
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