Check out the main representations of the sertão in the literature

Check out the main representations of the sertão in the literature

The first step in thinking about this text was to have read it, by Euclides da Cunha. I think that, from the title of the book, there is a lot to debate about this region of the country: representations so multiple that there is not only one hinterland, but several. I chose some works that impacted my view of the Sertão and the Northeast in general. The idea is not to conclude any debate, but to present various representations of the Northeast that have been consolidated in the popular imagination. Obviously, there will be analyzes that will take place outside of this research, because there is no place in the world that fits on pages.

The Houaiss Portuguese Language Dictionary defines sertão as a space away from the coast. Gustavo Barroso (, 1962) recalls that the correct spelling was common in Portugal since the XVI and credits its probable origin to the Angolan vocabulary muceltão ‘interior, distant region of the coast’ (from where celtão> certão> sertão).

Thus, we can reach the logical conclusion that the Northeast and the Sertão are not synonymous, even by the etymology of the words. From that, I was led to think two things: why are there so many representations of the Sertão that contrast with each other and, mainly, why do so many people lend themselves to portray this region?

The researcher Ângelo Leitão Junior – in, speaks:

Literary discourses express geographical thoughts. These speeches consolidate certain conceptions, generating a kind of “common sense”. From this perspective, the fact that the geographic notion of the sertão does not express a factitious-material reality, distinguished by its natural elements or by a specific specificity of a humanized landscape, stands out, this notion does not refer, therefore, to a place, but to a condition, in general to be overcome, since the hinterland only expresses itself from the non-hinterland.

Leaving the academic world, I went after representations in art, even to make the work more enjoyable. In Brazilian literature, Sertão has a gigantic prominence in classics:,,, and. And each author deals very differently with the place they portray.

The sertões in Brazilian literature

The Sertões

In, Euclides makes a mapping of the people and a sort of cataloging of each one, trying to trace a behavioral profile and even clothes of each one, which makes it a kind of summary to understand a rigid and almost stereotyped vision of the backcountry.

Grande Sertão: Veredas

The narrative focus of is in the first person. Riobaldo, as a rich farmer, revives his struggles, his fears, his loves and his doubts. The narrative, long and labyrinthine, because of the narrator’s tours, simulates the physical backlands itself, a space where the whole story unfolds. The general space of the work is the backlands. It makes the plot a kind of labyrinth, as if it were a metaphor for life.

In Rosa’s work, “the sertão is the world” and, in a special way, a world that can be registered, manipulated and transformed: it is a mythical, active, interactive world. If Rosa’s special interest in the natural and cultural space of the sertanejo strikes the eyes of readers in each section of her work, however, this interest appears, not occasionally, only as the thread of the skein, as a pretext only for a greater discussion about the human being and about the world.

In this sense, there is a bridge of connection, of transcendence between the regional sertanejo and the human universal in the Rosian work that, quite properly, occurs in the field of language and not only in other fields.

Dried lives

, a novel published in 1938, portrays the miserable life of a family of rural retreatants forced to move from time to time to areas less affected by drought. Graciliano Ramos’ dry style, which is expressed mainly through the economic use of adjectives, seems to convey the aridity of the environment and its effects on the people who are there.

The book manages, from the title, to show the dehumanization that drought promotes in the characters, whose verbal expression is as sterile as the punished soil of the region. The poverty caused by drought, as a natural element, adds to the poverty imposed by social influence, represented by the exploitation of the wealthy landowners in the region. Withdrawals, as the name implies, are excluded from the possibility of continuing to live in the space they occupied.

Death and Life Severina

Already in, the arid and fruitless Sertão is the main character. He is the reason for the character’s pilgrimage, looking for a job, because there are no memories of when the land was good. In a much more rational and less emotional way, the work characterizes a place that makes people all the same, without individualities, with little vocabulary, as they are laconic in general. Only the religious rite continues to thrive and everyone, even though they know of the coming death, respect the divinity.

Severino is one among many others, who has the same name, the same big head and the same tragic fate as the hinterland: dying in ambush before the age of twenty, old age before the age of thirty and starving a little each day. It is a very strong poetics that portrays an ease.

The retreatants continue to live off the land, but instead of being covered in dust from plowing dry soil, they are covered in mud from hunting crabs in the mangrove. The book also criticizes the land dispute and the desperate struggle for the little.

In the face of the sordid scenario, suicide seems a good option, to interrupt life, which is also severe death. And it is not for nothing that, in the name of the book, Death comes first: it is because it is more certain to die of severe death than to live in oneself. Very rational, it is a work that questions the most intimate aspects of a land that appears as oppressive.

The Auto da Compadecida

In the work of Ariano Suassuna, the sertão appears full of conflicts and striking characters, with a well-defined daily life and, although hyperbolized, does not flirt with stereotype as much. Deeply sertaneja, the work abuses verbal language and reflects, once again, people’s daily lives.

In the original play, each character carries characteristics that delimit him. Chicó is brave and, to the same extent, lies to satisfy an inventive desire. João Grilo, the main character, has his support in orality and cunning. It is by the word that João Grilo survives, for showing above average intelligence and, with a cynical charisma, entering and leaving tragicomic situations.

However, as much as it is not so explicit, there is a strong criticism of the traditional model of the city and of capital more broadly. Money appears as the corruptor of men and all occasions that have led someone to death or close to it have money involved. Criticism of the Church also appears, when the priest and the man of the diocese literally fight for money, but with all the education that the cassock covers them.

In the background of humor, it is permeated by a form of resistance to the concept of “common sense” by Sertão. It is a way of establishing a foothold, and not giving in to external conceptions of what may be the Sertão. And, with characters from the backlands, it shows a social genius difficult to obtain in the cities, in addition to criticizing the imposed systems.

All interpretations were based on research of academic theses, magazines specialized in literature and, of course, on works.