Macabéa’s Abuse

Question: What is the justification for both Macabéa’s acquaintances and the narrator to verbally abuse her?

A major theme of the novel are the physical and psychological effects on Macabéa placed on her from her poor living conditions. She in an underpaid typist with poor skills and is constantly verbally abused by her boss (13). The majority characters in the novel emphasize this point, from her ex-boyfriend Olímpico de Jesus allowing his hyper masculinity to cut off ties with Macabéa for days because he failed to lift her up (44) or shutting down her dreams of being a film actress (45), to her co-worker Gloria insulting her makeup (53). The sole time Macabéa rejects these insults is towards Gloria’s insult. Aside from this exception, Macabéa consistently endures insults and condescension from her peers, often times unable to understand that comments directed at her were negative. Her abuse has been normalized since childhood, considering her relationship with her aunt who would beat her head to prevent a life of vagrancy (20).

These relationships are the foundation for Lispector’s portrayal of lower class Brazilians. The novel draws attention to how Macabéa is treated and systematically held back due to her weak educational background. However, Lispector’s own narrator subjugates Macabéa further by insulting her while telling her story. This unreliable narrator refers to her as a stray dog (10) and unwanted coffee (20), while still proclaiming their love for her (21). The purpose of these insults is to emphasize the idea that even the one telling the story is not free of bias, that even though they are not directly interacting with Macabéa, they still view her as lesser for her educational and economic status. Classist sentiments are allegorized in the final scene, in which an upper-class, foreign born driver of a Mercedes hits Macabéa, ultimately killing her (74). The lack of the driver’s concern for her wellbeing, along with the fact that no one actively tries to help her find medical assistance, drives home the justification for her abuse; Macabéa is inherently worth less than other Brazilians for her economic status.