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Child of the Dark, Book Review Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1491

Book Review

Carolina Maria de Jesus’ Child of the Dark provides a riveting yet information amalgam of events of Carolina’s—a single woman—life in the slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Living in the favela of Caninde due to its proximity to a junkyard, she describes her quotidian struggles raising three children in poverty and without any help from others. In a very blunt manner, Carolina details the adversities she confronts in addition to the futility that others living in the penniless, impoverished slums of Brazil face. The life of Carolina María de Jesus reflects the lives of millions of Carolina’s contemporary Latin Americans. The majority of them, like Carolina, were rural-to-urban migrants who wanted to escape the poverty and exploitation still imposed by the colonial legacy of the hacienda or fazenda. This legacy still dominated the countryside in various places except in Mexico, where the Revolution spawned agrarian reform. However, their escape often resulted in the germination of even worse conditions in the favelas and their equivalents in other countries when the migrants ascertained that they could not find decent jobs in the new industrial sectors that sprang up due to the new economic policy of import substitution industrialization. The narrative of Carolina created by her diary entries is pertinent to the late 1950s and early 1960s, which is the period in which the narrative was set. However, it is even more relevant within current contexts because an estimated 20% of Latin Americans subsist on one dollar a day or less and millions live in commensurate living conditions as Carolina did.

Independent, strong-willed, and fiery, Carolina eschewed conforming to the behaviors that were prevalent and expected within the favelada. She writes that her neighbors rejected her due to the fact that she was literate and because she despised their penchant for lying and violent behaviors, and she especially expressed her antagonism towards the Northeasterners because they were erratic and violent. In her first diary entry in the middle of 1955, Carolina writes: “The birthday of my daughter Vera Eunice. I wanted to buy a pair of shoes for her, but the price of food keeps us from realizing our desires…we are slaves to the cost of living” (de Jesus 10). Instead, Carolina rummaged through garbage to find shoes that she washed and patched up for Vera to wear. Indeed, her diary entries convey an overt revulsion of life in the favela, although some descriptions of the sky in addition to her general love for Brazil, her mother country, soften the tone of the entries (de Jesus 37). As such, she was indeed a slave to her abject poverty and lack of financial resources.

Carolina depicts herself as a loner who is constantly at odds with other favelados, although her diary entries suggest that she was viewed as a trustworthy and stable person within the slums. Indeed, the majority of those living in the favelado knew that she was literate and thus lauded her for her ability to teach herself how to read and write. Some favelados even sent their children who were released from institutions for delinquent and homeless children to her to care for them. In addition, Carolina notes that she was frequently called on in order to police various fights that erupted between neighbors. As a result, although she feels ostracized from her fellow favelados, she was nonetheless viewed as an agent of decency and stability in the harsh, sordid, and bitter world in the slums of Brazil. Her observation of restaurant workers pouring acid on leftover foods so that the poor could not scavenge for them in addition to the hopelessness, excrement, and death that surrounded her, nonetheless, leads her to conclude that “everything is black around us” (de Jesus 37). Indeed, she reprimanded politicians for expressing compassion and empathy towards the poor during elections, yet they quickly disregarded the poor once they got elected into office. Carolina’s diary entries adjured potent images, as she writes: “What I revolt against is the greed of men who squeeze other men as if they were squeezing oranges” (de Jesus 47). Thus, her political attitudes, along with her fellow favelados, would favor a revolutionary leader who cared for the disempowered and the poor.

Carolina Maria de Jesus raised three children by herself while living in the favelas without a job due to the fact that she had children and was single. As a result, she collected cans and paper on the streets in an effort to scrape by on a daily basis, and she sold pennies in order to be able to afford food for her three children. She foraged through garbage for clothing and food while also collecting paper and other trinkets in her burlap sack to sell for money. She was paid about twenty five cents for each pound of usable cans, paper, and bottles. However, Carolina had to contend with other favelados who were desperate to survive as well because like her they were poor, and many of them had already given up hope and thus succumbed to alcoholism and depression. The favelados expressed their disdain towards Carolina because of her overwhelming optimism that she refused to divorce herself from despite the grim conditions she faced on a daily basis. Indeed, she refused to bicker and fight with the other favelados when they tried to perpetrate a feud with her. This steadfast unwillingness to devolve into depression and pessimism fueled her to confront and overcome all adversities she faced on a daily basis. Carolina removed boards from a church construction site near the favela and constructed a shack for herself and her children out of the boards and built a roof using scrap tin. As a result, the roof leaked frequently, the mattress she had found rotted, and the pots and pans always rusted. In order to eliminate the pungent stench of the favela, Carolina covered her nose with a rag and hung a sack over the window for more privacy.

Carolina paints a very bleak image of life in the favela, and it is clear that the quality of life in the favela was subpar due to the squalid conditions and trenchant poverty. Both men and women living in the favelas turn to alcoholism as a coping mechanism, which figured prominently in favela life in order to escape the adverse environment they were stuck in.  Once people residing in the favelas were stuck in the downward spiral of drinking alcohol heavily, it was seemingly impossible to escape. Carolina states that “it is well known that people who are given to the vice of drink [they] never buy anything. Not even clothes. Drunks don’t prosper” (de Jesus 21-22). In addition to rampant alcoholism, disease was another problem on a macro scale in the favelas. It was common for people living in the slums to get tapeworms as a result of dirty water supplies and poor sanitation. Carolina notes that her daughter Vera “said she was hungry. I bought some milk and made oatmeal for her. She ate, then vomited up a worm” (de Jesus 62). Other common diseases in the favela were tuberculosis, rotella virus, skin diseases, hepatitis, and gastroenteritis, among various other debilitating conditions.  Prostitution and public nudity were commonly practiced in the favelas, among various other endemic social problems such as drugs and violence. Houses are constructed out of fickle materials such as wood, rocks, mud, and certain kinds of brick. Ultimately. poverty spawns various problems on a macro level, including illicit drug dealing, violence, and robbery. Carolina paints a picture of the favela as one of the most dangerous places to live in the world. Murders and personal muggings are frequent in the favela, especially because of the gang culture that has fomented therein. Although police activity has increased in the slums, it is evident that they have exacerbated violence in the slums rather than abated crime.

Carolina Maria de Jesus was an extremely aggressive, proud, and mercurial black Brazilian woman who resided in the slums of Brazil with her three illegitimate children, each of which was born from a different father. Despite her life of poverty, she learned how to write and read on her own willpower even though she only attended primary school for two years. Although the publication of her diary propelled her into the spotlight, the rise of a military dictatorship during the 1960s spawned an ardent reaction against social criticism. Although the Cuban Revolution at the behest of Fidel Castro appealed to the endemically poor in a very powerful manner, social criticism was frowned upon. As a result, Carolina was forced to moved back into the slums and scavenge for subsistence. Despite living the majority of her life in the slums, Carolina nonetheless emerged as a trope to foreigners for the struggle to transcend and rise above abject poverty. Her life story is a cautionary tale that evinces not only her own personal struggles amidst poverty but also the social system in place in Brazil that she was embedded in. She was cognizant of the burden of the legacy of sexism, racism, and political neglect of the poor and marginalized. As such, she refused to comply with prevailing cultural and social values, thereby eschewing any neat categorization (class or gender-based marginalization).

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