Rodrigo S.M. starts by explaining how he can't get this girl off his back—or his mind. It's like she's nagging him in his brain.
Plus, he's got some sort of weird identification thing going on with her. He says that he sees her looking in the mirror, and in the mirror, his face appears.
Pretty sure they can medicate that, Rodrigo.
He then explains that the girl is a physical person (we're assuming as opposed to a mental person, like our esteemed narrator). But she's too embarrassed to look at herself naked.
Okay, there's still a lot of moaning and groaning about how to tell this story, but we get the sense that things are starting to move now.
You have to give Rodrigo credit for trying. He's made some major changes, eating less and isolating himself in his home. We guess this is an effort to relate better to his subject?
Hey, did you know that the writing of this book was sponsored by Coca-Cola?
Yeah, that's sarcasm. Rodrigo tells us that the book is sponsored by the most popular soft drink in the world, even though it tastes like "nail polish, toilet soap, and chewed plastic."
Anyone else feel like a refreshing beverage?
He goes on to theorize that this drink, which contains coca, "allows people to be modern and move with the times" (3.46).
It's probably no coincidence that this girl drinks a lot of Coke.
Here's something else about her: she lives in a kind of limbo, untouched by good or bad: "She merely exists, inhaling and exhaling, inhaling and exhaling" (3.47).
She sleeps in blood-stained cotton underwear and "with her mouth wide open because of her stuffed-up nostrils, dead to the world from sheer exhaustion" (3.47).
Okay, not really winning us over.
This book comes in Surround Sound (and also Feel-o-Vision): Rodrigo S.M. explains that the story is accompanied from start to finish by the "faintest yet nagging twinge of toothache, caused by an exposed nerve," as well as the "plangent tones of a violin okayed by a musician on the street corner" (3.48).
In other words: uncomfortable and sad.
Have you noticed that we're still not really into the narrative?
Rodrigo says that he needs to just start suddenly, "like plunging into an icy sea and bearing its intense coldness with suicidal courage" (3.48).
Seriously, maybe this guy should find a new career
So, beside bone-crushing poverty and ignorance, this girl's problem is that she just can't cope.
Like, when the girl's boss, Senhor Raimundo Silveira, warns her not very nicely that she'll probably be fired because of her typing mistakes, she doesn't know how to respond but feels like she should say something to show her respect for him.
This moment is literally marked by a "bang," a word that appears randomly throughout the text.
Yeah, we don't know either.
The girl finally decides to ask Mr. Silveira for his forgiveness.
He's surprised by her politeness and tells her that she doesn't need to leave right away
Shaken, the girl escapes into the bathroom where she takes a good hard look at herself: "She examined herself mechanically in the mirror above the filthy hand basin that was badly cracked and full of hairs: the image of her own existence. … She studied herself and mused: so young and yet so tarnished" (3.50).
Somehow, we suspect that "so young and yet so tarnished" aren't her exact words.
In any case, she suddenly realizes that it's not too cool to be her.
Our narrator reminds us of an unfortunate, but widely accepted, truth: "There are those who have. And there are those who have not." He then goes on to say in a very straightforward way: "It's very simple: the girl had not" (3.51).
Oh, wait, she does have one thing: faith.
Like a lot of other people, our narrator is frustrated by this girl.
The less she demands, the more she worries him. Even his dog eats better than she does.
He wishes she'd fight back, but she's too "sweet and docile."
And now we get some more physical description: the girl's eyes are "enormous, round, bulging, and inquisitive," and not to mention "questioning" (3.55).
It's not that she actually asks any questions, because she figures there aren't any answers.
See, she's got an answer of her own: "it is so because it is so" (3.55).
Hm, wonder what the question is?
Now the narrator issues a challenge: if you can think of a better answer, go right ahead and say it—because he's been waiting a long time to hear one.
Anyway, the point is that our depressing little protagonist might actually possess some sort of deep wisdom.
Speaking of depressing, here's some more physical description: the girl has blotches on her face that she covers with a thick layer of white powder, which makes her look whitewashed; she is grimy because she doesn't bathe often; and, maybe for the same reason, she has a foul body odor that her roommates don't have the courage to tell her about.
Oh, also, she blows her nose "on the hem of her petticoat" (3.58). Not so cool.
In fact, Rodrigo S.M. is the only person anywhere who finds her charming. In fact, he loves her.
This is totally unexpected, because up to now he's either acted totally bored by her or even a little disgusted. So, what gives?
Rodrigo doesn't explain. But he does tell us that "the girl did not know that she existed, just as a dog doesn't know that it's a dog" (3.58).
And here's a confusing contradiction: first, he says that the girl "wasn't aware of her own unhappiness," but then four sentences later he says that "she thought that a person was obliged to be happy. So she was happy" (3.58).
So, happy or unhappy? Make up your mind, Rodrigo. (Not that we think you can, or anything.)
The text's second "bang" comes when the narrator announces that he will tell us more about the girl's history.
We learn that the girl was born with rickets, a childhood disease where the bones soften because the child doesn't get enough vitamin D.
(If you live in a developed country—which, if you're reading this, you probably do—you can thank good nutrition and fortified bread and milk for not having rickets.)
This girl, however, is from the backwoods of Alagoas.
Her parents died from typhoid when she was only two years old, so she went to live with her aunt in Maceió.
This aunt brings new meaning to the word "sadist."
Well, okay, actually she fits the definition exactly, because she got enjoyment out of beating the girl.
Plus, she'd deny the girl her favorite dessert, guava preserve with cheese.
All right, so it doesn't sound as delicious as a banana cream pie, but it is "the only real passion in [the girl's] life" (3.62).
The girl never knew why she was being punished, and of course, she never asked.
But the narrator sure has something to say about it. He explains that the girl knows what she needs to know, and she knows these things instinctively more than through intelligence: "the girl knew lots of things just as a dog knows how to wag its tail or a beggar how to feel hungry: things happen and you suddenly know" (3.63).
Huh. This sounds a little more like instinct than knowledge, or maybe just experience.
He says that this will be the case when she dies, too. She doesn't know how to die right now, but she will when the time comes.
Okay, we didn't know that dying was something you had to learn how to do.
Here's a fun fact about the girl: when she was little, she really wanted a pet.
Obviously her heartless aunt nixed that idea, so the girl convinced herself that she "didn't deserve a dog's affection" and that she was only good for breeding fleas (3.64).
We also learn that the girl has no religious feelings "and the divinities made no impression" (3.64). As soon as her aunt dies, the girl never again sets foot in a church.
Before she dies, the girl's aunt had found her a job as a typist in Rio de Janeiro.
This is probably the only nice thing she ever did for her.
After her aunt dies, the girl moves to a "bedsitter" in the city with four other girls. A "bedsitter" is a like a studio, a one-room place that's a living room and bedroom at the same time. So, basically, this is one crowded room.
This bedsitter in Rio is on Acre Street in the city's red-light district. The narrator is not fond of it, to say the least: "What a slum. The plump rats of Acre Street. I keep well away from that place" (3.70).
The only nice thing about it is that, every once in a while, the girl hears a rooster crow.
Does that seem random? Well, imagine how you would feel if you lived in crushing poverty and hopelessness.
Oh, and sickness. She's had some sort of infection for the past year and coughs for hours every morning.
Her roommates: Maria de Penha, Maria Aparecida, Maria José, and plain Maria, pay no attention to her.
(That's a lot of Marias.)
They're basically exhausted all the time, and that's pretty much all we learn about them.
Here's a little more about the girl: she gets to be so hungry that she'll chew on a piece of paper and swallow it. Ugh.
Enough about the hunger; let's get back to the existentialism.
First, the girl is so afraid of being punished for actually enjoying life that she's purposely careful to not experience pleasure. Like, she literally has nothing to live for.
Okay, so, she did once ask herself, "Who am I?," and it totally freaked her out. Yeah, we get that.
Oh, by the way, she has no idea that Rodrigo S.M. is so obsessed with her.
The girl has one luxury: a few sips of cold coffee before going to bed. Wouldn't you know it?—this gives her heartburn.
It also seems to give her bad dreams, because sometimes she dreams about her aunt beating her. Sometimes she dreams about sex, too, which is even worse because then she has to pray that "all that is pleasurable should be forbidden" (3.81).
This is some serious repression.
But even her prayers are "without God. She did not know Him, therefore He did not exist" (3.81).
So, we're getting a picture of this girl's philosophy of existence: only things that she personally knows are real; and life is supposed to be pretty crummy.
Here's something a little mind-bending: she doesn't really understand reality, and she's more "at ease with the unreality of everyday life" (3.82).
The narrator goes on to describe the girl as neurotic: "Neurosis sustained her." Neurosis is a sort of vague (and discredited) psychological state that describes feeling anxious and unhappy all the time.
She's got some weird habits, too, like standing in front of fancy shop windows and gazing at expensive, luxurious things like jewels and silks, just to make herself feel bad.
Oh, also, she's totally delusional—so delusional that she actually thinks she had a happy childhood.
According to the narrator, this is pretty common. Everyone likes to think their childhood was happier than it was.
The narrator goes on to explain that the girl "is a misfit even in this world. I swear that nothing can be done for her. Believe me, I would help her if I could" (3.85).
Gee, that's great, because we were starting to suspect that you were enjoying this.
So, besides the sips of cold coffee before bedtime, the girl allowed herself a couple of other luxuries: a movie once a month and painting her nails bright red.
Not that her manicures last long: "Unfortunately, she had bitten her nails to such an extent that most of the lacquer had disappeared, revealing the grime underneath" (3.89). Bummer.
Every morning, she has to re-remember who she is. It goes in this order: "I am a typist and a virgin, and I like coca-cola" (3.90).
Our early-morning monologue goes something like, "What time is it? Why is it so dark outside? What is that awful beeping noise?" So, really, not all that different.
Then the narrator conveniently spells out the connection between the girl and himself (and all of us):
First he tells us that "the typist lived in a kind of limbo, hovering between heaven and hell. She had never given any thought to the concept: 'I am, therefore, I am.'"
Quick brain snack: this is a slight variation of philosopher's Rene Descartes' statement "I think, therefore I am."
It's also eerily similar to what God says his name is, in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Exodus: "I am who [or that] I am."
He says that she was an accident of nature, like all of us: "And if one thinks about it carefully, aren't we all mere accidents of nature?" (3.92).
In other words: there was no blueprint for this one.
Then he cranks out this doozy: "I sometimes think that I am not me. I seem to belong to a remote planet, I am such a stranger unto myself. Can this be me? I am horrified by this encounter with myself."
That's deep. Also, a little disturbing. At the same time, we have to say that we kind of know what he means.
In any case, the narrator is obviously feeling a little conflicted around writing. It's like, words give him control—but they also scare him into losing control.
Anyway, back to the girl. You know, the subject of the story?
Every morning she flips on a transistor radio loaned to her by one of the Marias.
She listens to the Radio Clock, which sounds a "ping" for every minute that passes. In between each ping, there are commercials and educational tidbits, where she learns useless information.
This is what constitutes her inner life.
Another small pleasure that the girl enjoys is reading advertisements she cuts out of newspapers by candlelight. Her favorite advertisement is of a woman's face cream. But she doesn't want to put it on her face; she wants to pick up a spoon and dig in.
Gross, and also possibly very dangerous.
In some ways, she's better off than the narrator: at least she's young and innocent.
But, mostly he's winning this contest of life. There's a big disparity, and he wants to blame someone.
All right, back to the girl. She's decided to give herself a treat and take a day off from work.
For one whole day, she's got the apartment to herself: solitude, freedom, space. Awesome. She dances, has some coffee—it's the happiest she's ever been.
Finally, things are looking up. She can look at herself in the mirror without freaking out, and she's even getting up the nerve to ask for favors.
On the morning of May 7, the girl exclaims, "Ah, merry month of May, abandon me no more!" (3.110). Wow, she actually sounds happy.
That afternoon, in the pouring rain, the girl meets a guy. Yep, a real guy. They have the shared trait of being from the North-eastern slums, and they totally bond about that.
He asks for her name, and we finally learn "the girl's" name: Macabéa. He replies, "Maca-what?" He tells her that her name sounds like a disease. Lovely.
(For some speculation about what her name means, check out "Character Clues.")
She explains that her mother made a vow to "Our Lady of Sorrows" to name her that if she survived. Since it wasn't clear that she'd survive, she went without a name for a whole year.
She says she would have preferred to be named nothing. But she's still here, she says pathetically, so that's her name.
Hey, this is the first time we hear Macabéa have an actual conversation about it.
The first three times they meet, it rains, and the guy, dropping his polite façade, blames her: "All you seem to bring is the rain!" (3.129).
Gee, maybe he has a point. It does seem a little symbolic.
She finally musters up the courage to ask his name, and he replies: Olímpico de Jesus Moreira Chaves.
Actually, that's a lie. His real surname is simply de Jesus.
He was brought up by his step-father, "who had taught him how to ingratiate himself with people in order to get his own way and how to pick up girls" (3.133).
What a charmer.
Macabéa wants to know what his name means, but Olímpico isn't interested in telling her. Because he's a big baby.
Well, this relationship is off to a promising start.