Study Guide

The Hour of the Star Language and Communication

By Clarice Lispector

Language and Communication

So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing. (1.3)

And here we have the basic reason that people blog, keep diaries, and post videos of themselves talking to YouTube: writing is a way of thinking on paper. The narrator is writing not because he wants to but because life is so complicated that he feels like he has to.

I do not intend to write anything complicated, although I am obliged to use the words that sustain you. (1.7)

Meet our narrator, master strategist. He wants to keep thing simple to do justice to the story; but he also wants to hold our attention. Notice that he's making certain assumptions about the audience—that we're sophisticated (or jaded) enough that a boring story about a miserable teenager isn't going to hold our attention.

Remember that, no matter what I write, my basic material is the word. So this story will consist of words that form phrases from which there emanates a secret meaning that exceeds both words and phrases. (1.16)

Talk about secret meaning—this is one of those passages that might leave you scratching your head. It seems like this book is as much about exploring the power of language as it about detailing the misery of Macabéa's life.

Like every writer, I am clearly tempted to use succulent terms: I have at my command magnificent adjectives, robust nouns, and verbs so agile that they glide through the atmosphere as they move into action. For surely words are actions? (1.16)

The narrator boasts about his ability as a writer. But he knows he has to control language in order to best capture Macabéa and her life. What's funny is that the other person we hear boast about his power like this is Olímpico—and he just ends up dropping Macabéa on her head.

Yet I have no intention of adorning the word, for were I to touch the girl's bread, that bread would turn to gold—and the girl (she is nineteen years old) the girl would be unable to bite into it, and consequently die of hunger. So I must express myself simply in order to capture her delicate and shadowy existence. (1.16)

Since the story of Macabéa is not so ornate or elegant, the words the narrator chooses to tell her story shouldn't be either. If he used fancy words, he'd be betraying her—literally (or, well, figuratively) killing her in some way.

Coming back to myself: what I am about to write cannot be assimilated by minds that expect much and crave sophistication. For what I am about to express will be quite stark. Although it may have as its background—even now—the tormented shadows that haunt my dreams as I sleep tormented at night. Do not, therefore, expect stars in what follows for nothing will scintillate. (1.20)

This might seem like the narrator's making excuses for not being able to get started with the story, but notice that he uses the image of the star—which shows up in the story more than once. So, maybe the story is full of stars after all.

Is it possible that actions exceed words? As I write—let things be known by their real names. Each thing is a word. And when there is no word, it must be invented. (1.26)

So, Clarice Lispector's presence isn't very subtle here, since you know, she's actually the one doing the writing. And she seems to be getting pretty worked up about whether or not it's actually possible to represent things (of a three-dimensional, real world) on a two-dimensional page.

No, it is not easy to write. It is as hard as breaking rocks. Sparks and splinters fly like shattered steel. (1.32)

Okay, so writing isn't literally as hard as breaking rocks. Seriously, just ask anyone who's had to do hard manual labor for a living. But it's not easy—even for professional writers.

I am scared of starting. I do not even know the girl's name. It goes without saying that this story drives me to despair because it is too straightforward. What I propose to narrate sounds easy and within everyone's grasp. But its elaboration is extremely difficult. I must render clear something that is almost obliterated and can scarcely be deciphered. With stiff, contaminated fingers I must touch the invisible in its own squalor. (1.33)

It seems like it should be easy to write about a poor girl, but let's count the problems: (1) no story is ever really straightforward; (2) how do you write about something that people have basically willed themselves to ignore?; (3) this isn't a story just about Macabéa's life, but a story about all the complex societal problems that have led to her misery. Yeah, sounds pretty difficult to us.

Perhaps I could enhance this story if I were to introduce some technical terms? But that is the problem: this story has no technique, not even in matters of style. It has been written at random. Nothing would persuade me to contaminate with brilliant, mendacious words, a life as frugal as that of my typist. (3.91)

Okay, but do you really think that this story has been written at random? Or does it, in fact, seem to be very carefully plotted and told? It seems like there might be other ways of shaping and even contaminating a life than simply using big words.