Study Guide

The Hour of the Star Chapter 4

By Clarice Lispector

Chapter 4

  • All right, time for a good look at Mr. Olímpico.
  • He' a metal worker, but he calls himself a metallurgist. How fancy.
  • The narrator tells us that "Olímpico's job had the flavor one tastes when smoking a cigarette the wrong way round" (4.139). That sound totally disgusting.
  • Not to Macabéa, who's impressed by his job title and is proud that she could refer to them as "metallurgist and typist." You know, just like "professor and novelist" or "doctor and lawyer."
  • They have their share of lovers' quarrels. When Macabéa says that she thinks "good manners are the best thing one can inherit," Olímpico scoffs that "the best inheritance is plenty of money" (4.140-141).
  • Yep, definitely a match made in heaven.
  • Olímpico wants to be rich and powerful. Back in the North-east, where Olímpico is from, he saved money so that he could replace one of his teeth with a gold tooth.
  • Hey, it's an investment.
  • But if you want really disturbing, check this out: he killed a rival without any compassion and remorse, which, you know, totally makes him a man.
  • In his spare time, Olímpico makes little carvings of saints. With detailed genitalia.
  • Bet the Church loves that.
  • Naturally, Olímpico believes he's going to become a highly respected politician.
  • Instead, he's really just a big jerk. For example, after learning that Macabéa has never in her life received a letter or telephone call from anyone, she asks Olímpico if he would call her at her work. No way, Olímpico says: "Who wants to listen to you talking nonsense on the telephone?" (4.148).
  • Real sweetheart, that Olímpico.
  • The narrator tells us that Macabéa and Olímpico "could have been mistaken for brother and sister" (4.150). Guess it's a good thing, then, that this doesn't seem to be a very romantic relationship.
  • So what's the problem-o with Olímpico? According to our narrator, he "was wicked to the core. He enjoyed taking his revenge. Revenge gave him an enormous satisfaction and the strength to go on living" (4.151).
  • Fine, but why does he have to take revenge on poor Macabéa?
  • Anyway, they have insanely frustrating conversations, a little like this:
    Olímpico: Well.
    Macabéa: Well what?
    Olímpico: I only said well!
    Macabéa: But well what?
    Olímpico: Let's change the subject. You'll never understand.
    Macabéa: Understand what?
    Olímpico: Mother of God! Macabéa, let's change the subject at once!
    Macabéa: What shall we talk about then?
    Olímpico: About you.
    Macabéa: Me!
    Olímpico: Why the fuss? Aren't you a human being? Human beings talk about other human beings.
    Macabéa: Forgive me, but I don't believe that I am all that human.
    Olímpico: Everybody's human, dear God!
    Macabéa: I've never got used to the idea.
    Olímpico: Never got used to what?
    Macabéa: I can't explain.
    Olímpico: So?
    Macabéa: So what?
    Olímpico: Look, I'm going. You're a dead loss.
  • Want some more of this scintillating repartee? You're in luck, because they have a lot of conversations like this.
  • Convo #1: After dreaming about someday owning a home with a well, Macabéa asks about buying a well, and Olímpico says there are no answers to the questions she asks.
  • Then, she suggests that he's delusional for wanting to be rich. He says she should be worried about money, to which she replies, "I don't have any worries. I don't need to be successful" (4.190).
  • Convo #2: Macabéa has heard some pretty cool words on the radio—words like algebra, electronic, culture, and income per head.
  • Olímpico refuses to talk about it. He either says he knows but won't tell her, or he gives non-answers like "culture is culture," even though obviously he doesn't know what they mean either. Macabéa gets pretty depressed all by all this.
  • Convo #3: After hearing a really moving song called "Una Furtiva Lacrima," Macabea tries to sing it for him. He tells her she looks like a "deaf-mute" trying to sing (4.210), which, you know, makes sense—because she's singing for the first time in her life.
  • Convo #4: Okay, this isn't exactly a conversation, but still. Olímpico tells Macabéa to stop frowning so much because it bums him out, and then tries to show how strong he is by lifting her—and then dropping her on her face.
  • She's covered with mud and blood, and his reaction? Staying away for a few days because he's embarrassed. You know, not because he's sorry he hurt her, or anything.
  • Convo #5: Scene: a butcher shop. Macabéa is smelling the meat to convince herself that she's eaten; Olímpico is wishing he could be a butcher. Macabéa says that she's going to miss herself when she's dead, and Olímpico rolls his eyes so hard you can practically hear it.
  • This is where Macabéa confesses to Olímpico that she would like to be a movie star like Marylin Monroe.
  • "Gee, honey, you're already a star to me!" Olímpico says.
  • Ha, ha! Of course he doesn't. Instead, he says she's too ugly to ever be a movie star.
  • Convo #6: Olímpico then says he'll buy Macabéa coffee. Hey, that's nice!
  • Oh, she has to pay for the milk herself. Not so nice.
  • Convo #7: Scene: the zoo. Macabéa doesn't like seeing the animals in their cages.
  • Plus, she's shocked by the rhinoceros. Really shocked. In fact, she pees in her pants.
  • Obviously this is super embarrassing, so she makes up the story that she sat on a wet bench, not that he seems to care much either way.
  • Macabéa changes the topic of the conversation and tells Olímpico that she heard a word on the Radio Clock that worried her: "mimetism" (4.251).
  • Olímpico says that virgins shouldn't use such words. And that she shouldn't ask questions that don't concern her or she might end up in a brothel in Mangue.
  • What's Manuge? It's "an evil place frequented only by men" (4.254). He also explains how men can still get a woman cheap. He tells her that he's cost her a cup of coffee and that he won't spend any more money on her.
  • Macabéa interprets this as, "I don't deserve anything from him because I've wet my knickers" (4.255).
  • Awkward silence, until Olímpico yells, "Holy Smoke! When are you going to open up your mouth to say something?" (4.256).
  • Macabéa tells Olímpico about what she's heard on the Radio Clock. He just insists that she's lying. When she swears on the death of her mother, he points out that her mother is already dead.
  • Really considerate, dude.
  • Finally, our narrator returns. He wants to explain how he's been able to tell this story about events that have never happened to him or event to anyone he knows.
  • He explains how he "knows" Macabéa and Olímpico: "I once caught a glimpse of this girl with the sallow complexion from the North-east. Her expression revealed everything about her. As for the youth in Paraíba, I must have had his face imprinted on my mind" (4.272).
  • So, in other words, he made them up based on some people he saw on the street. Great.
  • Now for a little more about our favorite thug, Olímpico:
  • Olímpico was from the backwoods of Paraíba, another North-eastern state of Brazil.
  • Our narrator explains that "his determination to survive stemmed from his roots in a region noted for its primitive, savage way of life, its recurring spells of drought" (4.274).
  • He arrived in Rio de Janeiro with a comb and a tin of perfumed vaseline, which he used to slick his hair back. Classy!
  • Also, as we already know, he killed a man just to watch him die.
  • Well, not just. They were rivals. But he sure doesn't feel bad about it.
  • But here's something weird: he goes to at least three funerals a week and cries when he reads strangers' obituaries.
  • In any case, crime—murder, petty theft, whatevs—gives him a reason to live.
  • Okay, and now Olímpico actually does something nice: he offers to get Macabéa a job at the metal factory where he worked.
  • "Bang."
  • This offer is super exciting, because it'll help her get closer to Olímpico. Yeah, we don't understand why either.
  • Here's something weird about Macabéa: she has a passion for horror films and musicals. She likes to see women hanged or shot.
  • And another little tidbit about Olímpico: he's a "demon of strength and vitality" who has fathered many children.
  • "Fathered," maybe, but apparently not "parented."
  • Because of this contrast, the narrator feels sorry for Macabéa: "Oh, if only I could seize Macabéa, give her a good scrubbing and plate of hot soup, kiss her on the forehead and tuck her up in bed. So that she might wake up to discover the great luxury of living" (4.275).
  • Well, isn't that sweet.
  • Given what we know about Olímpico, it's not surprising that he starts checking out Macabéa's coworker Glória.
  • Glória is ugly, but she is light-skinned, swings her hips when she walks, and proudly claims to be "carioca," which means she's from "the privileged class who inhabited Southern Brazil" (4.277). Also, she's not half-starved.
  • Macabéa and Olímpico's relationship turns lukewarm, though it was never even really warm to begin with.
  • Still, Macabéa is totally excited for the day he'll ask her to marry him.
  • Meanwhile, Olímpico learns some more about Glória. Like, she has a mother and a father and that she eats "a hot meal at the same hour every day."
  • Also, Glória's father has Olímpico's dream job: butcher.
  • To top it all off, Olímpico can see Gloría totally has childbearing hips. Sorry, Macabéa. Pretty sure we know where this is going.
  • Olímpico breaks up with Macabéa and tells her he's interested in Glória. Bang.
  • They have a totally painful and awkward breakup conversation that includes him telling her that she's like a hair in his food. Gross.
  • Gloría has everything Macabéa wants: a full-figured body and Olímpico. She knows that Glória is "the embodiment of vigorous existence … [because she] was buxom" (4.289).
  • Eventually, Macabéa and Glória talk it out.
  • Glória, showing an incredible lack of, well, basic good manners, asks Macabéa if it is painful to be ugly.
  • Macabéa beautifully says she's never really thought about it and then asks Glória—in complete seriousness—how she feels about being ugly. Gloría, of course, is outraged.
  • And then we find out, from Gloría, that Macabéa is always asking for aspirin. You see, she's in pain—inside. Well, that's not too surprising, given the way her life is going these days.
  • The narrator starts getting really high-falutin' in his descriptions of Macabéa, like this one: "She had transformed herself into organic simplicity. She had contrived a way of finding grace in simple, authentic things. She liked to feel the passage of time. She did not possess a watch, and perhaps for that very reason, she relished the infinity of time. Her life was supersonic. Yet no one noticed that she had crossed the sound barrier with her existence. For other people, she didn't exist" (4.304).
  • The narrator tells us she experiences ecstasy by looking at an enormous tree.
  • She prays, but not to God: "She prayed with total indifference … Bliss, bliss, bliss. Her soul almost took flight" (4.306).
  • After wondering if she should tell Glória about this moment, she decides against it because she doesn't even really know what to say.
  • Sometimes at work she goes to the bathroom to just hang out and experience religious ecstasy.
  • Even though Glória is obviously not much of a friend to Macabéa, for some reason she feels maternal toward her.
  • Also, we learn that Glória doesn't bathe often, that she bleaches her leg and underarm hairs, but doesn't shave, that she has a habit of not finishing her sentences, and that she wears an overpowering sandalwood cologne.
  • Yeah, that's probably an improvement on Macabéa's offensive body odor—but maybe not much of one.
  • At this point in the story, Glória is Macabéa's only contact with the world.
  • That's a little ironic.
  • One day, Macabéa confides in Glória that she wants to look like Marilyn Monroe. Glória laughs at her and cruelly asks, "Have you seen yourself in the mirror?" (4.313).
  • Glória, on the other hand, knows that she's hot stuff. She paints a beauty spot above her lips, wiggles when she walks, and smokes menthol (minty) cigarettes to keep her breath fresh.
  • Uh … probably not the best way to stay minty fresh, Glória.
  • Olímpico, being the macho man that he is, eats red hot peppers to impress Glória. Also, he attacks her like a bee going after honey.
  • See, Olímpico was determined to change his life and his destiny by joining the privileged, and Glória is a key part of this plan.
  • Our narrator goes on to say that it's easy to forgive Olímpico because of where he came from, because a "man from the backwoods is, above all, patient" (4.322).
  • We're not feeling especially sympathetic.
  • And then, Glória invites Macabéa to her house for tea.
  • "Bang."
  • Glória's social standing is described by the narrator as "third-class suburban bourgeoisie" (4.324). Glória is not very well-off, but she is certainly in a better position than Macabéa. Glória presents Macabéa with hot chocolate "mixed with real milk," sugared buns, and a small cake, which is basically more food than Macabéa has ever seen in her life.
  • Of course, it just makes her sick. So, a few days later, for the first time in her life, she visits a doctor.
  • "Bang."
  • The doctor examines her several times and finally asks if she's dieting. He asks what she eats; she says hot dogs and sometimes a mortadella sandwich, with some coffee and soda to wash it down.
  • Well, that doesn't sound very balanced.
  • The doctor has a problem of his own, which is that he doesn't like his poor patients, because they remind him too much of himself.
  • He recommends that Macabéa see a psychiatrist, which she doesn't understand.
  • He then diagnosis her with the early stages of pulmonary tuberculosis, which she doesn't understand.
  • And then he tells her to eat spaghetti, which she also doesn't understand.
  • The doctor finally becomes so exasperated by Macabéa that he kicks her out of his office.
  • Possibly he should work on his bedside manner.
  • And now it's time for another mystical description of Macabéa:
  • Our narrator says that he wishes Macabéa, whom he now calls Maca, would say: "I am alone in the world. I don't believe in anyone for they all tell lies, sometimes even when they're making love. I find that people don't really communicate with each other. The truth comes to me only when I'm alone" (4.352).
  • Hello, Existentialism! This is all about feeling like we're all lonely and isolated individuals floating about in a hostile world.
  • But, seriously, would it really be better for Macabéa if she said these things?
  • The narrator says: "Maca, however, never expressed herself in sentences, first of all, because she was a person of few words. She wasn't conscious of herself and made no demands on anyone. Maca even thought of herself as happy. She was no idiot yet she possessed the pure happiness of idiots. She did not think about herself: she lacked self-awareness" (4.353).