The shadow of an absent book: the symbol of death and decay in two moments of Gilberto Freyre’s, Introdução À História Da Sociedade Patriarcal No Brasil

DOI: 10.32749/
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RIBEIRO, René Salmito [1], NASCIMENTO, Expedito Tomaz do [2]

RIBEIRO, René Salmito. NASCIMENTO, Expedito Tomaz do. The shadow of an absent book: the symbol of death and decay in two moments of Gilberto Freyre’s, Introdução À História Da Sociedade Patriarcal No Brasil. Revista Científica Multidisciplinar Núcleo do Conhecimento. Year 05, Ed. 11, Vol. 08, pp. 115-130. November 2020. ISSN: 2448-0959, Access link:, DOI: 10.32749/


Considering that the well-known trilogy of Gilberto Freyre Introdução à história da patriarcal no Brasil – composed of Casa-grande & senzala, Sobrados e mucambos and Ordem e progresso – seems a cohesive whole, the non-publication of the fourth essay, which would make the work a tetralogy, Jazigos e covas rasas (which would deal with the Brazilian funeral rituals from the mid-nineteenth century to the beginning of the 20th century, against the background of the development of positivism and republicanism in Brazil, as well as the last published of the Introdução, and would take advantage of the theme of death as a metaphor for the decay of patriarchy in Brazil), it is inevitable that two questions will be asked, which in the end can be reduced to one: as this missing work, which Freyre claims to have written but lost, would have changed the perception of previous works, and secondly if, despite losing the original, his ideas would not be imbriated in the previous works, if he perceived the insistence with which the unpublished title is cited in the introductions to Sobrados e mucambos and Ordem e progresso. Thinking above all the preface to the second edition of the second book of the original trilogy and the transition that takes place between Casa-grande & senzala and Sobrados e mucambos (the two moments of which the title of this analysis speaks), we seek here to show how the metaphor death/decay is already found in the original trilogy and what consequences can this same metaphor have in a rereading of the work of Gilberto Freyre, locating it as a libel in defense of a mode of society that is extinguishing and from which the author proves to be a beneficiary and a nostalrist.

Keywords: Decadence of patriarchy, Brazil-colony, Brazil-empire, sociology of Brazil.


In the introduction to the second edition of Sobrados & mucambos, whose previous edition dates from 1936, Gilberto Freyre briefly describes the project to close the book series Introdução à história da sociedade patriarcal no Brasil, at first a trilogy, with a fourth book. The first, the famous Casa-grande & senzala, takes account of the construction of the rural patriarchy, starting mainly from the sugar cane mills of the northeast, whose peak takes place in the seventeenth century, and makes the most important analysis, in its time, of the participation of the negro in the formation of Brazilian society that was not based on eugenic assumptions of inferiority of race, as assumed important scholars such as Oliveira Viana.

The second, the aforementioned Sobrados & mucambos, speaks of how Brazil, from three decisive historical facts (i.e., the exploitation of gold in Minas Gerais, that in the eighteenth century would shift the economic axis of the colony from agriculture to mining, being the first major blow suffered by sugarcane mills, the coming of the royal family to Brazil in 1808, and the declaration of independence of 1822), begins to urbanize, and as this urbanization gradually initiates a conflict between the domestic space and the street, a conflict that will result in gradual questioning of patriarchalism.

The third, Ordem e progresso, speaks of the evolution of positivist discourse in Brazil, its influence on the armed forces and how they were one of the most important democratic fronts in the country, not only for housing the black and mulatto, but first of all because there they would have a possibility of social ascension that few sectors of society offered them. The fourth book, which would turn the trilogy into tetralogy, also had a dichotomous title, and would speak of funeral rituals. As in the first two, the title gave the idea of duality between the lives of the richest and the poorest.

Jazigos e covas rasas – the title with which the work of completion of our studies will appear – will cover as much as possible, as a study of patriarchal rites of burial and the influence of the dead on the living, those various phases of development and disintegration – disintegration in which brazilian society is still found – of patriarchy, or of the guardianship family, among us. Patriarchate at first almost exclusively rural and even feudal, or parafeudal; then, less rural than urban. (FREYRE, 2002, p. 674)

The fourth book was never written. The Introdução remained a trilogy, but the presence of the theme of death remains a potent metaphor that gives account of the transition operated between the first two books: death is not only physical death, of course, but gives account of the decay of an entire world, a world of which Gilberto Freyre felt and confessed himself heir and whose memory he intended to understand and preserve.


In a review on Casa-Grande & Senzala: o livro que dá razão ao Brasil mestiço e pleno de contradições, an essay by Mario Helio Gomes de Lima on the work of the sociologist from Pernambuco, Amurabi Oliveira divides the reception of Gilberto Freyre’s work into three decisive moments:

(…) the first would go from its publication until the mid-1960s, when there would be more positive than negative reviews on the book, even though there were attacks by conservatives regarding the use of colloquial language, criticism of the Jesuits and the apology to Afro-Brazilian culture; the second would go from the mid-1960s to the 1980s, a period in which the work is fought for its supposed lack of scientificity and the interpretation assumed about Brazilian society, but Helio points out that many criticisms were carried out without the work being read; and, finally, the third moment begins in the 1990s and accelerates with the celebrations of the centenary of his birth in the 2000s, when new works emerge that aim to deepen the analysis of his work. At this point, Helio brings us a selection of some works produced in this period that he considers emblematic, indicating other complementary sources for a better understanding of Casa-Grande & Senzala. (OLIVEIRA, 2015, p. 455)

The first moment is the one that is more easily understood by the context, despite the temporal distance, given the relevance and revolution that the proposal of the work will present in the Brazilian intellectual context, despite so many decades already passed, or precisely because the distancing often helps to see itself more clearly. The Introduction ,begun with Casa-grande & senzala, basically comes with three revolutionary proposals for sociology. The first concerns the formal aspect. Freyre moves away from the traditional methods used so far, moves away from statistical issues, makes research more qualitative than quantitative, while electing hitherto circumstantial documents such as old newspapers, advertisements, songs and other elements as a source.

Freyre operates, above all, intense stylistic investment: one perceives the extreme familiarity passed by the text, especially the first of the trilogy, which makes the work more accessible, even for those who are not professionally dedicated to sociology or anthropology. These are books that can be read by pure aesthetic fruition, although, in many points, this familiarity scrambles into the more colloquial language, using deformations of words, to speak like the people themselves, and without stealing from the reference even to direct profanity, when this seems to the author necessary for the elucidation of some context. Apparent textual simplicity, says the author himself (emphasizing in the explanation the most familiar aspects), talking about direct influences that assimilated during childhood, and putting in the construction of language a reflection of the ethnic amalgamation that he demonstrates in the construction of Brazilian.

Sociology, finally, abandons the treatise and embraces the freest form of essay, which, in Adorno’s saying, leaves the pretension of universal and absolute truth to make room for the passions of its author. Or in the words of the sociologist himself from Pernambuco in explaining the interpretative openness and relative lack of conclusion of his text, with emphasis on how this same freedom is appropriate not only to speak of human aspects in general, but also specifically those that concern the formation of Brazilians:

The near-absence of conclusions, the poverty of affirmations, does not, however, mean repudiation of intellectual responsibility for what may be unorthodox in these pages. Contrary to the established, to the accepted, to the consecrated. Because this revolutionary quality comes from the very evidence of the material gathered and revealed here and interpreted within the greatest possible objectivity, method and technique. It is time to try to see in the Brazilian formation the series of profound misadjustments, alongside adjustments and balances. And to see them together, untangling themselves from narrow points of view and eagerties of interested conclusion. From a narrow economic point of view, it is now as fashionable as from the narrow political point of view, until recently almost the exclusive. The human can only be understood by the human – as far as it can be understood; and understanding matters in greater or lesser sacrifice of objectivity to subjectivity. For in the case of a human past, it is necessary to leave room for doubt and even mystery: the history of an institution, when made or attempted under sociological criterion that stretches in psychological is always leading us to areas of mystery, where it would be ridiculous to declare ourselves satisfied with Marxist interpretations or behaviorist or paretista explanations; with pure descriptions similar to those of the natural history of botanical or animal communities. (FREYRE, 2002, p. 667-668)

Gilberto Freyre will adopt this freedom to the point of even saying that he is no longer exactly a sociologist, or just a sociologist. Because, from his point of view, the more specifically statistical issue that often led the work in the area left aside precisely the human material, which will be its main focus.

The second rupture, relatively visible in the above excerpt, concerns the use of analyses that address specifically economic issues, a very strong trend in historical materialism. With the radical difference that Freyre will not see in the economy only numbers, mere movement of goods or labor relations. Freyre starts from what seems obvious at the same time: Brazilian formation is based on the exploitation of natural resources of the wild land, first, and secondly from the beginning of monoculture, that is, the sugarcane cycle started in the seventeenth century, and consequently on a work structure based on slavery, briefly on economic aspects that need to be deeply known , but in the case of Gilberto Freyre to extract from these data a basis for the understanding of the human, much more than the purely economic: Freyre will be interested in the social relations that arise from and around the most evident economic issues, even addressing directly more subjective aspects, such as the construction of affections within this universe.

Gilberto Freyre’s third contribution, perhaps the most revolutionary, in the construction of a new sociology was what later became a kind of double-edged sword of his theory. An appreciation of black and miscegenation in Brazilian society0 as never before. It is certain that abolitionism of the previous century will foster a discourse for racial equality that was based on equal rights, and that the phenomenon of miscegenation itself was seen with a condescension that there was in other colonies, especially the English colonies – which Freyre explains from a greater plasticity of the Portuguese, even in comparison with its Spanish neighbors , because the Portuguese themselves are a very miscegenated people.

The importance of this defense lies in how poorly seen the negro in Brazilian society even after the abolition of slavery, or even due to a deep resentment on the part of slave landowners, who felt betrayed by the approval of the law. The fact is that a discourse of eugenic basis deeply seduces much of the national intellectuality, which placed, based on criteria today scientifically questionable, the presence of black and misceage as elements of national inferiority, and placed hopes on the possibility of a gradual ethnic bleaching of Brazil, which would end up resulting in a gradual bleaching of Brazilian society.

For Gilberto Freyre, the argument is not supported by the fact that the ethnic issue is necessarily less important than the social and sociological issues themselves. For Freyre, the construction of Brazilian society is on issues that are based much more on the structuring of the economy and, above all, on how the Brazilian patriarchal family emerges around these economic bases.

The patriarchal formation of Brazil is explained, both in its virtues and in its defects, less in terms of “race” and “religion” than in economic terms, of experience of culture and organization of the family, which was here the colonizing unit. Economy and social organization that sometimes contradicted not only Catholic sexual morality but also the Sistic Portuguese adventurous tendencies towards mercancia and trafficking. (…) a race does not move from one continent to another, it would be necessary to transport with it the physical environment. (FREYRE, 2002, p. 129)

The ideal of eugenics gained adherents between intellectuality and much of the scientific society in all parts of the world, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The term eugenics was created by Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, in whose theories seem to have been influenced, albeit in a misrepresented way: Darwin believed in a natural selection that would culminate in the survival of the most adapted, while Galton believed that genetic improvement could be favored – even when it came to the human race. Logically, when we talk about improvement, we also talk about the elimination of undesirable characteristics, in order to place them within a given species, it is necessary to choose which carriers of these same characteristics, which, because they are carriers, would be inferior to the others.

But academically speaking, and in addition to reaching a summary of the movement and its consequences in national sociology and anthropology, it is worth focusing attention on the work of Raimundo Nina Rodrigues. Nina Rodrigues, whose work predate Kehl’s, based her work on cataloguing brazilian types and what he considered their main characteristics. Associating addictions and crimes with races, not primarily looking at economic and social factors around, but rather making these factors more consequence than it causes, Nina Rodrigues assumes that racial qualities depend on the purity of individuals, and that misceage, Brazil’s great point of ethnic origin, would potentially be an evil. For Nina Rodrigues there would not be exactly a single human race, but several, which could be placed hierarchically according to their superiority or inferiority in relation to each other, and that indiscriminate crossings, which the author describes in an animalistic way, could potentially result in degeneration of the species or at least the society that behaved these unions. Roughly speaking, each race, for Nina Rodrigues, would be endorsed with specific gifts and a profound inability to adapt to the gifts of other races: civilization would be the great gift and destiny of the white races, in which they cannot be followed by indigenous or black, who would be, by nature, savages or trapped at a level of sociability between totemic and fetishist.

The revolutionary work of Gilberto Freyre had on these ideas. Although sociologist and anthropologist, his production, which throughout his life will focus on the most varied subjects, is so strongly interested in Brazilian culture that he has even become a decisive factor in the renewal of modernism. The Second Modernist Phase developed in Brazil a revaluation of regional traditions, mainly through Gilberto Freyre, a sociologist who had arrived from the United States, where he had been in studies. In 1924, the Regionalist Center of the Northeast was created and, in 1926, the First Brazilian Congress of Regionalism was held. The concern with the revaluation of the Northeast is due in part to the displacement of the economic and cultural axis to the South, when the sugar industry begins to decline. On the other hand, capitalism without ties to the region contributed to the cultural mischaracterization of the Northeast, whose economy had patriarchal and paternalistic bases.

Freyre considers, as never before, the economic factors in the structuring of Brazilian society. Neverthemore, one cannot affiliate his studies properly to historical materialism, especially the most properly Marxist. Freyre admits a certain influence of this came, but says he is cautious in its application: for him, historical materialism, starting from the economy and almost necessarily returning to it, ends up ignoring important aspects in the formation of society, the more properly cultural, and that give the study a more palpable and less arid nature. The economy and its needs are a starting point of Gilberto Freyre’s work, but not a point of arrival or even return.

The blacks, the Indians and the half-breeds did not bring to Brazil, by themselves, any kind of degeneration, but rather social relations, derived from economic needs, the origin of much of the social ills that persisted even after the abolition of slavery and the proclamation of the republic. An image had been formed mainly of the negro who was caught up in prejudices derived from colonization: that syphilis would have spread by Amerindian origin and African influence, when the origin of the disease is more likely Eurasian and is more likely, therefore, to the arrival of the colonizer Portuguese (FREYRE, 2002), that blacks would have developed all sorts of erotic-sexual spells and spells , when most of these spells were still of Portuguese origin (FREYRE, 2002), that black Africanwomen would be libidinous by nature and would be, after the Indies, the great temptress of white settlers, a fact denied by many travelers, who found even among the extreme black examples of recato (FREYRE, 2002). Alongside these theses that account for domestic habits, the widespread prejudice that, given the lower intellectual conditions, blacks would necessarily be destined for works that were based on brute force, when in fact much of the specialization of work in Brazilian lands is due to the technical experience of Africans in their own land of origin. As for the directly sexual issue, the promiscuity attributed to blacks would have two very distinct origins: the immense eroticization of idle lords and the relations between winners and losers that are necessarily born by the force of colonization and slavery.

The negro, in Gilberto Freyre’s view, is a plastic element that brings its own cultural contributions and makes, itself, with the other contributions of other peoples deepen and adapt: it adopts the religion of the conquerors and becomes its diffuser, increases the local cuisine with its own contributions, but perfects the dishes of other cultures , adopts the Portuguese language, but, together with the indigenous, makes this language to dawn and receive several native contributions that make the sound of Portuguese spoken in Brazil more singing and pleasant, less arid than that coming from Portugal. Assimilated even at the expense of extreme violence, he enters the big house, social life and affections: it can be made of the family – the mestizo himself will often be half-white because of the blood of the master of ingenuity, who tolerates the bastardia better than in the Anglo-Saxon or even Spanish colonies, and ends up accepting it. Specific examples (whose importance and influence Freyre may exaggerate) locate blacks, Indians, and mestizo as priests, literacy teachers, and important members of society. (In the specific case of the priesthood, it is known that, with all its internal contradictions, the Catholic Church could be quite condescending at this point.) Freyre wants to point out that, compared to modes of colonization that avoided and/or frankly condemned miscegenation, there was among us a greater possibility of racial democratization and social ascension by the non-white element (which is not the same as saying that there was no racism and prejudice, which the author debelated at the root, even if not in the structure).

Still, considering the phases of reception that accompany Freyre’s work over time, it cannot be forgotten that, despite these revolutionary aspects, Gilberto Freyre himself considered himself a conservative – which is quite clear when one perceives the longing swells that permeatehis work: Freyre is confessedly a beneficiary of that decadent structure , and criticizes, now with some subtlety, or directly, all the advances of progress that seem to threaten his world. Freyre does not exactly deny the process of violence on which it is based, but opens the possibility of a principle of racial democratization that in a way mitigates the violence from which it is constructed.

Freyre, after strongly defending the importance of the black element in the construction of Brazil, believes and advocates the construction of a racial democracy, and that this mode of democracy based on miscegenation, whose effective existence more than once was the target of severe criticism, would be even better than traditional democracy, whose discourse was strengthened in the West.

The idea of social and racial democracy, heir to ancient community traditions, in which coexistence does not exclude hierarchy, is presented by Gilberto Freyre as a richer and more legitimate creation (Iberian, particularly Luso-Brazilian) than modern political democracy. Not only political democracy and, consequently, universal suffrage did not seduce Gilberto Freyre. Other cultural instances identified with bourgeois rationality also bothered him, among them literacy, which – argues in a text of 1923, about the work of Agripino Grieco – would lead to “media” and homogenization. (SCHNEIDER, 2012, p. 79)

The difficulty of finding the precise tone, the intention of Gilberto Freyre, lies in how much of his statements are so to speak in the heat of the hour, including articles published in newspapers. One cannot, of course, build a witch hunt, forget the legacy of Gilberto Freyre’s work or even blame it. Just as one cannot, on the other hand, forget or leave aside its numerous contradictions. One must understand the work itself. And curiously one of the milestones that can best give an interpretive key to this is, precisely, the book that has mysteriously been lost.


Although it was not properly written, it can be said that the book is present, almost obsessively in the extensive Preface cited at the beginning, written, and probably revised and rewritten numerous times, according to the author’s final note, between May 1949 and March 1961. At first, therefore, little could be said of this book, were it not for the anticipated comments of the author, the tone in which they are expressed and the way in which these excerpts dialogue in a very strong way with the volumes actually published in the sequence. Freyre seems bitter, as it does not seem to occur in other parts of the work in relation to other subjects. The question is not the fact that he is talking about the phenomenon of death, but what this death means in symbolic aspects. It was not death as it seems to speak, but of death as a fait accompli, so consummate that the motto is the constructions and rituals that surround it. But first of all the abandonment that these traces of the past pass through, both with regard to the old residences for the living and in those who rose to the dead.

This decay will also occur with the residence of the dead as well as with the residence of the living. The very residences of the living having lost their original owners and their original respectability. Another war beyond that declared in Sobrados e mucambos was declared to patriarchy. In this first moment, when Brazil begins to urbanize, the street goes to war with the house: it is on the street that social relations must be built, and not merely under the yoke of the crudest patriarchy. This one defends itself in buildings as solid as possible, giving the least space for breathing to children and especially women (they are women especially what is most guarded in these buildings), but over time the windows were opening, the glass often replaced the shutters, the rituals of the street began to overcome the barriers of the house , but this was not the greatest of the defeats suffered by the old patriarchy: with the gradual fall of the old families, it is the houses themselves that pass to other owners or to other purposes, abandoned that were by the old families. They degrade into less noble and more general functions. Or they’re just abandoned. The same fate that accompanies the old tombstones.

The monumental tomb or grave called perpetual or the simple pit marked with a wooden cross – extension of the large houses, after the houses, the houses, the single houses, the mucambos, today of the last mansions or houses purely bourgeois and the small-bourgeois house, peasant, shepherdess and proletarian house – is, like the house itself, an ecological expression of occupation or dominance of space by man. The dead man is still, in a way, a social man. And in the case of a tomb or monument, the deceased becomes an expression or ostentation of power, of prestige, of wealth of survivors, of descendants, of relatives, of children, of the family. The patriarchal tomb, the so-called perpetual, or family, the most expressing tomb is the sometimes poignant effort to overcome the individual’s own dissolution by integrating into the family, which is presumed eternal through children, grandchildren, descendants, people of the same name. And from this point of view, the patriarchal tomb is, of all forms of human occupation of space, the one that represents the greatest effort in the sense of permanence or survival of the family: that form of occupation of space whose architecture, whose sculpture, whose symbolism continues and even perfects that of the large houses and the houses of the living , ordering, within immensely smaller spaces, that those occupied by these manor houses, in challenges to the time. (FREYRE, 2002, p. 674-675)

The challenge to time is lost, even because it could not be otherwise. Freyre’s tone seems emotional, without the distance one would expect from the more traditional sociologist. But Freyre, although conservative in other senses, is not exactly a traditional sociologist, and this participation of the author’s feeling, which practically puts the first person in place of the third, something that happens without major problems in other excerpts, pours into the style of the text: the difference is that differently from what happens even in other moments equally nostalgic and sentimental , it is not common this crying tone and almost resonating in the work of Gilberto Freyre. It is here probably the conservative aspect of his work as owing to the progressive aspect: think on the one hand of the defense that the sociologist from Pernambuco had made to the enslaved negro and the half-breeds; consider that miscedon is the fruit of much of slavery itself; it would at first be a good basis for the construction of society (the half-breed would bear the qualities of all races instead of bringing their degeneration); the society that had given rise to this social construction through the horror of slavery was eventually corroded inside and out;  a sign at the same time indirect and clear of this decay is the abandonment through which both the ancient abodes of the living and the ancient abodes of the dead pass through.

Vain pretensions. The ruin or degradation of the houses, the noble houses, the big houses, the more sumptuous tombs or family tombs, is so frequent in Brazil that it seems to reveal, in The Brazilian, singular negligence for what was the work or foundation of a dead ancestor or grandfather. Let the Brazilian not deny this defect that, in the eyes of the enthusiasts of Progress with capital P, is, perhaps, as quality: the dead who do not disturb the creative activities of the living with the survivals of their already archaic creations. The truth is that, disintegrated patriarchy, those houses, those houses, those tombs, can only rarely be maintained by a post-patriarchal society or – professor Carl C would say. Zimmermann – “atomistic”, as, in its dominant forms, much of the Brazilian today. The decay of families by three, four, five or six patriarchal generations would have to correspond to what has been happening among us: the ruin, by abandonment, of old large houses of farm or ingenuity; or their transformation into factories, nursing homes, barracks, refuges of suburban ghosts or pier rascals. The transformation, also, of old urban or suburban houses, once housing of solidly patriarchal families, in hospitals, tenements, “pigheads”, brothels, schools, museums, convents, colleges, pensions, hotels, factories, workshops, warehouses, warehouses. (FREYRE, 2002, p. 675)

What time exactly does Gilberto Freyre speak of? Much of its data can be recomposed chronologically: the documentation that the sociologist offers is pofthenand generous in this sense. On the other hand, this progressive time can be deceptive. For, “for Freyre, the past is never totally forgotten, but rather alive and pulsating, projecting itself into the present and the future. After all, for him, time was “tribium”, that is, past, present and future were continuously interpenetrated” (OLIVEIRA, 2015, p. 450). This is quite symptomatic for the symbology of the decay of the old towns and even for the ancient tombs. The decay of past elements is found in a present time and makes it possible to read this present in a different way, especially when one takes into account aspects as dear to modernity as the lack of appreciation for permanence. The lost book would be the fourth and final of the dualities exposed by Freyre, recalling the method of composition of the titles of the three previous works. This gives account, for example, of the precedence freyre gave to the negro in place of the Indian, who was also enslaved, for the construction of the first of the titles, which highlights the big house and the senzala, more as complements, moreover, than as opposition, but as complements that dialogue without avoiding a certain conflict. In this case, Freyre imported the social constructions that would give rise primarily to the landowner patriarchy, that is, to the one that from the northeastern cycle of sugarcane would lay the foundations of the Brazilian colonial family.

In the next book, the dialogy will prove a little more conflicting, but in terms that do not appear directly denounced by the titles themselves: the conflict will not take place directly between the house, the noble house that in a way represents the rural big house, and the mucambo, which is more a counterpoint than a complement of the senzala , although in a sense it is its continuation. What happens is that the contiguity between the big house and the senzala begins to break. Although the powers of command remain, and the representative force of the lords is still maintained, because in spite of everything it is still a patriarchal country in origin and base, urbanization already represents, in itself, a separation, an important distance between the two previous dwellings. The powers remain, but diminished. The symbolism begins to be impaired. Rural patriarchy in the city is beginning to show itself to be an anachronic and stagnant force. The real struggle that will take place here is with the street, which will require a more advanced and closer kind of civilization of European models, and will cause internal conflicts that could not be imagined before, given the respectability of the patriarch.

For Freyre, heir, beneficiary and defender of the type of society that was thus built, it is not yet a trauma. The opening, for democratic Freyre, that occurs with the conflict between the street and the townhouse is an important factor in making more malleable the rigid patriarchal structure that had begun in the rural environments of the sugarcane cycle, which had been decaying since the beginning of mining. This democratization or relaxation of society, democratization, it should be said once again, which takes place in very different terms from those that take place in the West in general, have high point with the social rise of the bachelor, typical urban and city element, and the possibility of social ascension of the mulatto, which will often materialize under the protection of the army , the subject of the next book that would end the trilogy.

The trauma, only guessable in the tone of revolt contained by the sociologist from Pernambuco in the excerpts that account for a lost book, occurs ironically in a time concomitant with that of the Proclamation of the Republic. The theme of the lost book remains in the title, the only thing left of the work. Apparently the social tensions often mitigated in the other works, since one of the author’s objectives was to defend the possibility of a racial democracy, would appear more harshly in this last book, which would account precisely of the burial rituals, and in a certain way of the ways in which the powerful wished to perpetuate their names from the sumptuousness of their last abodes , which was inaccessible to the poorest, many of whom would still be black and half-breed.

Jazigos e covas rasas.. The title was fully defined by the author, and the title is only defined when one knows exactly what it is intended to deal with. According to Freyre, it would be a conclusive volume and would extend the whole discussion about social antagonisms from the differences in housing types in the last address. But not just that. Freyre intended to analyze the development and disintegration of Brazilian society (especially the patriarchal family), through the study of burial rites and perhaps the differences between the rites of the richest layers and the poorest layers of society, also taking into account the influence of the dead on the living or the way in which the ways and customs , the truths and rules of those who have left can interfere with the lives of their families for more than a generation. For this, it initially emphasizes the disparities between the monumental tomb, or the so-called perpetual deposit, and the shallow grave, marked with a wooden cross. (ARAGÃO, 2011, p. 93)

The dialogy between the dwellings for the poor and the rich placed in the title of Sobrados e mucambos would find, in this last work, an even more brutal and shocking counterpoint. The final misery symbolized by death itself, from which neither the rich nor the poor cannot escape, seems disguised, and at the same time postponed, to some and made even clearer and inescapable for another: the rich disguise the destruction of death by building tombs capable of surviving several generations, at least in intent. For the poor, the disappearance already seems indicated by the misery of the shallow graves.

But the maintenance of this final privilege on the part of the former patriarchal lords depended on one thing that could not be sustained, the maintenance of their own world. With their gradual disappearance, both the homes of the living and the homes of the dead, those who once protected themselves from the street and then seemed to protect themselves from the indignity of death, now appear in their misery of abandonment. Unlike the house of the poor and the shallow pit of the poor, of course, it will be a slower process, degrading buildings at first more solid, but still materialized in an inevitable process.

It is not known, after all, what would have really happened to Gilberto Freyre’s lost book, although everything leads to believe not only that it was more than sketchy, but that it would be close to a final version, and then ended up unfortunately lost. His absence, however, made it somehow the book symptomatic of his own subject. A book that talked about the decay and gradual disappearance of an entire civilization ended up itself lost. In one case and in the other, the weight of absence feels like a shadow. Brazil is no longer patriarchal as in the times freyre speaks of, but aspects of this patriarchy remain present, in a way that may not be seen with Freyre’s optimism, and still in conflict with a greater openness of society.In one case, the past and the present projecting into the future are founding absences.


Gilberto Freyre’s revolutionary work should be seen in a general balance that allows us to see the profound rupture that the sociologist from Pernambuco operated with regard to the previous tradition, predominantly eugenic, which saw in black a lower element that harmed in the construction of Brazilian society and in the construction of the Brazilian itself. It is true that, over time, other contradictions were emerging within the work, the most controversial of which would be the defense of a racial democracy that would compensate or at least justify the brutal process of colonization that Brazil went through. It should be perceived that it could not be otherwise for a nostalus author such as Freyre: the sociologist, who considered himself conservative, despite the intellectual ruptures caused by his work, desired the conservation and preservation of a specifically Brazilian type of society, which was based on the construction of the landowner patriarchy and its relaxation, such as the advent of urbanization , which would have as a more or less direct consequence the social rise of the mulatto and the bachelor, in specific cases in the same person, having peaked with the proclamation of the Republic and the entry into society of blacks and half-breeds, by the army, according to the sociologist, have proved to be a racially less restricted institution. The defense of this way of life or the lament for its disappearance apparently were well condensed into a book already by the very symbolic title: Jazigos e covas rasas, which would account for the burial rituals of the rich and the poor. The book was lost and its echo lies only in the prefaces and introductions to Sobrados e mucambos and Ordem e progresso. But these echoes, and even this loss, still account for the author’s betrayed nostalgia. For good or evil, and Gilberto Freyre’s contradictions realize this, the patriarchy that gave rise to it, is frank decay and accelerated disappearance.


ADORNO, T. W. Notas de literatura I. Trad. Jorge de Almeida. São Paulo: Duas Cidade/Editora 34, 2008.

ARAGÃO, Solange de. “Jazigos e covas rasas: o livro que Gilberto Freyre não escreveu?” In: Oculum Ensaios, n. 13. Campinas. pp. 88-96. Janeiro-junho, 2011.

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OLIVEIRA, Amurabi. “Do pretexto ao subtexto de Casa-grande & senzala.” Anos 90, Porto Alegre, v. 22, n. 42, p. 449-457, dez. 2015.

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SCHNEIDER, Alberto Luiz. “Iberismo e luso-tropicalismo na obra de Gilberto Freyre.” In: História da historiografia. Ouro Preto. n. 10, dezembro de 2012, pp. 75-93.

SCHWARZ, Roberto. Duas meninas. 2ª ed. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2006.

[1] Master in Educational Sciences (Universidad Del Sol), Specialist in School Management and Coordination (Vale do Acaraú University), Specialist in Brazilian Literature (State University of Ceará), graduated in Letters/Portuguese (University of Fortaleza).

[2] Master’s degree in Educational Sciences.

Submitted: August, 2020.

Approved: November, 2020.

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