In both Machado de Assis’s novel Dom Casmurro and Garcï¿½a Mï¿½rquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the main characters, Bentinho or “Bento” Santiago and Santiago Nasar, are presented to us without a proper paternal figure in their lives. This, in consequence, emphasizes the importance of motherhood in the society of these two novels and through various literary techniques and imagery, the authors are able to evoke awareness of this theme to the reader. In this essay, I will examine mother-son relationships and show how mothers shape their sons’ character through their actions.
Through character details, mother-son relationships are evident in Dom Casmurro and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Dona Glï¿½ria is presented through the eyes of her son, Bento, as a “lovely woman” (16). Although there is no clear description of the father, there are brief glimpses into his character through details such as: “… the portrait shows a round pair of eyes, which follow [Bento] everywhere, an effect of the painting that frightened [him] as a child” (16). From Bento’s brief portrayal of his parents, it is shown that the mother played a grander role in taking care of him when he was still a child. Machado de Assis makes use of pathetic fallacy by describing Bento’s father as an inanimate object with human characteristics and this accentuates the disjunct relationship between the narrator and his father.
In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Plï¿½cida Linero is known as an “accurate interpreter of other people’s dreams” (4). When Santiago Nasar tells her that he dreamt of “…going through a grove of timber trees where a gentle drizzle was falling”, she did not sense any “ominous auguries” (4) and consequently, let him go outside the house knowing that the Vicario brothers would murder him. From this incident, it would seem as though she trusted the accuracy of her interpretation rather than the safety of her son. Plï¿½cida Linero and Santiago Nasar’s oblivious nature to the situation show that both mother and son share similar characteristics in which lead both of them to an impending catastrophe.
In both novels, the mothers’ actions play a direct role in constructing their sons’ development as a character. Most notably, Dona Glï¿½ria reveals her authoritative personality by forcing her son to enter the seminary and to learn from the priests. When Bento becomes acquainted with Capitu, he loses interest in becoming part of the clergy because of their growing relationship; however when he tries to explain this to his mother, she “reproved [him], not harshly but somewhat firmly, and [he] went back to being the submissive son [he] was” (81). Dona Glï¿½ria also acknowledges that in the past, her son “…used to beg to go and see the seminarists coming out of Sï¿½o Josï¿½” (81).
From this, one can conclude that before the appearance of Capitu, Bento was strictly disciplined by his mother. Perhaps, Dona Glï¿½ria’s nature is the reason why he asserts: “weakness was what [my mother] meant, that I shouldn’t be so weak, that I should be a man and do as I ought” (81). At this point, he has learned from his mother’s disciplinary actions and begins to disobey her orders by displaying male dominance. Machado de Assis cleverly manipulates this theme by showing Bento’s exertion of machismo, or excessive masculinity. In essence, Dona Glï¿½ria’s demonstration of power directly affects Bento’s character and this can explain his assertiveness towards Capitu later on.
After Capitu marries Bento, she undergoes a significant character transformation, becoming less strong-willed and independent. She assumes a more “traditional” role as a wife and mother. When she is bombarded with accusations by her husband, she simply replies: “I am at your disposal” (233). Her distress is a signal to the reader that she may not be prepared for motherhood and although she tries to suppress this inner secret from Bento, he finds out from Ezequiel’s imitations of his mother.
This is blatant through Bento’s description: “Capitu playing with her son, and her with her, or each with the other, for, in truth, they were fond of each other…” (220-221). He even states that “Ezequiel’s eyes came from his mother” (221) and this signifies that Ezequiel’s character is heavily shaped by Capitu because of their close resemblance. Nonetheless, the reader must keep in mind that the relationship between Capitu and her son is filtered through the lens of the narrator and therefore, could prove to be misleading to a certain extent. All these factors can, however, explain why Bento is suspicious of his wife and his “supposed” son; especially, after he starts to speculate that Escobar may be the actual father of Ezequiel.
Garcï¿½a Mï¿½rquez employs a similar, but slightly different approach in conveying the influence of mothers on their sons’ character. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Plï¿½cida Linero has a more carefree characteristic as “she was a woman of steady nerves, so she didn’t let any sign of alarm show through” (116). Similar to Capitu, she also tries to escape the responsibility of motherhood. She does not seem angry at herself for making a decision that caused her son’s death. Instead, she feels guilty that her intuition let her down and as a consequence of this failure, she “succumbed to the pernicious habit of her time of chewing pepper cress seeds” (98). This description reveals Plï¿½cida Linero’s lonely nature and with the absence of her husband, she forced to stay home and take care of her son. Throughout the novel, Santiago Nasar is oblivious to the community around him: he is isolated like his mother and does not seem concerned about any of his actions which indicate that he has inherited some of his mother’s traits.
The solitude that both mother and son experience is made evident because they are the last to know of the Vicario brother’s plot. During the descriptions of Santiago Nasar’s murder in the novel, Garcï¿½a Mï¿½rquez makes use of magical realism by satirizing the bond between Plï¿½cida Linero and son. When Santiago is stabbed by the Vicario brothers, he cries: “Oh, mother of mine!” (117) which suggests that he was expecting his mother to unlock the front door and save him from his demise. This idea is later emphasized when the reader learns that he “went into his house through the back door that had been open since six” (120). Furthermore, the fact that he “took care to brush off the dirt that was stuck to his guts” (120) shows that he wasn’t concerned about his death as there was a lack of shock in his repercussions. Although Dona Glï¿½ria and Plï¿½cida Linero are distinct characters, both serve as influential mediums that affect their sons’ lifestyle one way or another.
Unlike Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the concept of filial duty is employed in Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis as a means to stress the importance of mother influence on her son. Bento directly addresses to the reader that: “filial piety fainted away for an instant, with the prospect of certain freedom…” (127) when he imagined his mother dead. However, he describes, fleetingly, that this slight thought caused him great anguish which eventually led to a burst of tears. It is important to note that this thought is enigmatic as the narrator admits that he would “go against [his] mother’s orders” (86) in order to see Capitu. Nonetheless, filial love is evident throughout the novel as he consistently tries to please his mother after rejecting the seminary. Although Bento stated that he loved Capitu more than his mother, he visited Dona Glï¿½ria’s house one more time “to say goodbye” (225) while leaving his wife in Switzerland. This unexpected occurrence symbolizes the impact of motherhood in Bento’s life and his reciprocity for all Dona Glï¿½ria has done for him.
Without the presence of a true father, mothers play a special role in providing discipline, love, and characteristics to their sons in both Dom Casmurro and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Personality traits, character development, as well as inner thoughts and motivations can be revealed by mother-son relationships. The presence of solely a mother, however, results in a lack of experience or guidance in which is evident in her son. Santiago Nasar’s languid response to his murder and Bentinho’s hostility towards Capitu can all be explained by the treatment of their mothers. This theme, as well as many other literary techniques Machado de Assis and Garcï¿½a Mï¿½rquez employ, helps create the distinct realities of these novels.
Garcï¿½a Mï¿½rquez, Gabriel. Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Vintage International, 2003.
Machado de Assis, Joaquim Maria. Dom Casmurro. Trans. John Gledson. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.