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  • Chthonian Visions and Mythic Redemption in Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro's Sergeant Getulio

A solitary figure wielding an ax, he rushed headlong, against an entire troop . . . mercilessly endangering himself in a gesture of heroic proportions.

—Lourenço Moreira Lima, Secretary to the Prestes Column (qtd. in Angelo 16)

Through the sacrifice of ourselves we gain ourselves. . . .

—Carl Gustav Jung (296)

I have witnessed the total drama of the Northeast . . . I saw the parched landscape. . . . I saw . . . the mercilessness of man and of weather.

—General Emílio Garrastazu Médici, 6 June 1970 (qtd. in Angelo 25)

The Traditional Nature of the Mythmaking process has always been comprised of a confluence of sociological, artistic, and philosophical elements. In Sargeant Getúlio (1971) João Ubaldo [End Page 449] Ribeiro, like his primitive counterpart, utilizes epic formulae and mythological correspondences to posit his chthonian vision of the modern world. Although the contemporary Brazilian novel is as variegated in substance and narrative technique as that of any national literature, there exists intriguing thematic parallels throughout many works of that country's most respected writers. The grotesque motif born of the tension of innocent victims confronting torture is so pandemic that it is now recognizable as a full-fledged archetype.1 Often history relies on the novelist to aid in documenting in palpable and human terms the political failings of an era. George A. Panichas has stated: "To a large degree history, not literary aesthetic, dictates sensibility and belief in twentieth-century literature" (xxvi). Ribeiro's novel masterfully fuses very real sociopolitical concerns, the aesthetic experience, and his role as modern-day mythmaker. It is truly a protean masterpiece; an elegantly wrought study that is, on balance, one of the most distinguished pieces of modern Brazilian fiction. Peter S. Prescott calls the work a "splendid novel," and writer-critic Erico Veríssimo observes: "It is something unique. It derives nothing from any other book."2 The supreme compliment comes from the internationally acclaimed novelist Jorge Amado: "Among the works of fiction published in Brazil in the last decade, few have been as important as João Ubaldo Ribeiro's Sergeant Getúlio . . ." (139).3

The present analysis focuses upon Sergeant Getúlio from the primary perspective of its inherent artistic integrity, its accommodation of mythic topoi, and the cogency of its vision of one man's journey to redemption.

Charles I. Glicksburg, in analyzing the zoological metaphor in modern literature, observes that this metaphorical metamorphosis ". . . drives home the absurdity of investing human life with a divine [End Page 450] purpose or any purpose at all; it reinforces the suspicion that the emergence of consciousness is in the service of instinct, an emanation of the blind energy of Nature" (39-40). There exists no character in contemporary fiction who has so incarnated this "blind energy of Nature" than has Ribeiro's Sergeant Getúlio. No other work of modern fiction so strongly concentrates on analyzing this "consciousness in the service of instinct." This work stands in marked contrast to the narrative innovations and authorial playfulness that form such an integral part of the contemporary Brazilian novel. Ribeiro's style and focus could well be termed neo-Dostoevskian. His novel's central conciousness is a modern-day underground man, an exmilitia sergeant working for a local political boss. Ribeiro's narrator, Getúlio, in the fashion of Dostoevsky's unnamed civil servant in Notes from Underground, tenders his jaundiced views on life from manhood to hair cream to sex and torture, all within the context of an extended monologue, a protracted soliloquy that acquires mythic and anthropomorphic dimensions. Jon S. Vincent's reading of Grande Sertão Veredas illustrates the interplay between the "autobiographical account . . . of the narrator" and the nonregistered speech of "the interlocutor" (65). An analogous narrative structure exists in Sergeant Getúlio with Amaro, his driver, being his silent sounding board.

The epic dimensions of this book can be derived from the Odyssyan journey that Getúlio embarks upon, becoming a symbolic Grail Quest.4 There are present many prefigurations of traditional epic formulae: the journey itself, the hyperbolic nature of Getúlio's feats of violence, the larger-than-life...


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