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Child of the Dark

Carolina Maria de Jesus was born in 1914 to a single mother in a rural town outside of So
Paulo. After de Jesuss father left her and her mother destitute, de Jesuss mother took the only
job availableworking as a housekeeper in a brotheland endured scorn from those around
her. De Jesuss childhood was marked by prejudice and ostracism for several reasons: she was
black, the child of a single mother, and very outspoken, even at a young age. A benefactors
intervention allowed de Jesus to attend school at the age of seven, but she had to leave only two
years later due to a family move. De Jesus continued to read and learn in her spare time, despite
the fact that people accused her of being a witch.
When de Jesus was twenty-three, her mother died, and she decided to relocate to So Paulo. De
Jesus did not last long working as a maid, one of the few jobs a black woman could hope for at
that timethe families that employed her found de Jesus too educated, too spirited, and not
docile enough. At age thirty-three, de Jesus became pregnant with Joo, and after being fired
from another maid job, she took refuge in the favela (shantytown). The postwar economic
boom had changed residential patterns in large Brazilian cities like So Paulo and Rio. As
luxury buildings were going up, poor families were being pushed to the outskirts of town, and
many ended up in the favelas.
Always interested in books and writing, de Jesus continued to write throughout her time in the
favela, where she wrote many plays, stories, and aphorisms, as well as the diary that made her
famous. In April 1958, a young reporter named Audalio Dantas decided to write a story about
the favela and happened upon a scene unfolding at a playground. As a group of men made
trouble, Dantas observed a tall black woman threatening to write about them in her notebook.
He asked her about it, and de Jesus showed him stacks of writing she had in her hut in the
favela. With his guidance and editing, de Jesus published Quarto de Despejo (The Garbage
Room, later published in English as Child of the Dark) in 1960, to national and then
international acclaim. Magazines the world over wrote features about de Jesus, heralding her
harrowing description of the life of the poor as one of the first accounts of poverty actually
written from the inside.
Soon after the publication of her diary, de Jesus was able to realize a long-held dream of
moving her family out of the favela. However, the price of fame was high. People constantly
bothered her at home for autographs and money, while at the same time, de Jesus and her
children were shunned by their new white neighbors. The boys found the adjustment from
favela life most difficult because of their more advanced ages. De Jesus yearned to publish her
poems and stories but found no assistance in Dantas, who did not have interest in anything
beyond her more political writings. Dantas had also lost patience with de Jesus, whom he saw
as a difficult, demanding prima donna. The press and public also viewed this prideful,
outspoken woman with mixed emotions. De Jesus, for her part, embraced the fame she thought
she deserved and refused to conform to any role that society imposed upon her. About a year
after the publication of her first book, de Jesus published a continuation of her diary Casa de
Alvenaria (The Brick House), but it was much less successful than the first installment. De

Jesus continued to write until her death, but she never forgot the pain of being so quickly
spurned by a fickle public.

Plot Overview
Child of the Dark, the diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus, covers the period between July 1955
and January 1, 1960, with a gap, due to editing, between 1955 and 1958. Carolina has three
children: Vera (two), Jos Carlos (five), and Joo (eight). They live in a favela, or shantytown,
where living spaces consist of crude huts built of cardboard and wood scraps. Her daily life
consists of collecting paper and metal scraps for food money. While looking for scraps outside
a football stadium, Carolina endures taunts from white patrons. Carolina often fares no better
closer to homemeddlesome favela woman like Dona Rosa and Dona Silvia pick fights with
Carolinas children and try to provoke Carolina. Favela life is full of hunger, disease, violence,
and alcoholism. Carolinas only consolation is writing and the occasional kindness of friends
and strangers, such as when a man stops by the favela and gives Carolinas daughter, Vera, one
hundred cruzieros, the equivalent of what Carolina often earns in a day.
Carolina struggles to insulate her children from bad influences, but she receives several
summons from the police station regarding her boys behavior. After a few visits there, and
after a neighbor woman, Chica, levels an accusation of rape against Joo, Carolina briefly
considers interning her children in a public shelter for their own safety and wellbeing. Carolina
believes that Joos accuser is lying, but she worries that her children are in danger while the
matter is being investigated. After two runaways from the shelter seek refuge in Carolinas
home, and she hears their stories of horrible abuse, she changes her mind about putting her
children there, recognizing that the experience would likely turn them into criminals. The fact
that the favela changes everyone it touches is a reality that Carolina fully understands. As she
observes a new resident become increasingly argumentative and desperate as they adapt to the
dog-eat-dog mentality that rules the favela, Carolina recognizes that a person can resist being
dragged down by it only for so long.
Carolina takes every opportunity she can get to participate in Brazils political system, but after
going to Congress to observe her leaders, she feels nothing but disgust. In response to the
ignorance she sees from those in power, Carolina levels many critiques against the political
system that she believes contributes to the poverty and hunger of the favelados. To Carolina,
Brazils President Juscelino is a bird in a cage, and the favela dwellers are hungry cats that may
someday rise up against him if given the chance. On a more day-to-day level, Carolina senses
that she lives in a system that conspires against the poor. Inflation is rampant, and prices for
basic necessities, such as rice and flour, can be absurd. When Carolina watches a factory owner
dump rotted food near the favela, she considers it an act of blatant cruelty. Carolina also
endures racial and class discrimination every time she ventures out of the favela and into the
city of So Paulo. While taking a streetcar, Carolina discusses the politician Dr. Adhemar with
other passengers, who blame him for the steep increases in the cost of transportation. Carolina
thinks that Adehemar is angry and wants to punish the poor. In the often-brutal world she lives
in, Carolina wonders how much worse conditions can get.
Carolina refuses to put her interest in marrying before her interest in her children, even when
she is proposed to by a man named Manuel, who, compared to the other favelados, is fairly well
off, a worker and abstainer from alcohol. Against her own better judgment, Carolina also

becomes intertwined with a gypsy named Raimundo, who awakens in her a sense of romance
and adventure. Ultimately, she decides that he is not the man she thought he was, but when he
moves away, she is sick and broken-hearted. Through both entanglements, Carolina maintains
that she is not the marrying type, her children come first, and she is unwilling to make the
sacrifices that she sees other women making in order to get married.
The intervention of a journalist named Audalio Dantas helps Carolina to realize her dream of
being published. When excerpts of her diary appear in a weekly magazine called O Cruziero,
Carolina tells everyone she can about her new fame. Unfortunately, being published does not
have the effect that she was hoping for. Not only do Carolinas dire daily circumstances remain
unchanged, but she quickly finds success to be a bitter pill when the favela fills with
disparaging talk of her motives. Even after her publication, Carolina must deal with the same
challenges and frustrations: the struggle to scrape together enough money for food, the lines at
the water spigot, the fights, and the racism and sexism she faces on a daily basis. Despite these
daily humiliations, Carolina holds fast to her dream of finding a home far from the favela for
her family.

Character List
Carolina Maria de Jesus - The author of, and central player in, the diary. Carolina, forty-one
years old and the mother of three young children, lives in a favela, or slum, in Brazil. She
collects paper scraps to sell in order to buy food and writes in her diary about daily life. In
contrast to the other women of the favela, Carolina does not drink, engage in fighting, or
otherwise compromise the safety of her children. She has also resolved not to marry.
Perceptive, critical, and sometimes dryly humorous, Carolina creates an accurate record of life
in the favela.
Vera - Carolinas youngest child. Vera is two when the diary begins, and her longings for nice
clothes and food are particularly difficult for Carolina to cope with. At one point, Vera asks to
be given to a richer family so that she might have what favela life lacksa request that pains
Jos Carlos - Carolinas middle child. Jos Carlos is almost five when the diary begins. At one
point, Jos Carlos is detained at the local police station for truancy. When Carolina picks him
up, she is relieved to find him crying rather than acting like the hardened child-criminals who
surround him.
Joo - Carolinas oldest son. Joo is eight when the diary begins. When a neighbor accuses
him of raping her daughter midway through the diary, he is interrogated by the local
authorities, who ask prying questions in front of his brother and sister about his knowledge of
sex. Nothing comes of the charges by the end of the book.
Manuel - Carolinas long-time lover. Manuel appears to be better than the favelados: he
doesnt drink, he works, and he dresses and behaves like a man of a much higher station.
Manuel would like to marry Carolina, but her feelings about him fluctuate. On one hand, she
thinks very highly of him and has obvious affection for him, though she is fundamentally
resistant to the idea of marrying anyone. Manuel grows jealous of Carolinas relationship with
the gypsy Raimundo, though he comes back to her, as she predicts.
Raimundo - The mysterious gypsy who enters Carolinas life and sweeps her off her feet.
Raimundo reverses her stereotypes about gypsies and helps awaken her to her own romantic
longings for travels and freedom. Raimundos presence reveals Carolinas more playful side.
However, Raimundo is not as perfect as Carolina initially makes him out to be. Hes fickle,
cant be pinned down, and openly pursues other women. When Carolina sees him eyeing a
fourteen-year-old girl, she resolves to have nothing more to do with him.
Audalio Dantas - The reporter who helps Carolina get published in a weekly magazine, O
Cruziero. Dantas discovers Carolina when he overhears her threatening to put some
troublemakers in her book. Dantass aid also allows Carolinas diary to be published in book
Brother Luiz - A clergyman from the local Catholic church. Brother Luiz comes to the favela
to offer aid and religious instruction, but Carolina thinks he is blind to the needs of the poor.
Euclides - A disabled beggar who lives in the favela. Euclides reacts to the publication of
Carolinas diary by telling her she is now in his heart and head. He also offers to keep
Carolina so that she can continue writing, but she turns him down.
Dona Julita - A more fortunate friend of Carolinas. Dona Julita offers aid, food, and
companionship to Carolina when she needs it most.
President Juscelino - The president of Brazil. President Juscelino is described by Carolina as

a bird in a cage, ignorant of the hungry cats (the favelados) who circle around him.
Chica - A neighbor woman. Chica accuses Carolinas son Joo of raping her daughter.
Dona Rosa - A neighbor in the favela. Dona Rosa picks fights with Carolinas children.
Dona Silvia - A favela woman. Dona Silvia visits Carolina to complain about her childrens
poor education.
Orlando Lopes - A man who lives and works in the favela. Orlando is sometimes helpful to
Carolina, as when he helps her slaughter a pig, but he is also corrupt. In charge of electricity in
the favela, he collects electrical deposits even thought the electric company abolished such
deposits years ago. Orlando also reacts negatively to Carolinas publication and the fact that
she accused him of being lazy in her accounthe shuts off her electricity for nonpayment of
the dubious fees.
Dona Elvira - A quarrelsome favela woman. Dona Elvira may have had something to do with
the burning of some paper that Carolina had collected to sell.
Veras Father - Identified in the diary as Senhor J. A. M. V. Veras father is described as a
businessman with many employees. Though she respects his wishes not to be identified by
name in her diary, Carolina describes how he fails to provide for his daughter and rarely visits.
Antonio and Nelson - The two runaways from the public childrens shelter whom Carolina
assists during July 1958. Antonio and Nelson tell stories about the horrors of the shelter and
impress Carolina and her children. The children realize theyd better behave, and Carolina
realizes that she needs to think twice about interning her children at the shelter.
I. and C. - Two young favela women who have turned to prostitution. I. and C. are identified
by their initials only, and Carolina tells their story to offer a moral about what happens to
people who are not willing to try to better themselves.
Senhor Tomas - A favela man who commits suicide. The fate of Senhor Tomas causes
Carolina to become discouraged about her own life.

Analysis of Major Characters

Carolina de Jesus
The self-portrait that Carolina de Jesus creates in her diary gains texture from the fact that she
grants such close access to her inner thoughts, feelings, and dreams. Carolina shows herself in
high spirits and low, floating on the joy of falling in love and dragged down by the desperate
moments when she knows that her children will have to go hungry that day. She can by turns be
critical, humorous, plaintive, strong, and poetic. As a single mother, Carolina feels ostracized,
but she takes pride in the fact that she earns her own way instead of stealing from others. She
has mixed emotions about relying on anyone, especially men. She cares about books, writing,
and her children, and is unwilling to jeopardize any of these things for the security a husband
might bring her.
Carolina keeps a diary to assert her sense of self, create a record of life in the favela, and
account for the bad actions of both the people around her and the politicians who contribute to
the plight of the poor. She tells those who wrong her that theyll end up in her book, and though
this strategy can come across as overbearing, her task is important. She has biting and
important things to say about the failure of authority to address the needs of the poor, and her
chronicle of the many instances of petty fighting, criminality, racism, and sexism in the society
she lives in add up to a powerful portrait. Carolina is a keen reporter, able to bring into focus
the existence of a favelado in unexpected and moving ways. While she is often quite critical,
she also has a sense of humor that leavens and illuminates aspects of what is otherwise quite a
grim story.
Now, as well as then, Carolina defies a number of stereotypes about the poor. Though she has
only two years of formal education, she is intelligent and educated in her own way. Her views
are sophisticated, her conclusions complex. Furthermore, Carolina is not meek or docile. She
takes pride in being able to earn her own way and chafes at the patronizing attitudes of the
more fortunate. Throughout the diary, Carolina is a complicated and even difficult figure. By
depicting the complex social and economic forces that conspire against the poor, Carolina
shows that there are no quick fixes or magical solutions when dealing with poverty. By being a
forceful, challenging, independent woman, Carolina reminds us that the poor are not just a
group to be pitiedthey are people just as individual and human as anyone else.

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

The Symbiosis of Rich and Poor

I n Child of the Dark, the fates of the rich and poor are intertwined, and the rich ignore the
existence and plight of the poor at their own peril. Though the rich might want to forget about
the poor and push them out of sight in the favelas, the poor are as vital to the city as the rich
are. When Carolina crosses the dividing line between these two worlds, she sees the contrast
and connection between them more clearly. Several times, strong imagery highlights this
parallel track, such as the image of the city as a beautiful woman with cheap, torn stockings
underneath her ritzy clothes, and especially in terms of the image of So Paulo as a house
where the favela functions as a backyard garbage dump. The rich would be lost without a place
to dump their garbage, Carolina seems to be saying, and this unsettling observation provides a
new perspective on the ever-present link between rich and poor.
The Value of Independence

Carolinas pride in her own independence is the central value that determines both her identity
and the way she interacts with other favelados. On one level, her independence is the main
guiding force in a strong set of values that she adheres to in the face of numerous threats and
temptations. Rampant theft, alcoholism, and violence surround her, and to set herself apart
from these scourges, she must maintain a mental distance from them. On another level,
Carolinas sense of independence grows out of her resistance to, or mistrust of, other people.
Manuel repeatedly proposes marriage, and when she turns him down, Carolina refers to her
closely held sense of independence. She points to the subservience that other women must
endure in marriage as her reason for staying alone, and since Carolinas independence defines
her sense of self, giving up her autonomy would compromise not only her social standing but
also her sense of identity as a writer.
The Power of Words

Whether she is simply recording daily events or creating complex critiques of those around her,
Carolina derives tremendous power and identity from the act of writing. On the most basic
level, Carolina uses her diary as a weapon against those in the favela who wrong hershe
threatens to put them in her book. If Carolina didnt sense that words have intrinsic power, she
wouldnt bother making such a threat. There are subtler means, however, that Carolina uses to
express the power of writing in her life, such as when she describes how writing makes her feel
as though she lives in a golden castle. When she writes about her desire to escape the favela,
she is putting words toand therefore making more realsomething she only dreams about.
The Blindness of Authority

Fighting back at figures of authority in both the church and the government through her
writing, Carolina accuses those in power for being blind to the needs of the poor. She chides the
president of Brazil for being like a bird in a gilded cage, ignorant of the hungry cats (the
favelados) who are circling. She takes on rich business owners, who price common goods at a

level that is out of the poors reach. She castigates clergymen for preaching sermons that are
not only out of touch with the favela but may in fact be harmful. For example, one sermon
advised favelados to have more children. Throughout the diary, Carolina repeatedly calls
attention to the responsibility that those in power have shirked. In that sense, her diary acts as a
corrective to the neglect that the favela has endured for so many years.

Though the diary is a grim telling of the desperate existence of the favelado, humor frequently
appears as well. Humor leavens some of the darkest events and gives Carolina another point of
perspective from which to comment on what she observes. In explaining why she thinks that
marrying Manuel would be a mistake, Carolina wonders why a man would want to marry a
woman who sleeps with a pen under her pillow. Carolinas ability to poke fun at herself serves
as a survival mechanism: by retaining a capacity to laugh at something, she can make it small
enough to handle. Even in the midst of extremely grim circumstances, Carolinas wry
observations shed light on things we wouldnt otherwise see. For example, she points out that
women in the welfare office talk about their childrens fathers as horses or asses, and she
threatens Manuel by saying shell begin acting like the other favela women in order to put him
in line.
Carolinas Threat to Put People in Her Book

Carolinas constant threat to put those who do her wrong in her book defines her character
throughout the diary. Carolina has appointed herself an arbiter of accountability, and people
will have to answer for their indiscretions. Accountability is surely lacking in the favela, and
Carolina thinks she can restore it through writing. With her threats, Carolina is also reminding
those around her that she is a person to be reckoned with. Her assertion is ultimately born out
by the facts: her threat is responsible for her publication, as reporter Audalio Dantas becomes
curious about Carolinas book when he overhears her threatening to write about people
destroying a childrens playground.
The Golden Castle

When Carolina writes, she imagines she lives in a golden castle that shines in the sunlight.
The act of writing represents many things for Carolina. Writing offers refuge from the
humiliations and setbacks she experiences on a daily basis. It is also a source of illumination
it offers Carolina a place to process her thoughts and form meaningful conclusions about what
she observes.
A Bird in a Cage

In casting the president of Brazil as a bird in a cage, Carolina implies that he is trapped in his
own ignorance and is ineffectual at making changes, especially concerning the poor. The image
of the bird in a cage makes diminutive a figure of presumably great power. In this construction,
Carolina casts the president as a small and confined bird, while the favelados are wild and

hungry cats. This symbol is especially interesting in terms of describing a shifting power
relationship. She leaves uncertain the possibility of when the cats will get the bird, and doesnt
specify whether or not the bird has anything with which to protect itself beyond the flimsy bars
of a self-constructed cage.
The Beautiful Woman with Cheap Stockings

By personifying So Paulo as a beautiful woman with cheap, ragged stockings underneath her
fine clothing, Carolina creates a colorful, playful representation of the favela. The rich people
of So Paulo must recognize that their lives are intertwined with those of the favelados and act
accordingly. The image suggests two of the major themes that define Carolinas diary: the
blindness of authority and the symbiosis of the rich and poor. In this case, Carolina chides So
Paulo for not seeing its cheap stockings. By putting the city of So Paulo and the favelas on the
body of the same beautiful woman, Carolina reveals their inherent interconnectedness.

Important Quotations Explained

1. I can take the ups and downs of life. If I cant store up the courage to live, Ive resolved
to store up the patience.
In her entry from July 19, 1955, Carolinas frustrations with meddling favela women and trying
to earn enough money to feed her children find an outlet in this new resolution. In Carolinas
hand-to-mouth existence, her biggest challenges are the daily ones: finding food and protecting
her children. Necessity dictates that she must learn how to cope with innumerable challenges,
and patience proves more important than courage. Possessing a laudable virtue like courage
may seem luxurious to someone in Carolinas position. Patience is more practical, and it allows
her to break down a problem and deal with it constructively. When so many crises threaten to
overwhelm Carolina, patience helps her negotiate them with dignity and grace. Over the course
of the diary, writing becomes part of Carolinas strategy to store up the patience. It gives her
life meaning and allows her to record the wrong actions of people who might be held
accountable later. In this way, Carolina avoids being dragged into the senseless fights she sees
all around her, and can escape the larger and subtler sense of despair that afflicts the entire
2. Ah, So Paulo! A queen that vainly shows her skyscrapers that are her crown of gold.
All dressed up in velvet and silk but with cheap stockings underneaththe favela.
Carolina writes this amusing metaphor in her entry of May 22, 1958. Her message is clear: So
Paulos glory is all surface, and the hidden spaces of the favela, her rotten underside, shine
through. The gently chiding tone fits in with her stance during the rest of the narrative: though
no one else may see whats really going on, she herself is keeping score. The image of the
beautiful woman is similar to the metaphor of So Paulo being like a house where the favela is
a backyard garbage dump. In both cases, Carolina recognizes that the fates of the rich and the
poor are intertwined, and one cannot exist without the other. At the same time, she chides the
citys rich for not being willing to see its garbage dump or cheap stockings. Underneath the
prized accomplishments, the crown of gold, a seedy underside roils with unrest.
3. When I write I think I live in a golden castle that shines in the sunlight.
On June 12, 1958, Carolina chooses an apt symbol for the function writing serves in her life.
This castle is both beautiful and protective, a place where she finds the hope she needs to carry
on, and a refuge from the daily struggles and humiliations of daily life. Carolina is the queen of
this castle, and in writing, she potentially summons the only source of power she has in a life
where things often seem out of control. Though this image seems magical and imaginary,
Carolina actually builds something concrete through her words: a remembrance, evidence that
she was there. Rather than being purely dreamy or ephemeral, her writing charts concrete
progress toward a permanent place in the world. She may not have a home or a job, but through
writing, she can establish a sense of self that outlasts the whims of fate.
4. If the Brother saw his children eating rotten food already attacked by vultures and rats,
he would stop talking about resignation and rebel, because rebellion comes from

In her entry from July 8, 1958, Carolina chides the Brother of the local Catholic church for
being inattentive to the needs of the poor. When factory owners have spoiling food to dispose
of, they often dump it near the favela, which incenses Carolina. The local church does help the
favelados through visits and food donations, but when Carolina looks at the larger picture, she
doubts whether the Churchs intervention makes much difference. This thread points to her
larger mistrust of the Church and even seems to imply that the Church may be lulling the
favelados into a state of denial. In this quote, Carolina also signals her growing political
consciousness, though she stops short of advocating a specific plan. Still, the question looms:
when will the favelados be ready to rebel? Carolina is aware of talk on the streets, and in taking
the Brother to task in this passage, she bemoans the lack of real leadership in the favela. She
suggests that the favelados need figures who are in touch with their real struggles and who are
willing to move past the easy platitudes and effect change.
5. The cat is a wise one. She doesnt have any deep loves and doesnt let anyone make a
slave of her.
In her entry from December 29, 1958, Carolina writes of a cat that has killed a rat shes been
trying to catch for days. In the cat, Carolina sees the value she prizes most in herself:
independence. By ascribing a lack of deep loves to the animal, Carolina reveals one of her
own survival strategies: she refuses to get married or put her love interests before the interests
of her children. As she describes it, marriage resembles slavery. Having watched the women
around her get beaten by their husbands, she decides that violence and subservience are givens
within marriage. In a larger sense, Carolina is deeply ambivalent about putting her trust in
anyone but herself. In the desperate world of the favela, every man or woman must fend for
him- or herself. The cat represents the characteristic that allows Carolina to survive in the
favela: self-reliance.

Key Facts
full title Child of the Dark
author Carolina Maria de Jesus
type of work Diary
genre Nonfiction/memoir
language English, translated from Portuguese
time and place written So Paulo, Brazil, 19551960
date of first publication August 1960 (in English: 1962)
publisher E. P. Dutton & Co.
narrator Carolina Maria de Jesus, writing entries from July 1955 through January 1960
point of view First person. The reader is privy to the thoughts and point of view of de Jesus
tone Matter-of-fact, realistic, occasionally humorous, occasionally poetic
tense Both past and present
setting (time) Late 1950s
setting (place) The favela (shantytown), So Paulo, Brazil
protagonist Carolina
major conflict Carolinas day-to-day conflicts revolve around providing for her three
children, and the larger conflict concerns how Carolina will find her way out of the favela.
rising action Because the diary focuses on the day-to-day details of de Jesuss real life, there
is no rising action per se, though the impending publication of Carolinas diary does provide
some forward momentum.
climax Because this is not a work of fiction, usual narrative rules do not apply, but Child of
the Dark does have a climax of sorts: the publication of Carolinas diary in a weekly magazine.
falling action Carolinas diary is published and yet her life does not change.
themes The symbiosis of the rich and poor; the value of independence; the power of words;
the blindness of authority

motifs Humor; Carolinas threat to put people in her book

symbols The golden castle; a bird in a cage; the beautiful woman with cheap stockings
foreshadowing There is little foreshadowing. Carolina reports events as they happen, without

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