After all, was there or wasn’t there betrayal? This is the question that guides the plot of Machado de Assis’ Dom Casmurro. Everyone has heard of Capitu and her “whirlpool eyes,” but very few people truly understand the true meaning of the elaborate story crafted by the great master.
At school, in Brazil, when we are forced to read this magnificent work at a young age, discussions usually revolve around the supposed betrayal and its supposed evidence. However, Machado was exceptional in the art of manipulation and we, with adolescent and immature minds, did not “catch” his intention.
But before detailing the intimate relationship of the characters, let’s talk a little about the author. Certainly, no other Brazilian writer has been studied as much as Machado de Assis, and I dare say, no other has so many qualities to be a true classic. At birth, Machado did not have much going for him. He was poor, black, and stuttered in a society that was, at the very least, cruel and unequal. In fact, criticisms of the society of the time are frequent in his books.
Similarly to Shakespeare’s famous character Othello, Bentinho begins to feel intense jealousy towards Capitu regarding his friend Escobar. Othello unjustly kills Desdemona because of Iago’s influence. In Dom Casmurro, no one is murdered, but we can perceive many influences on Bentinho, both external and from his own personality. In fact, Bentinho’s full name is Bento Santiago, he has the “Iago” in his own name.
Long before Bentinho definitively confronts Capitu and ruins their romance, he gives us numerous indications that he is spoiled and confused. He cannot see clearly the relationship between Capitu and Escobar, just as he cannot see clearly himself. And as for Capitu? Well, without further definition beyond that made by the “betrayed husband” at fourteen years old: “Capitu, that is, a very peculiar creature, more woman than I was man.”
In face of Bentinho’s manipulation ability, we cannot say whether Capitu betrayed him or not. The narrator dreamed of a perfect life and ended up a victim of himself. Instead of scrutinizing Capitu’s behavior, we should pay attention to the artifices of “Dom Casmurro” to prove her guilty. He is the suspect.
Bentinho was a lawyer and, as such, proposes: “There are concepts that must be instilled in the reader’s soul by force of repetition.” He becomes paranoid and convinced of the betrayal to such an extent that he condemns his wife to exile in Switzerland and abandons his son without any remorse. In fact, it is Bentinho who betrays us.
The Worm of Jealousy
A disgusting and ugly worm / born in deadly mud. / Bites, bleeds, tears, and undermines. / That worm is jealousy. This is Machado de Assis’ definition, in the poem “The Worm,” for the feeling that corrodes romantic relationships and runs through much of his work. As for Capitu’s alleged betrayal, Machado never spoke out. In realism, as a counterpoint to romanticism where marriage is the sanctification of a bourgeois entity, every marriage becomes adultery because the frivolous theory of romanticism does not apply to a couple who must face the problems of real life.