The Masters and the Slaves (Casa-Grande and Senzala) a Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization: Paperback – Jan 1900
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Because of its focus on a very provincial-specific economy and culture, I would criticize Freyre for offering a very incomplete study of "Brazilian Civilization" in this book. In his defense, however, this book is too often read as a stand-alone study, when in fact Freyre intended for it to form a trilogy with another two books...The former traces how the rural sugar-based culture of early northeastern Brazil affected and was affected by the emergence of cities and urban life-patterns in places like Recife, Salvador, and Rio de Janeiro in the mid 1600s through the end of the 18th century. The latter book follows the study further, through the independence period and especially the twilight of the Empire, establishment of the Republic in the 188o's. If you read one, I recommend all three books to appreciate Freyre's thesis, that the original sugar-culture that developed and was discussed in Masters and Slaves had a lasting impact on Brazil's evolution as a whole, even in areas and regions where sugar cane and slavery were never established bases for economic development. This vision of Brazil remains incomplete without an understanding of Sao Paulo and the south, a region which today is arguably the strongest center of influence in the country. To complete that, I would recommend some books by [other authors]
The book was written more than 50 years ago and Freyre, like any other historian or ethnologist, unavoidably comes to the table with cultural and personal biases transparent to himself.
Freyre makes a number of presumptions, sometimes contradictory, sometimes a bit absurd from today's perspective, about the sexual attributes, habits and dispositions of the Amerindians, peoples of African descent and the Portuguese. Portuguese men are categorized as oversexed (over and over again), Amerindian women as ever willing sexual partners while the Africans are determined to be less sexual because they use music and dancing to stimulate their sexual urges (!). Then, just to confuse the reader, Freyre talks about Africans escaping to the Brazilian bush and `raping' the (ever willing?) Amerindian woman. Did these alleged rapists bring their drummers with them? All three groups can step forward and take offense at Freyre's presumptions.
In the year 2000 we would interpret Freyre's presumptions as racist, but we have the benefit of hindsight and he didn't. In his time he would have been considered forward looking and anything but a racist. The reader needs to take note of the author's presumptions, biases and preoccupations and then continue reading. All things considered, this is a remarkable and valuable piece of scholarship.
With astonishing erudition, a commanding sense of style, and a gift for gripping narrative, Senhor Freyre has applied all the modern techniques of social study to the remarkably successful melting-pot culture of "medieval" Brazil. He deals with race, climate, agronomy, sexual habits, architecture, the arts, religion, sorcery, literature, history, food, economics, politics, and the thousand other forces that made the Brazil of today what it is. In doing so, he throws blinding light into the color problem, the meanings of "civiliation" and "culture," the political and economic situation in Latin America, the significance of ethnolocical and anthropological judgments, etc. From beginning to end The Masters and the Slaves (the Portuguese title literally means Big House and Slave Quarters) is absorbing, colorful, and dense with material. It has the qualities of great literature, not least in that it suggests far more than it states, sends readers' minds on treks and side-trips of their own.
--- excerpt from book's dustjacket