In her book “A Brazilian slave of the eighteenth century,” Junia Ferreira Furtado presents some important and interesting scenes of slavery in Portuguese America in the eighteenth century. In particular, the author uses the protagonist character Chica da Silva to present fascinating arguments about gender and racial stereotypes.
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Chica is a colored woman who has obtained freedom from slavery in Minas Gerais, a small mining town in Brazil where various peoples interact, including Portuguese administrators, merchants, freed slaves, and concubines. Although the author uses Chica’s character to present her argument, it is worth noting that her story describes the history and experiences of women in colonial Brazil.
The story presents the position of women, the myths surrounding females, and their roles in society. Arguably, Furtado uses Chica as the protagonist to depict the stereotypes created by these myths and the perceived position of women in colonial times. In this book, the story of Chica symbolizes the racial and colonial aspects of democracy (sensualities and licentiousness) that were associated with colored females.
Analysis of Furtado’s perspective on female and racial stereotypes in Minas Gerais
First, it is worth reviewing the story of Chica da Silva, albeit briefly. The book is based on popular history and life of a certain Francisca da Silva de Oliveira, a mulatto (colored) woman who rose from slavery to become the wife (or mistress) to her Portuguese owner, Joao Fernandes de Oliveira. In popular Brazilian history, Mr. Oliveira was a judge in Minas Gerais and owned the diamond contract in the mines around the town.
History states that Chica obtained her freedom from slavery by courting and seducing Oliveira, thus depicting a negative aspect of women. For instance, several books and historical contexts argue that Chica sexually seduced men for her benefit. They state that Chica used her body to seduce Oliveira and eventually buy her freedom.
Nevertheless, Furtado disputes these claims. She tends to portray a positive side of Chica. The author examines the history of Chica’s family as well as the lives of people in Minas Gerais and eventually attempts to show that Chica and Oliveira have normal relationships, which eventually lead to marriage.
According to the author, Chica’s story “…moves beyond the stereotypes that are attributed to her…”1 The author argues that the notion that Chica used her appearance to seduce men to buy her freedom is untrue and unfounded. She argues that this is a form of stereotype attributed to women, especially blacks and mulattos. According to the author, Chica was exceptionally intelligent, beautiful, and presentable.
In her analysis of the history of Minas Gerais, the author argues that the town was located in the interior of Brazil, which discouraged many Portuguese settlers in the early colonization era. However, the discovery of gold and diamond attracted various companies and workers. Most of them were men, which resulted in a gender imbalance. For instance, the author states that only 16.5% of the population at one mining district was females in 17382.
Most males entered into relationships with a few women who were available in Minas Gerais. Most of those women were blacks. As a result, a large number of the population was composed of mullatos.
When Oliveira moved to Minas, he fell in love with Chica not because she seduced him, but because history and demographic aspects of the town placed those women at a higher advantage than their white or black counterparts. A large number of children were born from illegitimate relationships, including outside the wedlock.
The author further disputes the stereotypic claim that Chica was one of the most notorious sexually active women in the city. In contrary, she argues that although most of the freed women became concubines, it is wrong thinking that Chica was a concubine or a sex worker.
Furtado notes that most women of color were subject to dual exploitation due to their gender and race…”3. She also disputes the claim that she had thirteen children out of wedlock and none of them had the same father to the others. Furtado’s historical analysis of Chica’s life shows that all thirteen children were born out of the sexual relationship between Chica and Oliveira.
Furtado also disputes the stereotypic claim that Chica’s relationship with several men in the town made it impossible for a formalized union with Oliveira. She cites the historical fact that Catholic marriages in Portuguese Brazil were only reserved for couples of the same social and cultural status. Also, Furtado refutes the claim that Chica used her new status to advocate for a new social system and structure.
Rather, the author’s historical analysis shows that Chica embraced the values of the minority white elites, hoping to find a place in their society where her black and mulatto individuals, as well as their descendants, would have better lives4. Furtado argues that Chica attracted slaves into her farm because of her ability to accommodate every member of the society. The author says that she had at least 104 slaves in her life5.
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In conclusion, Furtado applies historical analysis to dispute the long-held notion that Chica was one of the most notorious concubines in Minas Gerais.
The historical analysis provides evidence that the socioeconomic, religious, and political system in the colony could not have allowed a formal unification between couples from different races. The author shows that Chica did not use sexual means to entice men and buy her freedom. Instead, Oliveira and Chica developed a natural love and ended up having several children.
Furtado, Junia Ferreira, Chica Da Silva: A Brazilian slave of the eighteenth century (new Approches to the Americas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
1 Junia Ferreira Furtado, Chica Da Silva: A Brazilian Slave of the eighteenth century (New Approaches to the Americas (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 122
2 Furtado, 134
3 Furtado, 23
4 Furtado, 24
5 Furtado, 154