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Family Ties

Family Ties
Translated by Giovanni Pontiero

Here are collected thirteen of the Brazilian writer’s most brilliantly conceived stories, where mysterious and unexpected moments of crisis propel characters to self-discovery or keenly felt intuitions about the human condition.

Series: Clásicos/Clássicos Latin American Masterpieces in English

January 1972
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160 pages | 6 x 9 |

The silent rage that seizes a matriarch whose family is feting her eighty-ninth year.The tangle of emotions felt by a sophisticated young woman toward her elderly mother. An adolescent girl's obsessive fear of being looked at. The "giddying sense of compassion" that a blind man introduces into a young housewife's settled existence. Of such is made the world of Clarice Lispector, the Brazilian writer whose finest work is acknowledged to be her exquisitely crafted short stories. Here, in these thirteen of Lispector's most brilliantly conceived stories, mysterious and unexpected moments of crisis propel characters to self-discovery or keenly felt intuitions about the human condition. Her characters mirror states of mind. Alienated by their unsettling sense of life's absurdity, they seem at times absorbed in their interior lives and in the passions that dominate and usually defeat them.

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • The daydreams of a drunk woman
  • Love
  • The chicken
  • The imitation of the rose
  • Happy birthday
  • The smallest woman in the world
  • The dinner
  • Preciousness
  • Family ties
  • The beginning of a fortune
  • Mystery in Sao Christovao
  • The crime of the mathematics professor
  • The buffalo

Giovanni Pontiero's translation has been lauded by Gregory Rabassa as "magnificent."


Clarice Lispector was born in Tchetchelnik, Ukraine, on December 10, 1925. Her parents were Russian, but the family emigrated to Brazil when she was only two months old, and she spent her childhood at Recife in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. Here she began her education before moving at the age of twelve to Rio where she continued her studies. A precocious interest in literature led her to write short stories and plays while still in her teens. Her own revelations about her subsequent literary formation indicate a somewhat ambitious and comprehensive absorption of contemporary Brazilian writing alongside a consistently widening range of foreign works, which notably include a special interest in the narratives of Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, and Rosamund Lehmann. While still an undergraduate at the National Faculty of Law, Clarice Lispector began to gain experience in journalism, first on the editorial staff of the Agência Nacional, and then with A Noite. 1944 was a particularly eventful year for her; shortly after graduation she married a fellow student, and in the same year she published her first novel, Perto do Coração Selvagem [Close to the savage heart].

Her husband's career as a diplomat gave Clarice Lispector the opportunity to travel and spend long periods living abroad. From 1945 to 1949 the couple lived in Europe and from 1952 until 1960 in the United States.

From the outset her potential as a novelist was recognized by reviewers. Brazilian critics expressed a wholehearted admiration for the extraordinary insights and rare intensity of expression she showed in this first novel. Since then, a steady output of novels and collections of short stories has confirmed their hopes that Brazil had found a young writer of individual talent and originality working in the mainstream of existentialist writing; her reputation has been firmly established with works like Laços de Família [Family ties] and A Paixão Segundo G. H. [The passion according to G. H.]. It is generally agreed among her critics, however, that her true medium lies in the shorter forms of fiction, and the stories of Laços de Família give a comprehensive picture of the author's private world of deep psychological complexities. The narrative in these stories often appears to evolve from smoke—from some momentary experience or minor episode that seems quite insignificant in itself. Action, as such, is virtually nonexistent, and the threads of tension are maintained by use of stream-of-consciousness techniques and interior monologues frequently sustained by a single character. This creates an intensely personal note in Clarice Lispector's writing that can often give the impression of being labored and excessive in some of her novels, yet is unfailingly effective in her stories, where the brilliant flashes of insight are less exposed to repetition. In her stories commonplace situations and dream fantasies meet and merge, the most poetic prose mingling with realistic observation. Obvious examples are "The Imitation of the Rose," "Preciousness," and, above all, "Mystery in São Cristóvão," where, without exactly losing contact with the real world, the reader is invited to explore the nebulous domains of the subconscious. As Wilson Martins rightly observed in a review of "The Imitation of the Rose," the rarefied atmosphere and subtlety of this story, which hovers on the extreme confines of the spirit, on those uncertain boundaries between health and insanity, between light and darkness, found its only possible author in Clarice Lispector.

Influenced by existentialist writers, Clarice Lispector shows an almost obsessive preoccupation with the themes of human suffering and failure, the disconcerting implications of our humanity, the hunger of the solitary man hemmed in by hostile forces, his awareness of inevitable alienation and the pressing need to overcome its dangers, and most forcefully of all, his terror upon recognizing the ultimate nothingness. In a scrupulous analysis of the philosophical thought implicit in her writing, the Brazilian critic Benedito Nunes finds echoes of Kierkegaard and Heidegger and their grim vision of human existence, but most convincingly of all the writer's close parallels with the fundamental theories of Camus and Sartre. Her debt to Sartre's theory of existentialism is clear. Like the French writer, Clarice Lispector emphasizes the opposition between sincerity and bad faith, although her conclusions are invariably more pessimistic. Bad faith, according to Sartre, consists in pretending to ourselves and others that things could not be otherwise—that we are bound to our way of life, and that we could not escape it even if we wanted to. Most appeals, therefore, to duty or deeply rooted creeds are to be seen as instances of bad faith, since we are free to choose to do all these things and we need not do them.

A similar dilemma provokes the violent emotional crises that haunt and defeat the characters in these stories. Human freedom, which brings anguish, springs from man's recognition of nothingness. Anguish comes when man becomes aware of the gulf between himself and his possibilities. He must inevitably choose between them, and whatever he chooses makes him what he is. Like the "sincere" man described by Sartre in his first novel, La Nausée (Nausea), Lispector's characters, too, face nothingness and experience nausea. Like Roquentin, her characters come to realize that nausea is a part of themselves, indeed integral to their very nature in relation to other things and other people.

Clarice Lispector explores that tortured ambiguity of our existence; the privilege and the curse of being human and of confronting both our absolute freedom and the world's indifference—in short, the condition Camus describes as Absurdity. Her treatment of this vital condition coincides fully with the definition and examples of Absurdity offered by Camus in Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus).

Her characters experience that feeling of Absurdity Camus has described, that certain mal, sickness, or evil prevalent in the sensibility of contemporary society, which can strike any man in the face on any street corner. The stories of Laços de Família explore the four possible ways defined by Camus in order to arrive at this sudden birth of feeling:

  1. The mechanical nature of many peoples lives may lead them to question the value and purpose of their existence, and this is an intimation of Absurdity (e.g., Anna in "Love" and the old woman in "Happy Birthday").
  2. An acute sense of time passing, or the recognition that time is a destructive force (e.g., "The Chicken" and "The Imitation of the Rose")—an experience linked with a haunting awareness of certain death.
  3. The sense of being in an alien world. Alienation to the point of nausea when confronted with the arbitrary nature of our existence—when familiar objects normally "domesticated" by names, such as flower, dog, bus, stone, tree, are unexpectedly robbed of their familiarity (e.g., "The Crime of the Mathematics Professor" and "The Beginnings of a Fortune").
  4. A sense of inexorable isolation from other beings—forcibly present in nearly all of these stories and predominantly so in "Preciousness" and "The Buffalo."

The lesson of these experiences, in brief, is that human life is Absurd in that there can be no final justification for our projects. Everyone is de trop. Everything is dispensable—a situation played out with an element of tragic comedy in "The Smallest Woman in the World," where the readers of a color supplement feel anguish and nausea at recognizing the Absurdity of an unexpected discovery in the jungle. How ought they to behave? To what extent are they free?

Probing the way in which consciousness perceives objects, Lispector creates a world of exciting and terrifying perceptions. Nunes has defined the process as "uma espécie de mergulho nas potências obscuras da vida"—familiar situations and things which we think we know and can control, are suddenly transformed into something strange, unexpected, and uncontrollable. Moods are carefully varied between the disquieting tension of silence to a frenzy of passion—a climax illustrated by the old woman spitting aggressively on the floor in "Happy Birthday" or the final swoon in "The Buffalo."

Mysterious and quite unexpected moments of crisis propel characters along the paths of indecision to a crucial moment of self-discovery. At times the most trivial episode can produce the most profound and dramatic intuition—the vital moment when time stands still and our daily existence is stripped bare of its comfortable conventional surfaces, leaving man alone in the solitude of his conscience and his personality. Man's real problem, however, is not that of imposing some meaning on his senseless existence, but of finding some escape from the meaning he has already discovered within himself and refuses to accept.

The men and women Lispector describes are driven to the extreme limits of their potential and show in their anguish both their greatness and their misery; they are great because of this suddenly discovered freedom and yet miserable because they are capable of every kind of weakness when faced with such an absolute responsibility. Such is the plight of Anna, who disintegrates spiritually after her encounter with the blind love in "Love"; of Laura in "The Imitation of the Rose," who is recovering from a nervous breakdown; and of the disturbed onlooker in the restaurant in "The Dinner." This paradox in human existence also helps to explain the complex emotions in "The Daydreams of a Drunk Woman" and "The Crime of the Mathematics Professor" with its theme of expiation.

Alarmed at the dangers of existing, the protagonists of these stories face crises that hover between fantasy and realism, crises they cannot fully understand. In "Love" we are reminded of Kafka's vision of the world, which is full of signs we are unable to understand, but in "The Buffalo" we are back with Camus, who sees the human predicament stemming from the absence of any such signs.

Suddenly conscious of an absolute freedom, her characters find themselves unable either to ignore or to transcend this condition. They hang between a tangible recognizable reality and an obscure sense of the mysterious; they witness, without being able to react, the metamorphosis of places and people, as emotion transforms the world. The idyllic peace of the botanical gardens in "Love" becomes a place of strange agitated forces—a place disturbed by the sudden absence of law and order clearly reminiscent of the haunted park of Bouville described by Sartre in La Nausée. Clarice Lispector also exploits the existentialist image of the universe seen as a great machine capable of creating life and death. Nature is seen as the pure fact of being, the state of being-in-itself. At times it is represented as a mass of sickening objects, viscous, cloying, and showing a richness bordering on putrefaction; that nausea, produced by disquieting associations of color and substance (e.g., spoiled meat or fresh blood) and that disgust when we apprehend what Sarte has called the "viscosity" of things in L'Etre et le neant (Being and Nothingness).

The characters created by Clarice Lispector defy any obvious or straightforward classification. They cannot, for example, be described as "types" even in a psychological context. Indeed, it might be more appropriate to see them as images of different states of mind. And this applies also to her settings: the gardens and parks in "Love" and "The Buffalo," the urban scenes in "Preciousness" and "The Daydreams of a Drunk Woman," and the jungle setting of "The Smallest Woman in the World" all exist outside time and space. People and settings in these stories, however particular, personal, and subjective, ultimately reflect a profounder reality that is both impersonal and transcendental. From this we can see that Clarice Lispector is a writer who is not interested primarily in the individuals and their private contexts but in the passions that dominate and usually defeat them. There is, nevertheless, nothing spectral or phantasmagorical about her men and women, or her landscapes. Moved by their desire to exist, this very desire becomes the source of their worldly ambitions. Hence the bitterness of their failures and the inseparable relationship between human anguish and the dilemma of existence. Like Sartre and Camus, Clarice Lispector subscribes to the idea that acts alone are important—and isolation and violence become the two salient features of human experience.

Encounters with the animal world are frequent in her stories. The animals of Clarice Lispector are drawn with exceptional vigor and precision, and define the vital links with primitive life. Her animals, symbolizing brute existence, embody all that is obvious and sentient in a reality that is primordial—a reality intensified in these stories. Thus the chicken, the dog, and the buffalo, because they are unable to form judgments about their existence, are able to experience the "pure emotions" of love and hatred, of pain and pleasure. Untouched by human contradictions, animals are more alive because they are more secure than human beings. Free from psychological conflicts, they show a greater participation of what is real—of the greater space that includes all spaces.

The strength and compelling nature of Clarice Lispector's writing bring her to the very heart of the varied and complex experiences she deals with. Stories like "The Daydreams of a Drunk Woman," "Love," and "Family Ties" create a special world of feminine intuition and fancy. Here the author cautiously probes the vulnerability and compassion of her sex. The troubled period of adolescence is treated delicately and with an extraordinary degree of tact and understanding in "Preciousness" and "The Beginnings of a Fortune," while "The Imitation of the Rose," with its poignant account of a woman's faltering attempt to return to domestic harmony after a nervous illness only to end in a relapse when betrayed by her love of beauty and perfection, is very much a tour de force. In exploring the tenuous links of the most intimate human relationships, Clarice Lispector brings us to a heightened awareness of our human condition: the narrow divide between success and failure, the mental and physical stratagems by which we struggle toward a compromise with reality, trying in vain to disguise our vulnerable state. The ironies and innuendoes of "Happy Birthday" and "The Smallest Woman in the World" reveal what they seek to conceal, the fears and apprehensions of human nature, the interior voices which must be silenced, the pettiness of betrayals, the meanness of our little hypocrisies, and the truths we dare not confide, even to ourselves, and the silent arguments we erect in our efforts to justify our passions and desires.

Human motives are revealed with a terrible frankness: our insatiable hunger to possess and to be possessed, the dark disorders behind the masks convention obliges us to wear, the bitter sense of alienation experienced even when we are with those bound to us by blood and kinship, the fears and doubts which daily consume us in the trap of existence, and the supreme moments of crisis which we are condemned to face alone. Hence the ambiguity of the word laços (ties)—referring on the one hand to the social chains of conformity which link each human to his fellow man, on the other hand to the bonds of solitude and alienation inherent in our humanity.

Sometimes the narration seems touched by magic, and the dream sequences, as in "Mystery in Sao Cristóvão," emphasize both the terror and beauty in life—the poetry of that spirit which is truly ineffable when concerned with self-discovery and adventure. Elsewhere, Clarice Lispector uses fiercer passions, as in "The Buffalo" where a woman who has been abandoned by her lover goes to the zoological gardens to find there creatures who represent her hate and self-destruction; or in "The Crime of the Mathematics Professor" with its relentless voices of guilt—the cruel exposure of the rituals we play out in private—or the uncomfortable sensations of brutal indifference and destruction in "The Dinner."

The writer's complex and probing attitude to man's existence raises fundamental philosophical questions, which she chooses to express in rich metaphors often borrowed from the world of classical myth and ritual in order to describe the solemnity and magnitude of human experience. In her prose style, Clarice Lispector has come close to achieving that "fertility and fluency" of expression avidly described by Virginia Woolf in A Writer's Diary (London, 1953). Like the English novelist, she also appears to be learning her craft in the most fierce conditions—one moment confronted by the brutality and wildness of the world, "l'hostilité primitive du monde" (to quote Camus), the next moment overcome by the poetry of life. In this "dialogue of the soul with the soul," Clarice Lispector, too, is intent upon capturing the inexpressible in her narrative by means of unorthodox syntactical structures, staccato rhythms, and the obsessive repetition of certain key words and symbols-aptly described by Nunes as "um efeito mágico de refluxo da linguagem que deixa á mostra o aquilo, o inexpressado." The conflict between an interior and external world, between existence and thought, is thus extended to a conflict between existence and the linguistic expression of existence. Nausea, as Sartre has already shown, exists on more than one level and leads us to examine an old and familiar metaphysical doubt—the relation of words to the thing described. Clarice Lispector shares the Sartrean conviction that we are not content to live. We need to know who we are, to understand our nature, and to express it. Her vision of reality gives identity to being and nothingness and satisfies the need "to speak of that which obliges us to be silent."

The following studies have been closely consulted for this essay and are especially recommended for further reading:

Clarice Lispector

Benedito Nunes, O Mundo de Clarice Lispector (Manaus: Edições do Governo do Estado, 1966) and "O Mundo Imaginário de Clarice Lispector," in O Dorso do Tigre (Sao Paulo: Editora Perspectiva, 1969). Rita Herman, "Existence in Laços de Família," Luso-Brazilian Review 4, no. 1 (June 1967), University of Wisconsin Press. Massaud Moisés, Temas Brasileiros (Sao Paulo: Conselho Estadual de Cultura, 1964). Renard Perez, Escritores Brasileiros, 2nd series, Editôra Civilização Brasileira, 1964. Two essays in Studies in Short Fiction 7, no. 1 (Winter 1971), Newberry College, South Carolina: Giovanni Pontiero, "The Drama of Existence in Laços de Família," pp. 256-267, and Massaud Moisés, "Clarice Lispector: Fiction and Cosmic Vision," pp. 268-281.

Jean-Paul Sartre

Iris Murdoch, Sartre, Romantic Rationalist: Studies in Modern European Literature and Thought (London: Bowes, 1961). The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, edited by Robert Denoon Cumming (New York: Random House, 1965). Anthony Manser, Sartre: A Philosophic Study (London: Athlone Press, 1966) . Mary Warnock, The Philosophy of Sartre (London: Hutchinson, 1966). Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, translated by Robert Baldick (London: Penguin, 1965).

Albert Camus

John Cruikshank, Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt (London: Oxford University Press, 1959). Germaine Bree, Camus (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1959). Philip Thody, Albert Camus 1913-1960 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1961). Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays, selected and translated from the French by Philip Thody (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1967).

When the man reached the highest hill, the bells were ringing in the city below. The uneven rooftops of the houses could barely be seen. Near him was the only tree on the plain. The man was standing with a heavy sack in his hand.

His near-sighted eyes looked down below. Catholics, crawling and minute, were going into church, and he tried to hear the scattered voices of the children playing in the square. But despite the clearness of the morning hardly a sound reached the plateau. He also saw the river which seen from above seemed motionless, and he thought: it is Sunday. In the distance he saw the highest mountain with its dry slopes. It was not cold but he pulled his overcoat tighter for greater protection. Finally he placed the sack carefully on the ground. He took off his spectacles, perhaps in order to breathe more easily, because he found that clutching his spectacles in his hand he could breathe more deeply. The light beat on the lenses, which sent out sharp signals. Without his spectacles, his eyes blinked brightly, appearing almost youthful and unfamiliar. He replaced his spectacles and became once more a middle-aged man and grabbed hold of the sack again: it was as heavy as if it were made of stone, he thought. He strained his sight in order to see the current of the river, and tilted his head trying to hear some sound: the river seemed motionless and only the harshest sound of a voice momentarily reached that height—yes, he felt fine up here. The cool air was inhospitable for one who had lived in a warm city. The only tree on the plain swayed its branches. He watched it. He was gaining time. Until he felt that there was no need to wait any longer.

And meantime he kept watch. His spectacles certainly bothered him because he removed them again, sighed deeply, and put them in his pocket.

He opened his sack and peered inside. Then he put his scrawny hand inside and slowly drew out the dead dog. His whole being was concentrated on that vital hand and he kept his eyes tightly shut as he pulled. When he opened them, the air was clearer still and the happy bells rang out again, summoning the faithful to the solace of punishment.

The unknown dog lay exposed.

He now set to work methodically. He grabbed the rigid black dog and laid it on a shallow piece of ground. But, as if he had already achieved a great deal, he put on his spectacles, sat down beside the dog's carcass, and began to contemplate the landscape.

He saw quite clearly, and with a certain sense of futility, the deserted plain. But he accurately observed that when seated he could no longer see the minute city below. He sighed again. Rummaging in his sack, he drew out a spade and started thinking about the spot he would choose. Perhaps below the tree. He surprised himself, reflecting that he would bury this dog beneath the tree. But if it were the other, the real dog, he would bury it in fact where he himself would like to be buried were he dead: in the very center of the plateau, facing the sun with empty eyes. Then, since the unknown dog was, in fact, a substitute for the "other one," he decided that the former, for the greater perfection of the act, should receive exactly the same treatment as the latter would have received. There was no confusion in the man's mind. He understood himself with cold deliberation and without any loose threads.

Soon, in an excess of scruples, he was absorbed in trying to determine accurately the center of the plateau. It was not easy because the only tree rose on one side, and by accepting it as a false center, it divided the plain asymmetrically. Confronted with this difficulty, the man admitted, "It was unnecessary to bury in the center. I should also bury the other, let us say, right here, where I am standing at this very moment." It was a question of bestowing on the event the inevitability of chance, the mark of an external and evident occurrence—on the same plane as the children in the square and the Catholics entering church—it was a question of making the fact as visible as possible on the surface of the world beneath the sky. It was a question of exposing oneself and of exposing a fact, and of not permitting that fact the intimate and unpunished form of a thought.

The idea of burying the dog where he was standing at that very moment caused the man to draw back with an agility which his small and singularly heavy body did not permit. Because it seemed to him that under his feet the outline of the dog's grave had been drawn.

Then he started to dig rhythmically with his spade at that very spot. At times he interrupted his work to take off and put back on his spectacles. He was sweating profusely. He did not dig deeply, but not because he wished to spare himself fatigue. He did not dig deeply because he clearly thought, "If the grave were for the real dog, I should only dig a shallow hole and I would bury it quite close to the surface." He felt that the dog on the surface of the earth would not lose its sensibility.

Finally he put his spade aside, gently lifted the unknown dog and placed it in the grave. What a strange face that dog had. When, with a shock, he had discovered the dead dog on a street corner, the idea of burying it had made his heart so heavy and surprised that he had not even had eyes for that hard snout and congealed saliva. It was a strange, objective dog.

The dog was a little bigger than the hole he had excavated, and after being covered with earth it would be a barely perceptible mound of earth on the plain. This was exactly as he wanted it. He covered the dog with earth and flattened the ground with his hands, feeling its form in his palms with care and pleasure, as if he were smoothing it again and again. The dog was now merely a part of the land's appearance.

Then the man got up, shook the earth from his hands and did not look back even once at the grave. He reflected with a certain satisfaction, "I think I have done everything." He gave a deep sigh, and an innocent smile of release. Yes, he had done everything. His crime had been punished and he was free.

And now he could think freely about the real dog, something he had avoided so far. The real dog which at that very moment must be wandering bewildered through the streets of the other county, sniffing out that city where he no longer had a master.

He then began to think with difficulty about the real dog as if he were trying to think with difficulty about his real life. The fact that the dog was far away in another city made his task difficult, although his yearning drew him close to the memory.

"While I made you in my image, you made me in yours," he thought, then, aided by his yearning, "I called you Joe in order to give you a name that might serve you as a soul at the same time. And you? How shall I ever know the name you gave me? How much more you loved me than I loved you," he reflected with curiosity.

"We understood each other too well, you with the human name I gave you, I with the name you gave me, and which you never pronounced except with your insistent gaze," the man thought, smiling with affection, now free to remember at will.

"I recall when you were little," he thought in amusement, "so small, cute, and frail, wagging your tail, watching me, and my discovering in you a new form of possessing my soul. But from that moment, you were already becoming each day a dog whom one could abandon. In the meantime our pranks became dangerous with so much understanding," the man recalled with satisfaction, "you finished up biting me and snarling; I ended up throwing a book at you and laughing. But who knows what that reluctant smile of mine already meant. Each day you became a dog whom one could abandon."

"And how you sniffed the streets!" the man thought, laughing a little, "indeed you did not pass a single stone without sniffing... that was the childish side to your nature. Or was that your true destiny in being a dog? And the rest merely a joke in being mine? For you were tenacious. And, calmly wagging your tail, you seemed to refuse in silence the name I had given you. Ah yes, you were tenacious. I did not want you to eat meat so that you would not become ferocious, but one day you jumped up on the table and, among the happy shouts of the children, you grabbed the meat, and with a ferocity that does not come from eating, you watched me, silent and tenacious, with the meat in your mouth. Because, although mine, you never conceded me even a little of your past or your nature. And, troubled, I began to realize that you did not ask of me that I should yield anything of mine in order to love you, and this began to annoy me. It was on this point of the resistant reality of our two natures that you hoped we might understand each other. My ferocity and yours must not exchange themselves for sweetness; it was this which you were teaching me little by little, and it was this, too, which was becoming unbearable. In asking nothing of me, you were asking too much. Of yourself, you demanded that you should be a dog. Of me, you demanded that I should be a man. And I, I pretended as much as I could. At times, crouched on your paws before me, how you watched me! I would then look at the ceiling, I would cough, look away, examine my fingernails. But nothing moved you, and you went on watching me. Whom were you going to tell? 'Pretend,' I said to myself, 'pretend quickly that you are another, arrange a false meeting, caress him, throw him a bone,' but nothing distracted you as you watched me. What an idiot I was. I trembled with horror, when you were the innocent one: that I should turn round and suddenly show you my real face, and that I should trap you, your hairs bristling, and carry you to the door wounded forever. Oh, each day you became a dog that could be abandoned. One could choose. But you, trustfully, wagged your tail.

"Sometimes, impressed by your alertness, I succeeded in seeing in you your own anguish. Not the anguish of being a dog, which was your only possible form. But the anguish of existing in such a perfect way that it became an unbearable happiness: you would then leap and come to lick my face with a love entirely given, and a certain danger of hatred as if it were I who had revealed you to yourself through friendship. Now I am quite certain that it was not I who possessed a dog. It was you who possessed a person.

"But you possessed a person so powerful that he could choose: and then he abandoned you. With relief he abandoned you. With relief, yes, because you demanded—with the serene and simple incomprehension of a truly heroic dog—that I should be a man. He abandoned you with an excuse supported by everyone at home. How could I move house and baggage and children—and on top of that a dog—with the business of adapting to the new school and a new city, and on top of that a dog? 'There is no room for him anywhere,' said Martha, as practical as ever. 'He will disturb the other passengers,' my mother-in-law added, not knowing that I had already justified my decision, and the children cried, and I did not look either at them or you, Joe. But only you and I know that I abandoned you because you were the constant possibility of the crime I never committed. The possibility of my sinning which, in the pretense of my eyes, was already a sin. I then sinned at once in order to be blamed at once. And this crime replaces the greater crime which I should not have had the courage to commit," thought the man, becoming ever more lucid.

"There are so many forms of being guilty and of losing oneself forever, and to betray oneself and not to confront oneself. I chose that of wounding a dog," the man thought. "Because I knew that this would be a minor offense and that no one goes to hell for abandoning a dog that trusted in a human. For I knew that this crime was not punishable."

Seated on the mountain top, his mathematical head was cold and intelligent. Only now did he seem to understand, in his icy awareness, that he had done something with the dog that was truly irrevocable and beyond punishment. They still had not invented a punishment for the great concealed crimes and for the deep betrayals.

A man still succeeded in being more astute than the Last Judgment. This crime was condemned by no one. Not even the Church. They are all my accomplices, Joe. I should have to knock from door to door and beg them to accuse and punish me: they would all slam the door on me with a sudden look of hostility. No one will condemn this crime of mine. Not even you, Joe, will condemn me. Powerful as I am, I need only choose to call you. Abandoned in the streets, you would come leaping to lick my face with contentment and forgiveness. I would give you my other face to kiss.

The man took off his spectacles, sighed, and put them on again. He looked at the covered grave where he had buried an unknown dog in tribute to his abandoned dog, trying, after all, to pay the debt which, disturbingly, no one was claiming-trying to punish himself with an act of kindness and to rid himself of his crime. Like someone giving alms in order to be able to eat at last the cake which deprived the beggar of bread.

But as if Joe, the dog he had abandoned, were demanding of him much more than a lie; as if he were demanding that he, in one last effort, might prove himself a man—and as such assume the responsibility of his crime—he looked at the grave where he had buried his weakness and his condition.

And now, even more mathematical, he sought a way to eliminate that self-inflicted punishment. He must not be consoled. He coldly searched for a way of destroying the false burial of the unknown dog. He then bent down, and, solemn and calm, he unburied the dog with a few simple movements. The dark form of the dog at last appeared whole and unfamiliar with earth on its eyelashes, its eyes open and crystallized. And so the mathematics professor had renewed his crime forever. The man then looked around him and up to the skies, pleading for a witness to what he had done. And, as if that were still not enough, he began to descend the slopes, heading toward the intimacy of his home.



“Reading Clarice Lispector's novels is like listening to a stranger unravel her thoughts and then walk out of the door, leaving behind a strong sense of character but few facts about daily life. You wonder after meeting such a person whether she was real or imagined—and then decide it does not matter.”
Belles Lettres