By S. Roncador
Drawing from quite a few old assets, idea, and fictional and non-fictional creation, this publication addresses the cultural imaginary of family servants in glossy Brazil and demonstrates maids' symbolic centrality to moving notions of servitude, subordination, femininity, and domesticity.
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Extra info for Domestic Servants in Literature and Testimony in Brazil, 1889–1999
In sum, Almeida’s writings on domestic servants and servitude comprise a broad spectrum of racially inflected servant stereotypes and constitute an excellent source of analysis of the conflicted perception of maids in the aftermath of the end of the slavery regime. The perpetuation of a culture of domestic servitude in Latin American liberal societies endowed the housewife with a superior racial and social status, and the performance of highly esteemed reproductive duties. Conversely, the new contractual relationships between masters and their servants generated authority/control anxieties as well as challenged the bourgeois notions of family and home meant to assure postcolonial privilege and protection.
As an essentially symbolic problem, then, the myth of the servant crisis actually migrated through the commerce of books to the British (ex-)colonies such as the United States and India, and turned particularly meaningful in Latin America. If European masters elaborated the myth to blame the servants for their own anxieties in the face of the social changes generated by modernity, in Latin America employers were essentially dealing with the impact of the end of slavery on the domestic social order.
Almeida, Viúva Simões 71). In contrast, he now sees “only foreign faces, lots of Italians, dirty Turks. Almost everyone is white” (Almeida, Viúva Simões 72). The transformation of Rio’s society into a more cosmopolitan—whiter—public, together with the incorporation of technology, fashion, and European manners, especially English and French, reveals what modernization meant for many Latin American cities at the end of the nineteenth century. Concurrently, the importation of European models of urbanization also implied, as the above quote suggests, the repression of a local popular culture (Afro-Brazilian in Rio’s case), normally seen as backward and barbarian.