The Hour of the Star: “an unfinished book because it's still waiting for an answer” C. Lispector
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Although sometimes I sense they are too happy to stay like that for much longer, I have never killed a character. I don't feel the need to sabotage their joy. I have just lived long enough to know that either something changes in the character's life (in their context), or the character naturally changes. Perfect and imperfect happiness have to mutate if your character belongs to the living. Attempting to spare the character of vital change is like taking it off of its life support, that elusive substance that we can only conjure and hope for the best: time. It must be hard killing a character that you like. Killing is killing. Yet, I understand sometimes is inevitable, and we should not blame ourselves for arriving at that point. Sometimes, the only change for a character will have to come by way of dying, even if killing your protagonist looks like a short cut to an ending, an undeniable solution to the sometimes-tedious labor of having to unfold the ripple effects of an action.
Macabéa's ending in The Hour of the Star was not necessary. Yet, it was undeniably natural. This realization makes me uncomfortable. Why is there people and characters, which life/plot can only be affected by way of suppressing the character? I am writing as a writer. Something needs to happen in a story, sometimes you can manage without a climax if you are very good with words, but you can't take away a character's life support (time), which will necessarily change it.
I will like to prove myself wrong and defend with passion that no matter how awful your life is, you can always expect it to improve.
There must be a coherent alternative ending for Macabéa.
Let's say that after leaving Madame Carlota's house, Macabéa went on with her life as usual, found a second job washing dishes in the evening, and got plump from eating the scraps. She tried stake for the first time, as well as other things she could not tell what they were mixed as they were with the mush of leftovers. Her hunger didn't take her so often to the void and empty. She lost her taste for epiphanies—the sad reward of growing lighter and lighter—formed full sentences in her head and spoke them, to herself first, and then to Glória, who started celebrating every one of her phrases, even if she could not understand them. Glória felt responsible for Macabéa's newly acquired destiny at Madame Carlota's house and reinforced every sign of change in her. Macabéa bought new nail polish, and face cream and she didn't feel like eating any of these. One Sunday, she met a grey-eyed sailor, who spoke to her (she reminded him of his dead sister), and she spoke back, and for a week they were together, and she knew she had fulfilled her destiny; there was nothing else to look forward. You can guess the rest. The sailor left, Macabéa continued working and worked until one day, after coughing blood for weeks, she died on a Sunday, without having missed one day of work. Nobody missed her.
Does the alternative ending change anything?
We are told that Rodrigo (Maca's fictional author) wanted to save his character, but he couldn't. Was her dying epiphany a form of mercy, poverty romanticized? What is the point of writing a story you cannot change?
"On a street in Rio de Janeiro I glimpsed in the air the feeling of perdition on the face of a northeastern girl," Rodrigo explains. This sight led him to write about her, with more or less research in between to assist the birthing process, and his own experience with poverty, perhaps not unlike Lispector's former poverty, the memory of which is recalled in the form of a dedication.
I feel a slight pain from reading this novel and coming to terms with the idea that change for Macabéa does not mean improvement or social mobility, and from knowing, as Lispector explains, that "[L]ike the northeastern girl, there are thousands of girls scattered throughout the tenement slums, vacancies in beds in a room, behind the shop counters working to the point of exhaustion. They don't even realize how easily substitutable they are and that they could just as soon drop off the face of the earth. Few protest and as far as I know they never complain since they don't know to whom. Does this whom exists?" (6)
We are not given an answer, this book is "an unfinished book because it's still waiting for an answer. An answer I hope someone in the world can give me. You?" (xiv).
November 14, 2020.
Lispector, Clarice. The Hour of the Star. Translation by Benjamin Moser. New York: New Directions Books, 2011