Book Reviews

Death of a Poor Starlet: Thoughts on The Hour of the Star

13119746
(Via Goodreads)

The Hour of the Star (1977)

By Clarice Lispector

The Hour of the Star is a peculiar text for me to read. We have a narrator that interrupts the story whenever he likes and gives his own philosophical judgments about storytelling. He also influences how the reader should perceive his character,  Macabéa.

Before I talk about how the narrator portrays the narration, I will first introduce the plot. The story is about Macabéa, a poor 19-year-old girl living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Macabéa lives a difficult life but she naively doesn’t view her life as such. In fact, she seems to go with the flow and does her daily routine without any worries about the future. She starts to date a guy named Olímpico, a narcissist who believes that he will make it “big” and abuses Macabéa emotionally. He eventually leaves Macabéa for her coworker, Gloria. Gloria feels bad for taking Macabéa’s boyfriend, and so she offers to help Macabéa with her life by recommending a fortune-teller named Madame Carlota to her. Madame predicts a bright future for Macabéa despite having a tough life so far. Macabéa leaves with a newfound hope about her life, but she ends up getting hit by a car and dies.

One thing I would like to specifically point out about this novel is that the narrator is also like a character within the story being told. In traditional storytelling, the narrator guides the reader through the story but isn’t involved with the content itself. However, in this story, the narrator immerses himself and interrupts the narrative with his own views about writing and the content. We see the narrator’s interruptions through the writing style and format of the text such as the parentheses and hyphens. By having the narrator interrupt the flow of the story, the narrator states his assumptions about the characters. Although the narrator doesn’t have control over his characters’ actions and is just telling the story, he still has some power as to how we view the characters through the information he tells us.

Furthermore, I did enjoy the humor that the narrator shows in this story. For example, the narrator states, “And the girl, seeing him was enough to turn him immediately into her guava preserve with cheese” (34). Macabéa compared Olímpico as her favorite food. Even though the narrator says that this story is going to be simple with clear-cut and dry facts, we see that there is some storytelling flavor through the humor he uses. And so, to some degree, this story is more personalized than what is clearly stated. 

One of the major themes in this novel is powerlessness, and we see that through the narrator and Macabéa. The narrator states that he’s powerless when telling this story because he has no control over what will happen to Macabéa. The narrator claims that Macabéa is her own person and decides her pathway even though the narrator is dictating the story. As for Macabéa, her powerlessness comes from her social standing. She lives in poverty and as a woman, she has a difficult time climbing the social ladder unless she marries a rich man. Furthermore, Macabéa never thought of herself as poor and she lived passively. In other words, “if this is how my life is, then so be it.” She doesn’t have any dreams or aspirations like Olímpico, but instead, she’s complacent and comfortable living as a poor woman. Her mindset could be seen as powerless because rather than fighting for a better life for herself, she rather just remain within the living circumstances she’s in.

Another thematic aspect we should note is the difficulty that Macabéa has when trying to believe in something. Macabéa questions her beliefs and explores various belief systems. She would pray for a God she doesn’t believe in because she was told that it is the right thing to do. Yet, when she meets Madame Carlota, the fortuneteller, Macabéa begins to believe in pagan practices to the point where she optimistically believes in a future for herself.  The text makes us question whether or not we are in control of our lives or not. For most of Macabéa’s life, she believes that she had no control over her life, and so she remains complacent and lives in poverty. Yet, the fortuneteller’s prediction brings her new life, and so she starts to believe that her life will turn around. However, her life ends abruptly when a car runs her over.  It is an ironic ending: just when you hear some good news, life decides to give you another curveball and more bad luck. Furthermore, this ending reminds me of how valuable life truly is: we don’t know when we will leave this earth, and so we should do the things we want to do without any regrets. This mindset is impossible to have if you live in poverty because one realizes that only people with money can have such dreams. Thus, the author exposes the reader to such circumstances.

The last thing I would like to comment on is the title, The Hour of the Star. The hour references the time when someone dies and the star represents the person that is dying as if they are a Hollywood starlet. Death is the time when people notice you. Ironically, when Macabéa is on the ground dying, she becomes a spectacle for people and for the first time in her life, she is noticed as opposed to being invisible: “Some people sprouted in the alleyway out of nowhere and gathered around Macabea without doing anything just as people had always done nothing for her, except that now at least they were glancing at her, which gave her an existence” (71-72).

The Hour of the Star has a simple plot but the complexity comes from how the story was written. The narrator appears much more of a character in the story as opposed to a 3rd-person omniscient narrator. Also, this story focuses on philosophical themes such as fate/destiny, poverty, and death, which cannot be easily answered in 80 pages.

3/5

Lispector, Clarice. The Hour of the Star. Trans. Benjamin Moser. New York, New Directions Paperback, 2011.


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