Carolina Maria de Jesus (1914-1977), born in a poor Brazilian agricultural area, at the age of seven was given the opportunity by a wealthy woman to go to school. Carolina quickly learned to read and write and dropped out of school after only two years. When her mother died, she was forced to move to the favelas of Sao Paulo. There she constructed a house made from trash. She also went to the dumps to collect paper to sell as a means of supporting herself and her family. Carolina kept old notebooks for herself and began keeping a diary.
Carolina wrote that poverty and desperation caused people to do desperate things. Ethics and principals were mutilated and hunger made good people do bad things.
Carolina also wrote about her neighbors in the favela. The neighbors, illiterate, hated her for writing especially since she often threatened to write about them in her “book”. One day at a playground, a journalist heard Carolina threaten a gang disturbing the children. She yelled at them to stop otherwise she’d write about them in her book. The journalist, Audalio Dantas, asked to see this book. At first Carolina was hesitant then showed it to him. Dantas was amazed and had his newspaper publish a part of it. The story caused much animation which led to the publication of the entire diary entitled “The Garbage Place”. It became a bestseller and the success permitted her to move her family out of the favelas. Nevertheless, the poor people hated her for her success and the wealthy wanted her out ot their neighborhood. Even fame created havoc in Carolina’s life.
She was easily infatuated by men and liked sex. Carolina had 3 children by 3 different men but had no intention of every marrying having seen too much domestic violence.
Excerpts from Carolina’s diary:
August 2 I dressed the boys and sent them to school. I went out and wandered around trying to get some money. I passed the slaughterhouse, picked up a few bones. Some women were pawing through the garbage looking for edible meat. They claimed it was only for dogs. That’s what I say–it’s only for dogs. . . .
I went to the shoemaker to collect his wastepaper. One of them asked me if my book was communistic. I replied that it was realistic. He cautioned me that it was not wise to write of reality.
August 12 I left my bed at 6:30 and went to get water. There was a long line. The worst thing about it is that malice is the main subject. There was a Negress there who acted as if she’d been vaccinated by a phonograph needle. She talked about her daughter and son-in-law who were constantly fighting. And Dona Clara had to listen to it because she was the only one who was paying attention. Lately it has become very difficult to get water, because the amount of people in the favela has doubled. And there is only one spigot.
August 15 The people were waiting for Anselm to make an appearance so they could beat him up. Men and women had collected for the beating. I heard it said that Anselmo had jumped over the fence and got out the back way. I said that I would like to be a man, because I too would like to be able to break and beat. Then a man replied: “I’d like to be a woman, but only during the day.” And everybody laughed. Lalau and his mother-in-law had a fight. She hit him with the broom handle. She ran and he chased her. They were drunk.
September 19 At the slaughterhouse they don’t put garbage in the streets anymore because of the women who look for rotten meat and eat it.
November 5 I went to the store and sold an empty bottle to Senhor Eduardo for three cruzeiros so I could pay on the bus. When I got to the bus stop I met Toninho. He works at the Saraiva Bookshop. I told him: “That’s it, Toninho, the publishers in Brazil don’t print what I write because I’m poor and haven’t got any money to pay them. That’s why I’m going to send my novels to the United States.” He gave me the addresses of some editors that I should contact.
December 28 I lit a fire, put water on to boil, and started to wash the dishes and examine the walls. I found a dead rat. I’d been after him for days, and set a rat trap. But what killed him was a black cat. He belongs to Senhor Antonio Sapateiro. The cat is a wise one. She doesn’t have any deep loves and doesn’t let anyone make a slave of her. And when she goes away she never comes back, proving that she has a mind of her own. If I talk about a cat it is because I am happy that she has killed the rat that was ruining my books.
“Carolina is not really the main personage in her diary. It is a bigger character–Hunger. From the first to the last page he appears with an unnerving consistency. The other characters are consequences of this Hunger: alcoholism, prostitution, violence, and murder. “
Bibliography: Child of the Dark: The Diary Of Carolina Maria De Jesus . Penguin Putnam. New York. 1962.
Related: Excerpts from 1958 diary