Narrative Strategies in Clarice Lispector's "Family Ties" in Portraying the Characters

Essay, 2015

10 Pages, Grade: 72



‘Each story is a profound journey into the psychology of her mainly female characters.’ Discuss this statement with reference to the stories in Laços da Família.


‘Each story is a profound journey into the psychology of her mainly female characters.’ Discuss this statement with reference to the stories in Laços da Família.

From the outset Clarice Lispector’s fiction has attracted the attention of readers and critics alike thanks to her consistent emphasis on existential and psychological themes. Indeed, her first novel Perto do Coração Selvagem (1944) “impôs-se à atenção da crítica pela novidade que a densidade psicológica” (Nunes: 1989, p.11) This ‘psychological density’ continues into the author’s later works, including her short story collection Laços da Família (1960). The thirteen stories invite critical attention for various reasons but it could be said that critics tend to focus on the existential aspect and the stories’ similarity to the works of French authors Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. While this is a legitimate line of enquiry, an equally interesting focus might involve an examination of the techniques used to convey ‘a profound journey into the psychology of her mainly female characters’. Techniques such as stream-of-consciousness writing and the literary epiphany are employed to great effect in three stories in particular: Devaneio e embriaguez duma rapariga, A imitação da rosa and Preciosidade.

The collection in question does include two stories featuring male protagonists but Laços certainly consists mainly of female characters, which is in keeping with Clarice’s tendencies (Fitz: 1980, p.59). In fact one could maintain that all of her female characters share certain similarities; the one exception is seemingly age which varies from each story to the next. Ingrid Muller claims that they are all “with one notable exception, middle-class women in an urban environment” (1991, p.35), against which one might argue that there is more than one notable exception; with regards to the three aforementioned stories, however, this is an accurate observation. Nevertheless, a more significant linking factor is the portrayal of the inner workings of the characters’ minds.

Devaneio e embriaguez duma rapariga, the first story in the collection, concerns a Portuguese housewife living in Brazil, who seems to be struggling with the banality of her everyday life. Before she is invited to dinner with her husband and his business associate, she spends much of the narrative daydreaming about different situations and experiences a range of emotions while doing so. Following her earlier observation, Muller also notes that Clarice’s “woman characters generally live in comfortable circumstances and seem to have plenty of time for daydreaming and introspection” (1991, p.35). Even the title of the story refers to these ‘daydreams’. The woman is at first described sitting in front of her dressing table, combing her hair “vagarosamente” (p.5) and does not even stir when a loud noise suggests something has fallen to the ground outside (p.5). This suggests that the woman indeed enjoys a certain leisurely approach to her activities and is very used to ignoring outside disturbances; she is seemingly too wrapped up in her own thoughts.

As with the other stories, the subject matter is concerned with the psychology of her female protagonist, and Clarice employs certain techniques to convey this in her narrative. Many stretches of daydream are narrated in a stream-of-consciousness style, which involves free indirect speech, among other narrative modes, and takes the form of a series of thoughts, connected or not, in an attempt to accurately represent the complexities of the human mind. Maria Luisa Nunes (1977, p.175) agrees that Clarice uses stream-of-consciousness in the same way as other writers who wish to “portray the inner states of their characters” and that doing so “satisfies the illusion of reality”. The sequence in which the woman is lying in bed, daydreaming of a potential future lover is a useful example of this particular technique: “Ela, ainda à cama, tranquil, improvisada. Ela amava...Estava previamente a amar o homem que um dia ela ia amar. Quem sabe lá, isso às vezes acontecia, e sem culpas nem danos para nehum dos dois.” (p.8) Her thoughts continue in this vain as the daydream develops. Despite the third-person narration, there is here a clear representation of the woman’s thoughts in the flowing style, which gives the technique its name, and is marked by lots of punctuation, especially commas and ellipsis.

Robert Humphrey believes that stream-of-consciousness is an ambiguous term but he does allow a literary definition of the technique as follows: “If, then, the term stream-of-consciousness is reserved for indicating an approach to the presentation of psychological aspects of character in fiction, it can be used with some precision.” (1959: pp.1-2) It is arguably an accurate reading of the collection if one considers that this term refers to a method of communicating the psychological aspects of the characters and that if the so-called journey is to be a ‘profound’ one, this technique is appropriate.

Rita Herman notes the importance of this method with regards to the stories: “in the various stories, nothing of importance really occurs; the emphasis remains on a psychological level; the action is interior rather than exterior. The tension is maintained by use of a coherent and logical stream of consciousness method.” (1967, p.70) The idea of a simplistic plot is not a new one; Laços shares this element with many other existentialist fiction but here the lack of action gives way to an interesting study of Clarice’s characters. The ‘tension’ to which Herman refers is notably evident in A imitação da rosa, arguably the most referenced and critiqued story of the collection. It has attracted great interest due to the many possible levels of analysis and the careful combination of literary techniques which produce a memorable piece of writing. The story also incorporates conventions which have come to be associated with Clarice’s writing, including a sparse plot and the theme of madness, which Maria Lisboa (1995, p.731) terms a “leitmotif in this writers work”. One can see how a fascination with the psychological characterises this writer’s texts.


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Narrative Strategies in Clarice Lispector's "Family Ties" in Portraying the Characters
University of Birmingham
BA Modern Languages
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narrative, strategies, clarice, lispector, family, ties, portraying, characters
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Laura Smith (Author), 2015, Narrative Strategies in Clarice Lispector's "Family Ties" in Portraying the Characters, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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