Os Sertões (translated as Rebellion in the Backlands) (1902) is a book written by the Brazilian author Euclides da Cunha. Mixing science and literature, the author narrates the story of a war that happened in the end of the 19th century, in Canudos, a settlement of Bahia's Sertão ("backland"), an extremely arid region where, even now, struggles against poverty, drought and political corruption continue. During the war (1893–1897) against the republican army, the sertanejos (inhabitants of the backlands) were commanded by a messianic leader called Antonio Conselheiro.
Influenced by theories like the Positivism and Social Darwinism from the end of the 19th century, Cunha discussed the forming of a new Brazilian Republican nation and also its racial composition and its promising future of progress and civilization.
The book is originally divided into three parts: 1) “A Terra” (the land), which portrays the northeastern backland and the physical setting of the war. 2) “O Homem” (the man), exposes the land’s inhabitants and their race composition, explaining the individual by its phenotype and emphasizing the opposition between the coast and the backlands men. Here da Cunha utilizes much of the racial and psychiatric theories then in vogue to explain the backwardness and "objectified insanity" of the sertanejos. 3) “A Luta” (the fight), which narrates the conflict between the Republican army and the sertanejos who, despite been considered “racially degenerate”, succeed in winning many battles, even though they lost the war.
Throughout the book, Euclides seems to have sympathy for the oppressed sertanejos and to doubt the progress and modernity of Republican ideals. Through their conflict with the Canudos commune the forces of modernity and progress are revealed to be just as irrational as their supposedly "unicivilized" opponents and the legitimacy of the republic is shaken at its foundations. Actually, Os Sertões is still considered one of the most important works from this historical period, an effort to represent the nation as a totality. Despite its outdated scientific and historical ideas, Cunha's book is still valid because of its literary language and as a representation of the ideals of the intelligentsia at the end of the 19th century in Brazil.
Os Sertões' Legacy
- Cunha, Euclides da. Rebellion in the Backlands. Translated from Portuguese Os Sertões. University Of Chicago Press, 1957. ISBN 0-226-12444-4.
- AMORY, FREDERIC. Historical Source and Biographical Context in the Interpretation of Euclides da Cunha's Os Sertões. Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol.28. No.3, Brazil: History and Society. (Oct., 1996), pp. 667–685.
- CURY, Maria Z. F. Os Sertões, de Euclides da Cunha: Espaços. Luso-Brazilian Review, Vol.41, No.1. (2004), pp. 71–79.
- FERNANDES, Raúl. C. G. Euclides e a literatura: Comentários sobre a “moldura” de Os Sertões. Luso-Brazilian Review. Vol. 43, No. 2. (2006), pp. 45–62.
- Leopoldo M. Bernucci, A imitação dos sentidos: prógonos, contemporâneos e epígonos de Euclides da Cunha. São Paulo: EDUSP, 1995.
- Leopoldo M. Bernucci, Os sertões, Euclides da Cunha. Annotated edition. São Paulo: Ateliê Arquivo do Estado/Imprensa Oficial, 2001.
- Celarent, Barbara. Review of Os Sertões. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 118, No. 2, 2012, pp.536-542.
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