Child of the Dark – Plot Overview

Child of the Dark,the diary of Carolina Maria de
Jesus, covers the period between July 1955 and January 1, 1960, with a gap, due to
editing, between 1955 and 1958. Carolina has three children: Vera (two), José Carlos
(five), and João (eight). They live in a favela, or shantytown, where living spaces
consist of crude huts built of cardboard and wood scraps. Her daily life consists of
collecting paper and metal scraps for food money. While looking for scraps outside a
football stadium, Carolina endures taunts from white patrons. Carolina often fares
no better closer to home—meddlesome favela woman like Dona Rosa and Dona Silvia pick
fights with Carolina’s children and try to provoke Carolina. Favelalife is full of hunger, disease, violence, and alcoholism. Carolina’s
only consolation is writing and the occasional kindness of friends and strangers,
such as when a man stops by the favela and gives Carolina’s daughter, Vera, one
hundred cruzieros, the equivalent of what Carolina often earns in a day.
Carolina struggles to insulate her children from bad influences, but she
receives several summons from the police station regarding her boys’ behavior. After
a few visits there, and after a neighbor woman, Chica, levels an accusation of rape
against João, Carolina briefly considers interning her children in a public shelter
for their own safety and wellbeing. Carolina believes that João’s accuser is lying,
but she worries that her children are in danger while the matter is being
investigated. After two runaways from the shelter seek refuge in Carolina’s home,
and she hears their stories of horrible abuse, she changes her mind about putting
her children there, recognizing that the experience would likely turn them into
criminals. The fact that the favelachanges everyone it touches is
a reality that Carolina fully understands. As she observes a new resident become
increasingly argumentative and desperate as they adapt to the “dog-eat-dog”
mentality that rules the favela, Carolina recognizes that a person can resist being
dragged down by it only for so long.
Carolina takes every opportunity she can get to participate in Brazil’s
political system, but after going to Congress to observe her leaders, she feels
nothing but disgust. In response to the ignorance she sees from those in power,
Carolina levels many critiques against the political system that she believes
contributes to the poverty and hunger of the favelados. To
Carolina, Brazil’s President Juscelino is a bird in a cage, and the favela dwellers
are hungry cats that may someday rise up against him if given the chance. On a more
day-to-day level, Carolina senses that she lives in a system that conspires against
the poor. Inflation is rampant, and prices for basic necessities, such as rice and
flour, can be absurd. When Carolina watches a factory owner dump rotted food near
the favela, she considers it an act of blatant cruelty. Carolina also endures racial
and class discrimination every time she ventures out of the favelaand into the city of São Paulo. While taking a streetcar, Carolina
discusses the politician Dr. Adhemar with other passengers, who blame him for the
steep increases in the cost of transportation. Carolina thinks that Adehemar is
angry and wants to punish the poor. In the often-brutal world she lives in, Carolina
wonders how much worse conditions can get.
Carolina refuses to put her interest in marrying before her interest in her
children, even when she is proposed to by a man named Manuel, who, compared to the
other favelados, is fairly well off, a worker and abstainer from
alcohol. Against her own better judgment, Carolina also becomes intertwined with a
gypsy named Raimundo, who awakens in her a sense of romance and adventure.
Ultimately, she decides that he is not the man she thought he was, but when he moves
away, she is sick and broken-hearted. Through both entanglements, Carolina maintains
that she is not the marrying type, her children come first, and she is unwilling to
make the sacrifices that she sees other women making in order to get
The intervention of a journalist named Audalio Dantas helps Carolina to
realize her dream of being published. When excerpts of her diary appear in a weekly
magazine called O Cruziero,Carolina tells
everyone she can about her new fame. Unfortunately, being published does not have
the effect that she was hoping for. Not only do Carolina’s dire daily circumstances
remain unchanged, but she quickly finds success to be a bitter pill when the favela
fills with disparaging talk of her motives. Even after her publication, Carolina
must deal with the same challenges and frustrations: the struggle to scrape together
enough money for food, the lines at the water spigot, the fights, and the racism and
sexism she faces on a daily basis. Despite these daily humiliations, Carolina holds
fast to her dream of finding a home far from the favela for her family.