Reading good books, appreciating the arts and listening to good music develop in us a stronger ability to perceive the world around us. Reading has always exerted and will profoundly transform the sincere reader who recognizes that he knows little, and that even under that little, there is an immensity to consider. Sensitivity becomes heightened in the reading exercise and the perception of what happens around is endorsed by this continuous exercise.
Few books, short stories, poetry, or chronicles have caused such reflection as Nikolai Gogol’s The Capote (1991) and Carlos Drumond de Andrade’s The Crazy (2012). About this second tale, I remember the emotion and responsibility I felt when reading the written lines, and even very young, I could not contain some tears. This tale reminds us that we are responsible for being better people, devoid of the prejudices that drive us away from each other for fear of simply knowing what the other has to say, since more and more selfish purposes have been given place that make only those who share the same ideologies and purposes similar.
I will never live up to the poet’s words, but I will try to explain briefly why this tale still goes back to the same feeling of 14 years ago. She was called crazy and lived in a cottage in the center of a battered garden. Nearby was a stream where the boys in the neighborhood used to bathe, but not only with that intention, it was pleasurable to pass through the madwoman’s house and tease her. Mothers urged children under their reprehensible attitudes, “the crazy must have pity, because they do not enjoy the same benefits that we, the healthy, we were lucky” (ANDRADE, 2012).
There was much speculation about what left the madwoman in that state: marital aggression? Had she been kicked out of her house by her father for trying to poison him and gone mad? In any case, nothing was known about it, only that it was repudiated by everyone and locked in the cottage over the years. She lived alone and judged. But that afternoon, the three boys on their way to the river believed it pertinent to repeat the tradition their parents had made many years ago: throwing stones at the crazy house.
Nothing answered the fiery attack of these children: neither the house nor the madman. Seized by sudden courage, the third of the group, an 11-year-old boy, decided to invade the garden. As nothing and no one responded to the advances, decided to be brave and enter the cottage.
Drummond (2012) continues:
Behind the piano mass, cornered in one corner, was the bed. And in it, a raised bust, the madwoman was stretching her face forward in the investigation of the unusual rumor. It was no use for the boy to want to run or hide. And he was determined to know everything about that house. Otherwise, the madwoman gave no sign of war. She only raised her hands at eye level, as if to protect them from stoning. He was staring at her with interest. It was simply an old woman, thrown on a single black cot, behind a barricade of furniture. And what a little one! The body under the cover formed a tiny rise. Little, dark, dirty that time deposits on her skin, staining it. And seemed to be afraid.
She mumbled: She was thirsty. The boy gave her water, but she didn’t even have the strength to hold the glass. He had to help. She was in pain and seemed to be dying. He no longer remembered why he had entered the house. And the crazy no longer looked crazy: she was a human being. She suffered, and he barely understood the situation. He needed to ask for help, but refused to leave her alone: “I had to leave the woman alone in the house exposed to stones.” He was afraid that he would die in complete abandonment. “I wouldn’t leave the woman to call anyone. He knew that he could do nothing to help her but sit by the bed, take her hands and wait for what was going to happen (ANDRADE, 2012).
This brief literary text is full of meanings and implies reflections on the self. His every reading is a reminder that we need to remove the vices we carry in our lives that keep us from being better people, virtuous people. While we live by believing in common sense ideologies, taking our ready-made speeches, make-up fallacies of good intentions, we blame those who dare to disagree with what we call “our truth” and in an attempt to defend a tradition we do not even understand, we attack with these crazy people who dare to think differently.
Contextualizing the deeper meanings of the tale, words that often take the form of stones are unwisely thrown at each other, undermining any opportunity for dialogue, mutual understanding, and empathy. In this remarkably common scenario today, a sympathetic and empathic stance is practically a prohibition: after long years of believing that entrenching ideas is the best way to (not) sort things out, it seems that this has become a custom, to be true, and true, became tradition. Why do we do what we do? Because everyone does.
At this point, we need to muster up some courage to get out from behind the trenches that separate each other, through the enemy’s abandoned garden and open the “cancelinha” enter the house and see who resides there. It also takes courage to drop the stones, reach out and look into the eyes.
They are not crazy, but human. Note that the 11-year-old’s parenthetical attitude made him understand another perspective, since if he continued to throw stones from the outside, he could never have understood. Going beyond the conventions over house crazy and all the surroundings, he took the first step. Regarding the parenthetical attitude, Guerreiro Ramos (1996) attributes as the ability to bracket the self and the world and the experience of the self as such. Doing so creates a critical awareness of self and circumstance, leaving the natural and naive existential plane. Creating and practicing this critical awareness of oneself and circumstances requires the humility to acknowledge that certain beliefs and customs may be mistaken. After 40 years of beliefs about the madwoman, the boy realized that she was just a frail, small and mistreated old woman – by him and so many others. That lasts reality. A mistake that has been sustained for long years. Who really were crazy? Who really are crazy? The exercise of virtues and the practice of parenthetical attitude can begin to answer this question.
RAMOS, G. A. A redução sociológica. 3.ed. Rio de Janeiro: Editora da UFRJ, 1996.
ANDRADE, D. C. A doida. Contos de aprendiz. Companhia das Letras; Edição: 1ª. 5 de março de 2012