Punishment in Paradise Foiled Again
In the presidio [of Fernando de Noronha], the bandit [Zé Moleque]
became known as a good person, a worker. His manioc fi elds were always
the most productive and he was never jailed, never gave the prison admin-
istrators trouble.
—josé lins do rego, usina, 1936
De cades aft er Fernando de Noronha became a penal colony for the
state of Pernambuco in 1898, José Lins do Rego’s 1936 novel Usina
(industrial sugar refi nery) depicted it as an incongruous utopia. Th e
scion of a wealthy sugar plantation family, Lins do Rego narrates how
his young black protagonist Ricardo served three years on Fernando
de Noronha for his involvement in a Recife labor strike. When Ri-
cardo returns to the mainland he is disillusioned. Th e modern refi n-
eries and new agricultural labor regime have forced former slaves and
their descendants off the land and transformed them into landless
proletarians. He then recalls his time on Fernando de Noronha with
a mixture of nostalgia and shame, especially the tender relationship
he shared with the former black bandit Moleque. Fernando de
Noronha initially seems an exotic criminal community of dishonored
and transgressive convicts, the antithesis of the mainland. But as the
plot progresses, it becomes a bucolic foil that the author uses to high-
light hypocrisy, injustice, and corruption in Recife and Pernambuco’s
sugarcane fi elds in the 1920s.
Why did Lins do Rego choose Fernando de Noronha as a foil? A
British ornithologist who visited the island in 1902 provides a clue:
Previous Page Next Page