As a social anthropologist Professor Wagley has focused his research in Brazil on small units such as relatively untouched tribes, acculturated Indian villages on the frontier, small peasant communities in northern Brazil, and small towns. From these little communities he has learned much about Brazilian institutions and behavior with respect to the system of social classes and race relations, the family and the wider web of kinship, religion, local government, the economy, and the educational system. In this area of specialization he has earned wide respect for his breadth of knowledge, his insights, and his sound scholarship.
To understand a nation one must be aware of how its institutions are lived out within the confines of a local community. But this, Professor Wagley affirms, is not enough. Many aspects and institutions of a complex nation are not present in the small unit. Certain social classes, the urban proletariat, the middle class, the metropolitan elite, for instance, are totally absent; state and national politics are merely reflected; and education, money and banking, trade and commerce appear only in partial form. To be fully understood a local society must be projected against the background of a region or a nation. A growing realization of this fact has led Professor Wagley to expand his interest to Brazil as a nation, and to satisfy that interest he has had to read widely in disciplines other than that of social anthropology. This volume is the result: in it he steps out of his role as a student of Brazilian local communities and attempts to describe, analyze, and interpret Brazil as a nation. Conscious of his deficiences as a student of history, economics, education, and politics, he pleads for tolerance from the specialists in these areas.
There are, as he feared, historical errors. For example, The Crown divided the colony into fifteen, not seventeen capitanias (page 28); there was considerable communication along the seaboard during the first two centuries (page 28); under Washington Luis the state of São Paulo made notable advances in both public and private education prior to 1930 (page 208). These are but slips by one who has not had time to make of himself a specialist in the field. On the part of this reviewer, Professor Wagley is forgiven in view of the vital contribution which he makes in this volume to an understanding of one of the least known countries of Latin America.
In Chapter I he analyzes the unity and diversity of Brazilian culture. He identifies elements of the common denominator on the one hand and, on the other, factors which characterize the complex diversity of Brazilian thought, behavior, and attitude. The paradox of oneness enclosing many differences, he insists, is the key to a true understanding of Brazil. In succeeding chapters he elaborates on these elements of unity and factors of diversity by separate discussions of Regions, Social Classes, The Community, Family and Education, and Religion and the State. In the final chapter he indulges his fancy by writing subjectively as though he were a Brazilian who is seeking to describe the pros and eons, the strengths and weaknesses, and the unity and disunity of Brazilian society. A Bibliography, selected but useful, concludes the book.
The final chapter, which in fact is a subjective synthesis of the book, would be preposterous were not Professor Wagley a Brasileiro de coraçâo. He has lived in Brazil for almost ten years out of the last twenty; he has learned the language and read novels, poetry, and the daily press; he has attended movies and gone to soccer games; he has resided in the deep interior, in small towns, and in the great cities. He has come to feel at home in the Brazilian way of life, to know intuitively the culture of Brazil. And herein lies the strength and weakness of his book. He has presented the results of years of scholarly research with intuitive understanding of Brazil and the Brazilians. The insights and interpretations which characterize the volume from start to finish are a distillation of objective research in the crucible of subjective experience. Thus the book is pre-eminently a Wagley introduction to Brazil. And as such it is stimulating, informative, penetrating, and provocative. As a significant and vital contribution to an understanding of Brazil, it merits the attention of both scholar and layman.