Gabriela begins with the killing of a woman by her husband when she is caught in the act of adultery. The murder put into perspective the place that women held in society. It was shown as bleak and as having only one purpose, to fulfill the desires of men. The man was hailed as a hero and received absolutely no judicial repercussions. In fact, he was toasted as a man who “cleansed his honor with blood.” While the readings portray the early 1900’s as a time when men became concerned with the “assassination” of women by their husbands, for acts less than honorable, the film did not make that point.
Susan K. Besse supported that idea by pointing out that when the act of killing women was addressed it was the way in which “Brazilian society had traditionally” turned a blind eye to such actions that was taken on as the goal for change and not necessarily the place in the hierarchy in which women had been placed. Susan K. Besse also pointed out that women were beginning to gain “new aspirations and new options,” but again, the only aspirations or options presented in the film were those of serving or snaring a man into providing for either physical or material needs. It is argued that as gender roles began to change in urban areas men began to fear their “ability to control the behavior of women through familiar channels was declining” and thus would “resort to violence.”
While Gabriela seems to enjoy her life with her employer, for lack of a better word, even seeming to fall in love with him, eventually her relationship with him was not enough and she turned to another. Her decision to do so brings about the question, was her love superficial and wrapped up only in the life of security he provided for her? Her employer had ulterior motives from the beginning. As Ryckere pointed out in Sue Ann Caufield’s article, the term “maid” was just another term for “prostitute.” As harsh as that may sound, Gabriela was there for his pleasure, as well as, to cook and clean for him. Consider where she came from at the beginning of the film, fleeing a drought, covered in mud; obtaining a roof over her head, a bed to sleep on and food to eat was like winning the lottery.
The film also does not touch on the premise that there were women who were killing their husbands during this time, as well. Besse points out that the new opportunities afforded to women made the “subordination and abuse by men intolerable.”
Besse presents the argument that the murdering of women was seen as a threat to society because it “symbolized the ungluing of the family.”
Caufield supports the argument that Brazilians saw “the encroaching moral and physical depravity that threatened the survival of the nation” as that which attacked the family unit; however, the evil enemy was not the action of men murdering their wives but the failure of women to fulfill their “natural roles as mothers” and thus “instilling moral values in society.” Caufield points out that society saw this failure as contributing to the “demoralization and degeneracy” of men which drove them to “commit antisocial acts.”
This is more of the stance that the movie portrayed. Gabriela, the woman in the window and the women at the club were all portrayed as either disloyal, conniving or loose women who drove men to do things they would not do under normal circumstances with an upstanding woman. By the end of the movie, Gabriela was portrayed somewhat as a sly cat, jumping over walls, hunting down her prey.
The closing of the film was quite poignant. Things were changing yet staying the same. As far as women’s position in society was concerned, that could be supported by the fact that although women were still expected to remain in their submissive role in the gender hierarchy, they had figured out how to make men believe they were remaining submissive all the while positioning themselves right were they wanted to be. The woman across the street got to be with the man she wanted to be without being killed by her husband and Gabriela ended up back with her husband after betraying him.