Gilberto Freyre

Gilberto de Mello Freyre (1900- 1987) was a Brazilian sociologist, anthropologist, deputy and university professor.

His best known work is “Casa-Grande & Senzala” in which he used new sources to understand the formation of Brazil.


Gilberto Freyre was born in 1900 in Recife / PE. The father, Alfredo Freyre, was a judge and university professor who would teach his son Latin.

Despite the incentive to study at home, Freyre was unable to learn to write and made drawings to express himself. He studied in American schools and when he finished his training, he left for the United States where he would enroll at the University of Baylor, Texas and years later, in Columbia.

Gilberto Freyre at his home in Recife

He returned to Brazil in 1924, assumed the direction of newspapers and wrote numerous articles on the social formation of Brazil that were published in newspapers in Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. He also works as a private secretary for the governor of Pernambuco, Estácio de Albuquerque de Coimbra.

In 1933, after intense research, he launched “Casa-Grande & Senzala”, which would provoke controversy in the Brazilian intellectual milieu, both for its language and for the proposed themes.

In the 1940s, he was arrested and his newspaper was jammed because of the opposition he was making to the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas. In 1946, he was elected deputy by the National Democratic Union and went to Rio de Janeiro in order to join the Constituent Assembly.

From the 1950s onwards, he began receiving invitations to conferences at American and European universities, in addition to being part of UN commissions that dealt with the racial issue.

His books are published in several languages ​​and “Casa-Grande e Senzala” is the most edited and translated Brazilian Sociology book to date.

Freyre married in 1941 with Maria Magdalena Guedes Pereira with whom he had two children. In life, he managed to create the Gilberto Freyre Foundation and open the Casa-Museu, both in his former residence to preserve his legacy and his library of more than 30 thousand volumes.

He received several awards during his lifetime as Doctor Honoris Causa by the Federal University of Pernambuco and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in addition to the universities of Coimbra, Paris, Sussex, Münster and Oxford.

In 1971, Queen Elizabeth II grants him the title of Sir (Knight Commander of the British Empire) and in 1986 he was elected to Academia Pernambucana de Letras.

He died in 1987, in Recife, due to several health problems.


The main influences of Gilberto Freyre are the German anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942), Max Weber , the American poet Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931), the American poet Amy Lowell (1874-1925), among many others. In this way, he moves away from the positivism that prevailed in Brazilian intellectuals at the time.

Likewise, he incorporates into his writing the “Imagism” chain that uses images, metaphors and symbols to explain his theses.

Expressionism, a pictorial school that enlarges or cuts out scenes in order to highlight them, was also added in its way of using hyperboles.

Thus, Freyre made harsh statements about prostitution and the depravity of the colonizers with slaves, using this literary resource.

The slave quarters, the big house and the sugar cane mill

He also makes use of the “numerism” already outlined in works like that of the American writer Walt Whitman (1819-1892), where the author keeps repeating the same word to build his reasoning.

We can find an example of this figure of speech in the passage where he explains the function of the network in Casa Grande:

Hammock stopped, with you resting, sleeping, napping, Hammock walking, with you traveling or walking under carpets or curtains. Network creaking, with you copulating inside it. The slave did not have to leave the network to give his orders to blacks; have your letters written by the clerk or chaplain; playing backgammon with a relative or friend. Almost everyone traveled in a hammock – not in the mood to ride a horse: allowing themselves to be taken out of the house like jam by a spoon.

Casa-Grande & Senzala

The work “Casa-Grande & Senzala” was published in 1933 after Freyre had already studied and written several essays on Brazil’s colonial period.

This book is the first in a trilogy that is completed with “Sobrados & Mucambos”, from 1936, about society in Brasil Império. Finally, “Ordem & Progresso”, from 1957, discusses Brazilian society during the Republic. There was a fourth book planned, “Jazigos & Covas-rasas”, but the notes were stolen and lost.

“Casa-Grande & Senzala” brought new approaches to understand the formation of Brazil. Culture, religiosity, cuisine, hygiene habits, sexuality were some of the topics that were discussed by Pernambuco scholars.

One of the theses of the work is that the miscegenation of the races created an original society. Through the contact of blacks, Indians and whites, the Brazilian would be the cultural and mestizo synthesis of these races. This is not to say that this training took place in a peaceful manner, as Freyre highlights the violence of slavery.

Instead of illustrating this thesis with economic data, Freyre turns to cuisine to prove how mixed Brazilian society was.

“Oxen, pigs, turkeys were killed. Cakes, sweets and puddings of all qualities were made. The chicken, by the way, appears in various religious ceremonies and aphrodisiac tisanes of Africans in Brazil. Sugar – which has always accompanied black people – has sweetened so many aspects of Brazilian life that national civilization cannot be separated from it. ”

It must be remembered that in the 1930s, Nazism was in full consolidation in Germany. His ideas of racial purity were gaining more and more followers around the world, including Brazil. The work “Casa-Grande & Senzala” will defend that miscegenation brings more positive than negative aspects for a nation.

Racial democracy

Gilberto Freyre was criticized for defending racial democracy in Brazil. This thesis stated that blacks and Indians were not discriminated against in Brazilian society.

In fact, this expression was never used by Freyre. He defended miscegenation and the Portuguese Portuguese way of being in contrast to the English Protestant. This mixture of races will be decisive to build a different society from that of the Anglo-Saxon countries.

The work of the sociologist Florestan Fernandes , published in the 1950s, would dismantle this concept so ingrained in Brazilian thought.

See also: Miscegenation


  • Knowledge must be like a river, whose fresh, thick, copious waters overflow from the individual, and spread, filling the thirst of others.
  • Without a social purpose, knowledge will be the greatest futility.
  • Cooking is one of the greatest expressions of human behavior, human knowledge, human creativity, much of human knowledge is in what you eat.
  • The white lady’s virtue rests largely on the prostitution of the black slave;
  • Every Brazilian bears on his body the shadow of the indigenous or the black.
  • In this social institution – slavery – we find, in fact, the great excitement of sensuality among the Portuguese, as later on, among Brazilians.

Aspect of the Magdalena and Gilberto Freyre House-Museum

Works by Gilberto Freyre

  • Casa-Grande & Senzala, 1933
  • Practical, Historical and Sentimental Guide to the City of Recife, 1934
  • Sobrados e Mucambos, 1936
  • Northeast: Aspects of Sugarcane Influence on Life and Landscape, 1937
  • Assucar, 1939
  • Olinda, 1939
  • The world that the Portuguese created, 1940
  • The story of a French engineer in Brazil, 1941
  • Brazilian problems of anthropology, 1943
  • Sociology, 1943
  • Interpretation of Brazil, 1947
  • British in Brazil, 1948
  • Order and Progress, 1957
  • Recife yes, Recife no, 1960
  • The slaves in the advertisements of Brazilian newspapers of the 19th century, 1963
  • Social life in Brazil in the mid-19th century, 1964
  • Brasis, Brasil and Brasília, 1968
  • The Brazilian among other Hispanics, 1975
  • Men, engineering and social directions, 1987


  • The Escola de Samba da Mangueira, at the Carnival of February 1962, presented a parade based on the work “Casa-grande & Senzala”.
  • In the backyard, Freyre planted a large number of fruit trees, especially the pitangueira tree. From the fruit, he made a liquor whose recipe was passed only to the men of the family.
  • The house where Gilberto Freyre lived with his family, in the Apipucos neighborhood, in Recife / PE, is the headquarters of the Gilberto Freyre Foundation and houses the House-Museum Magdalena and Gilberto Freyre.


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