the short story project

The Hidden Cause

Adam Blumenthal On:

The Hidden Cause by Machado de Assis

In the center of the story presented before us stands an enlightened man, a rationalist: Garcia, a young doctor from Rio de Janeiro, who believes he has “the beginnings of a capacity to decipher men’s characters and examine them.” And yet, like in all the writings of Machado do Assis, nothing is as it seems and nothing truly coincides with the narrator’s version. Throughout the story, Garcia is busy with repeated attempts to articulate some version of truth regarding Fortunato, a quiet and mysterious man, seemingly indifferent to human suffering, whom he had met in the hospital and had befriended. Garcia is astonished by his composure and tranquility: illness, blood, burns, pain, all these do not ruffle Fortunato’s feathers in the least. “Strange man!” Garcia thinks. He interprets Fortunato’s composure as efficiency and opens a private practice with him. The bonds of friendship between Garcia and Fortunato’s lovely and frail wife strengthen and Garcia becomes a regular guest at their home. The story raises questions that elude Garcia the storyteller time and again, despite his “capacity to decipher men’s characters”: what is the nature of the relationship between Fortunato and his wife, Maria Luisa? Who is Fortunato really? Does Garcia even know himself? “The Hidden Cause” deals with the dual structure of the personality, with the dichotomy between internal and external, with appearance, with point of view. And like in any good story by Machado, all categories are blurred. Carlos Fuentes describes Machado de Assis’s works as a literary “miracle” in nineteenth century Latin America. And yet, the broad and versatile body of work of the Brazilian writer is still, to a considerable degree, a hidden miracle.