Did you know you can highlight text to take a note? x

The self-portrait that Carolina de Jesus creates in her diary gains texture from the fact that she grants such close access to her inner thoughts, feelings, and dreams. Carolina shows herself in high spirits and low, floating on the joy of falling in love and dragged down by the desperate moments when she knows that her children will have to go hungry that day. She can by turns be critical, humorous, plaintive, strong, and poetic. As a single mother, Carolina feels ostracized, but she takes pride in the fact that she earns her own way instead of stealing from others. She has mixed emotions about relying on anyone, especially men. She cares about books, writing, and her children, and is unwilling to jeopardize any of these things for the security a husband might bring her.

Carolina keeps a diary to assert her sense of self, create a record of life in the favela, and account for the bad actions of both the people around her and the politicians who contribute to the plight of the poor. She tells those who wrong her that they’ll end up in her book, and though this strategy can come across as overbearing, her task is important. She has biting and important things to say about the failure of authority to address the needs of the poor, and her chronicle of the many instances of petty fighting, criminality, racism, and sexism in the society she lives in add up to a powerful portrait. Carolina is a keen reporter, able to bring into focus the existence of a favelado in unexpected and moving ways. While she is often quite critical, she also has a sense of humor that leavens and illuminates aspects of what is otherwise quite a grim story.

Now, as well as then, Carolina defies a number of stereotypes about the poor. Though she has only two years of formal education, she is intelligent and educated in her own way. Her views are sophisticated, her conclusions complex. Furthermore, Carolina is not meek or docile. She takes pride in being able to earn her own way and chafes at the patronizing attitudes of the more fortunate. Throughout the diary, Carolina is a complicated and even difficult figure. By depicting the complex social and economic forces that conspire against the poor, Carolina shows that there are no quick fixes or magical solutions when dealing with poverty. By being a forceful, challenging, independent woman, Carolina reminds us that the poor are not just a group to be pitied—they are people just as individual and human as anyone else.