Despite the Repression of Emotions
The relationship between Riobaldo and Diadorim in The Devil to Pay in the Backlands dissipates any expectation for a stereotypical bond between two men of such patriarchal and societal power. Although there is an undercurrent of homoeroticism present amongst the two individuals, their relationship is irreducible to this characteristic. The cornerstone of the relationship between the two men is a blend of its strength and indefinable limits.
The emotional intimacy between Riobaldo and Diadorim, although it may appear to be due to a desire for a sexual relationship, is due to the strength of their friendship. Riobaldo discusses that what defines a friend to him is “a person with whom you like to talk, as one equal to another, unarmed; someone it gives you pleasure to be near…Or a friend is simply what you are, without needing to define the how or the why of it (Rosa, 151).” Riobaldo knew that there was something different and special about the relationship between him and Diadorim, something that he had never encountered between him and anyone else, but the naturalness of the interactions between them never left him with any reason to question the formed bond.
When it is revealed at the end of the novel that Diadorim was born a woman, it would be foolish to conclude that the relationship between him and Riobaldo was founded in an unknowingly heterosexual coupled relationship. Although Diadorim was born a woman, the reader is left to ponder the reasons behind him carrying out his life as a man. The usage of female pronouns when discussing Diadorim upon finding out this fact would be an act of imposing personal gender expectations upon him.
In one of the moments of the transition of power, when Medeiro Vaz is killed, the true selflessness of Riobaldo and Diadorim’s relationship is revealed. “At that moment my very great regard for Diadorim was raised even higher, but just the same, I would have upheld my challenge, had he assailed me in anger, or drawn his gun. At such a moment one has to push a mountain aside to get past (Rosa, 68).” Their friendship was not rooted in what they could do for each other, but rather what was best for the other despite the cost.
The jaguncos, the tough bandits of the backlands of Brazil, are a symbol of strength, power, and instillers of fear. Riobaldo and Diadorim, while recognizable of this symbol through their actions and years of being key symbols in the backlands, they transcend these isolated characteristics. They are able to show that their personal interactions did not have to be limited to that of the persuasion of the jaguncos as a whole. The power and violence that is so prevalent in their unique community illuminates that although detachment from emotional values is favored against by the others, true friendship exceeds those outlines and creates a deeper bond than could have been imagined between these powerful men. Whether it is love, common ground, or an unexplainable gravitational pull between two hearts, the friendship Riobaldo and Diadorim found creates a new type of relationship in the face of hyper-masculinity.