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Sab. March 3, 2008. SAB. Written by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellandeda y Arteaga Published 1841 in Spain; banned in Cuba until 1914. CHARACTERS. Sab’s Mother. Don Luis. Don Carlos. Martina. Sab. Carlota. Teresa. Luis. Enrique Otway. George Otway. CHARACTERS. Sab

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March 3, 2008


  • Written by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellandeda y Arteaga

  • Published 1841 in Spain; banned in Cuba until 1914


Sab’s Mother

Don Luis

Don Carlos






Enrique Otway

George Otway



  • A Mullato: half-black, half-white--son of an African Princess and Don Luis (brother to Don Carlos)

  • Raised by Don Carlos; grew up with Carlota and rarely left her side

  • Mayoral (chief administrator) at Don Carlos’ plantation—unique honour for a slave

“His coloring was of a yellowish white with a certain dark undertone, his broad forehead was half-hidden under irregular locks of hair as lustrous and black as the wings of the raven; his nose was aqualine, but his thick, purplish lips revealed his African heritage.” (28)



  • Daughter of Don Carlos; about to marry Enrique Otway

  • Sweet, innocent, carefree character

  • More concerned with ideals of love than with pragmatic concerns

“Her beautiful, pure brow rested in one of her hands as she supported her arm on the windowsill; her parted chestnut hair cascaded in a multitude of ringlets which framed a seventeen-year-old face…The ideal nature of her lovely figure was enhanced by a dress of purest white.” (35)



  • Distant relative of Carlota

    • Orphaned and taken in by Don Carlos

    • Like a sister to Carlota

  • Outwardly emotionless

    • Upset by her lot in life?

    • Yet evidence of caring for Sab and Carlota

“Still young, yet lacking the charms of youth, Teresa had one of those ordinary faces that, while not repugnant, were in no way attractive either. After a close look at her, no one would call her ugly; however, on seeing her for the first time, no one would think her beautiful, for her face was so devoid of expression that it might just as well inspire hate as love.” (35)


  • Central story is Carlota’s upcoming marriage to Enrique Otway

  • Enrique’s father George is about to go bankrupt and wants Enrique married to a wealthy woman before this happens

  • Meanwhile, Don Carlos (Carlota’s father) has lost his fortune; Carlota cares little but Enrique is deeply grieved

  • Sab’s love for Carlota is introduced and Sab finds Enrique unsuitable for Carlota as he can see his true intentions

  • Despite this Sab saves Enrique’s life afterhe is knocked unconscious in a storm


  • Enrique is conflicted over whether he should marry Carlota

  • Sab is unofficially freed

  • Don Carlos, Carlota, and the whole party travel to Cubitas and discover that Sab is a hero who saved young Luis (his adoptive mother’s grandson) and his dog from a fire

  • Sab is freed and paid so he can support his adoptive mother Martina

  • Throughout all the emotional points in the novel Teresa remains emotionless


  • Teresa and Sab conduct a secret meeting in which Sab professes his complete and ultimately fatal love for Carlota, Teresa shows compassion for Sab

  • Sab has won the lottery and offers it to Teresa who would then become rich and could possibly marry Enrique but instead they end up giving it to Carlota so that Enrique will still want to marry her

  • Just as Enrique decides he is going to leave Carlota he receives news of her winnings and goes immediately to her


  • Sab breaks down and dies at the same hour Enrique and Carlota are married

  • Everyone thinks that Teresa loved Sab and upon his death she joins a convent

  • Despite all the death and people leaving, Enrique convinces Carlota to be happy

  • Carlota lives a very unhappy life, discovering the true nature of her husband, and Teresa finds happiness in the convent where Carlota visits often to cry upon her shoulder

  • As Teresa dies, she gives Carlota the letter Sab wrote her on his deathbed

  • In this letter Sab condemns himself because of his race


Part I, Chapter 6

  • Follows episode in which Sab saves Enrique’s life

  • Reveals Carlota’s naïveté and idealism; shows her innocent love for her suitor Enrique

  • Shows Sab’s unhappiness with his lot in life and his love for Carlota

  • Exemplary of Sab’s romantic writing style


Part II, Chapter 2

  • Second chapter in which Sab confesses to Teresa his love for Carlota

  • Sab proposes to appeal to Enrique’s love of money by giving Teresa a winning lottery ticket

  • Exploration of theme of fortune—Sab sees himself as a noble soultrapped in a slave’s body

  • Sab cannot undertake his plan because Carlota really does love Enrique

Structure style

Word to the Reader

  • “These pages were written for amusement during moments of leisure and of melancholy: at that time the author had no intention of exposing them to the public’s unforgiving eye.” (26)

  • Means of de-emphasizing the anti-slavery message in the text?

Structure style1

Story Structure

  • Divided into two parts and a conclusion

  • Recurring devices: letters, correspondence, mail

  • Similar in style to Avellaneda’s Autobiography

  • Each chapter begins with an apt epigraph; indication of Avellaneda’s educated background

Structure style2


  • Linear story

  • Third person narrative—but not an objective narrator

  • Florid and descriptive language; description of the natural world echoes the emotion of the text

  • Use of song and letter to impart emotion

  • Extensive footnoting

Freedom slavery

  • What does it mean to be free?

  • Sab is in a privileged position from the beginning of the novel and is formally freed early on—yet he feels trapped.

    • Sab is not concerned with formal (legal) freedom; nor is he looking for a revolution

    • Freedom to be virtuous; to be passionate; to exist

“‘You are free,’ she repeated, glancing at him in surprise, as though she wished to read in his face the cause of an emotion which she could not attribute to the pleasure of the freedom long offered and many times withdrawn. But Sab had himself under control; his look was sad and calm and his appearance serious and melancholy.” (140)


  • Marriage as an economic union

    • Practically, marriage is a device for inheritance or status

  • Marriage for greed or love

    • Carlota and Enrique’s marriage and their respective intentions

  • Marriage as enslavement

    • Teresa’s escape to the convent

“I cannot love another woman as much as you, and none willmake me so happy as you would have, but destiny separates us. Ineed to be rich, and you cannot make me rich, Carlota.” (116)


  • Identities prescribed by class, race, gender

    • Arbitrary divisions—yet they define each character’s role

  • The device of the lottery

    • Preoccupation of most of the characters with winning money

    • Sab gives up his winnings

“What use is talent and education to a man destined to be a slave?” (45)“Don’t all have the same needs, the same passions, the same flaws? Why,then, do some have the right to enslave and others the duty to obey?” (140)


  • Several versions of “love” in Sab:

    • Sab’s passionate but impossible love for Carlota

    • Carlota’s innocent love for Enrique

    • Enrique’s uncertain love for Carlota

  • What kind of love is attainable? What love lasts?

“I knew nothing of love except what I had gathered from the novels I read, and I convinced myself that naturally I was madly in love with my intended. As I had little contact with him and knew him hardly at all, I could freely choose the character I most wanted him to have.” (Autobiography, 4)

Emotion passion

  • Sab’s passion makes the world unbearable; Carlota’s innocence hurts her

    • Contrast between idealism and stoicism

    • Contrast between passion and restraint

  • Only Teresa ends the novel content

    • Suggestion that only option is resignation? Give in or give up

“Teresa had indeed reached that calm and grave happiness which virtue bestows.Her proud, strong spirit had mastered her destiny, and her feelings and elevated, firm,and decided character had allowed her to reach that noble resignation which is asdifficult for passionate souls as it is for those of weak character.” (135)

Religion spirituality

  • Religion/Spirituality in Cuba

    • Frequent invocation of God

    • Reference to both local spirituality and institutionalized religion

    • Teresa joining the convent and becoming a nun

  • Relationship to death

    • Carlota as reincarnation of Martina

“Doubtless Heaven heard his entreaties and God sent him a merciful glance, for at that instant the unhappy man felt his entire body falter, and the coldness of death froze his heart.” (119)

Role of women

  • Parallel to slavery—entrapment, lack of freedom

    • Marriage or convent seem to be the only choices

    • Carlota’s ultimate unhappiness with Enrique

“Don’t hate your husband, Carlota: he is just like the majority of men, and thereare many worse!...It is useful to know what they are and not to ask more of themthan they can give; it is useful to relinquish those dreams that perhaps nolonger exist except in the heart of a daughter of Cuba.” (138)

Evaluating sab

  • A radical text for its time; contrary to social mores

    • Yet the novel is never about social change; explicitly not a “free the slaves” narrative

    • Acceptance of slavery as a fact of life; likewise, Teresa’s speech to Carlota is about taking heart in what they have rather than changing

  • Subversive but not a call to action; a subtle anti-slavery narrative

Evaluating sab1

  • Significance of female author

    • Groundbreaking; pushes boundaries

    • Yet recognition that Avellaneda is also writing from a privileged position

Evaluating sab2

  • Aesthetically pleasing; descriptive setting, beautiful language

    • Yet an imperfect work: broad characters, sometimes heavy-handed, deus ex machina

    • Word to the reader: “[These pages] were composed by the at times exaggerated but always generous sentiments of early youth” (26).

  • A flawed work, yet still politically significant


  • Is Sab still radical? Still relevant?

  • Is love across racial/class boundaries still a controversial subject?

  • Does Sab work as a political text?

“Love him!” repeated Carlota, “Him, a slave!” (130)



Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga, Getrudis. Sab and Autobiography. Trans. Nina M. Scott. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.

Images of Cuba licensed under Creative Commons: 1, 2, 3, 4 (2008).