The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The sheer multitude of characters serves to emphasize the novel’s focus on the interplay between characters and events. The short sections of the novel move from character to character. Sometimes the point of view changes even within the short sections. Nearly all these characters are developed fully, and they make up a wide array of bizarre, sometimes perverse individuals. The characters are clustered, and each cluster is eventually tied to other clusters of characters; this movement unravels the narrative in the novel, emphasizing each event’s and person’s interplay in the novel’s nonstop motion.
Though no character dominates the novel, Sterling emerges as its conscience. Sterling, appearing near the beginning and at the end of the book, is unique among the characters in that he enters Tucson by accident, wandering into town with no real purpose, and then leaves it behind, taking only the awareness he has gained. His eventual gain of understanding for the endurance of the Earth and the importance of tribal spirits is the very heart of the novel. At the beginning, Sterling is immersed in the white system, and his self-delusion is rooted in his European thinking, symbolized by his obsession with crime magazines. Sterling’s fascination with the white image of “Geronimo” (his favorite “criminal”) illustrates his inability to understand reality in a tribal sense. Silko educates the reader about Geronimo’s “true” existence, as Sterling...
(The entire section is 624 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Lecha (LAY-chay), the mother of Ferro, and sister of Zeta. She is a celebrated psychic and keeper of the sacred Lakota text of the almanac. Initially in drug-dependent retirement, she ends up identifying herself with visionary, militant ecologists. Her complicated evolution is one of the novel’s main structures.
Sterling, the gardener in Lecha’s compound, exiled from his Pueblo home on mistaken grounds of cultural violation. His safe return to his native place is an understated counterpart of the more global nature of Lecha’s ultimate commitment. He attempts to retain his integrity and self-respect.
Seese, Sterling’s opposite number in Lecha’s household. She has a guilty past. If Sterling’s problems have ethnic origins, Seese’s originate in her gender and in her helpless involvement with an exploitative male world of drugs and sex.
Menardo (may-NAHR-doh), a Mexican entrepreneur. He illustrates the destructive and dehumanizing nature of personal greed and the international economic order that fosters it. His rise and fall has darkly comic as well as more sinister elements. His story can be read as a parodic treatment of the novel’s other shape-changing motifs.
David, a photographer, Seese’s lover and the father of...
(The entire section is 258 words.)
List of Characters
Al: Seese’s stepfather.
Albert Fish: “The Long Island Cannibal.” He is a notorious wealthy criminal of whom Beaufrey was enamored as a child.
Alegría: Señorita Alegría Martinez-Soto. A young, beautiful, and talented Venezuelan architect, she is Menardo’s second wife.
Amalia: Yoeme’s daughter, and mother of the twins Zeta and Lecha. She dies when the twins are fourteen years old.
Angelita La Escapía: A Mayan revolutionary, head of The Revolutionary Army of the People, a group dedicated to taking back the land for the indigenous people. She has a brief affair with Bartolomeo.
Angelo: Gangster Max Blue’s nephew from New Jersey. He is in charge of the Blue family’s racetracks and horses.
Arne: Judge Arne. He is a corrupt Federal District Court judge who engages in bestiality with his prize Basset hounds. Leah Blue pays him to issue favorable judgments in her water rights lawsuits with the Nevada Indians so that she can dig wells on sacred Indian land for her planned community—Venice, Arizona.
Aunt Marie: Sterling’s Aunt. She and her sister Nora raised Sterling on the Laguna Indian Reservation.
Awa Gee: A Korean computer genius and hacker employed by Zeta to collect information from her rival arms dealers. He is planning a cyber-takeover of the world.
Barefoot Hopi: A Hopi Indian that speaks for the spirits. He wants to unite all the indigenous people so that they can take back their land.
Bartolomeo: An arrogant, sexist Cuban communist adviser to the indigenous revolutionaries. He has affairs with Alegría and Angelita La Escapía. He is eventually executed by The Revolutionary Army of the People.
Beaufrey: A wealthy gay producer of pornographic films that feature violent and bizarre torture, sex change operations, snuff movies, and autopsies on living human beings. He is also David’s lover, and Serlo’s friend and business partner.
Bill Blue: Uncle Bill and Max Blue’s brother. He has raised Angelo Blue but refuses to be a part of the crime family.
Bingo: Younger son of Max and Leah Blue. A cocaine addict, he is in charge of the family pinball and vending machine franchises in El Paso, Texas.
Brito: “Old Brito.” He is Calabazas’ father-in-law.
Calabazas: A Mexican-Indian drug dealer and arms smuggler. He does business with Zeta. He is married...
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Sterling is a Laguna Indian who is introduced in “Part I: The United States.” The novel begins and ends with Sterling, and his story provides the framework for the other stories that eventually intersect with each other throughout the novel. He leaves the reservation to join the Army and after World War II, he works off the reservation for quite some time. He returns to the reservation to work on the uranium mine that is being dug on tribal land and to care for the elderly aunt who raised him. A movie also is being filmed on the reservation and the tribal elders appoint Sterling to keep an eye on the film crew to make sure they do not film any sacred Indian relics, especially the giant stone snake that has recently been dug up as a result of the mine excavation. Sterling fails in his responsibilities, however. He has befriended the Hollywood producer. In what Sterling believes is typical Indian naïveté, he trusts the producer to keep his word. Sterling is busy reading his crime magazines rather than checking up on the film crew, so by the time he realizes what has happened, the film crew has already begun filming the giant stone serpent behind his back. As a result, the tribal elders expel Sterling from the reservation. They unjustly accuse Sterling of conspiring with the cocaine-snorting Hollywood people. They believe he has taken a bribe so that he, too, can buy drugs. Sterling has lived off the reservation for too long and the tribal elders do not trust him. He is an easy scapegoat. Unable to convince them of his innocence, a defeated Sterling reluctantly leaves the reservation and heads for Phoenix. When he mistakenly fails to re-board the bus after a brief stop in Tucson, Sterling decides to remain in Tucson because of its colorful crime history.
Sterling is familiar with the legends surrounding the great stone snake from stories his aunts and other “old ones” have told him, but because he has lived in the white man’s world for so long, he does not realize the significance of the snake’s reappearance. The snake possesses spiritual knowledge and the Hollywood film crew that wants to film it symbolizes the “Destroyers” who want to turn the sacred relic into another money-making scheme. The spirits send Sterling back into the white man’s world as an observer. Sterling’s banishment returns him to a non-tribal society where he finds work as a gardener and landscaper on...
(The entire section is 8180 words.)