The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Onetti presents in A Brief Life an interesting, three-dimensional protagonist. By splitting the character’s personality, the author is able to make a more profound study of human identity.
Onetti concentrates on Brausen’s psychological problems, fears, and fantasies, rather than on a narrative description of his life. For this reason, Brausen’s internal life, depicted through his reflections and through passages of stream of consciousness, predominates over action in the book.
Juan María Brausen, like many of Onetti’s protagonists, is an imaginative man who refuses to develop the practical qualities that his world demands of him. Brausen is an alienated, existentially tortured man, an outsider. He knows that the world in which he lives is full of falsehood, but he does not fight it. He adopts a skeptical and resigned attitude. He invents new lies, new identities. Brausen creates other selves through which he evades his anxiety, taking refuge in his fantasy as a self-defense mechanism, but he does not undergo change in the course of the novel. His life has changed with his wife’s surgery and the consequent trauma, but Brausen has the same wandering attitude from the beginning to the end. He is consistently a failure.
The noises and voices to which Brausen listens through the wall of his room invite him to enter the world of sex, a world from which his wife’s scars have separated him. Brausen transformed into...
(The entire section is 510 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of A Brief Life Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Juan María Brausen
Juan María Brausen (BROW-sehn), the protagonist, who is suffering an existential crisis at a time when both his vacuous job as a Buenos Aires adman and his marriage are dissolving. Outwardly conventional, cautious, and repressed, he considers his life to be a form of death. Inwardly, though, he lives an artist’s fantasy life. To save himself from the outer void, he takes on two new identities: an impersonation that he assumes so as to enter the life of the prostitute who lives in the apartment adjacent to his own, and his fictional surrogate, the protagonist of a film scenario that he is alternately writing and imagining over the course of the novel. All three levels of his identity merge ambiguously at the end of his story. He flees with the young man who has independently carried out the murder of Arce’s prostitute and ends up in the imaginary town of Santa María, the setting of the film scenario.
Juan María Arce
Juan María Arce (AHR-seh), the name under which Brausen moves in with Queca, the prostitute, who is unaware that he lives next door as Brausen. He virtually becomes a kept man. A channel for Brausen’s repressed violent instincts, he develops a sadistic relationship with Queca and plans to kill her, essentially as a gratuitous act but also because she taunts him as a perpetual cuckold. When Ernesto murders her for his...
(The entire section is 1355 words.)