The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The artifice characteristic of A Change of Skin is particularly obvious in the portrayal of its characters, who represent doubles or paired opposites in continual conflict rather than fully developed, believable personalities. Ironically, Javier is first attracted to Elizabeth because he sees her as his opposite, as a person who possesses the strength he lacks. It is only during their idyllic honeymoon in Greece that, at least in Elizabeth’s later reflections, their duality is briefly transcended. Their marriage later becomes a battleground where they play out their opposition in even the most trivial of gestures. As they enter the hotel room in Cholula, Javier draws the curtains, but Elizabeth immediately opens them complaining of Javier’s obsession with darkened rooms.
The fragmentation and conflict in their lives cripple Javier and Elizabeth. Javier becomes the stereotypical artist manqué, incapable of producing any work of substance. Like her husband, Elizabeth too lacks the wholeness that would enable her to create. The child she aborts stands as the tragic sign of her failure. The couple’s fragmentation and alienation is further manifested in the narrative itself as it records their disjointed conversations, which often degenerate into futile monologues or impossible dialogues between people who cannot hear each other.
While Elizabeth and Javier each represent the other’s opposing double, Fuentes’s doubling artifice...
(The entire section is 579 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Javier (hah-VYEHR), a middle-aged Mexican harboring aspirations of being a writer. He takes a drive with his American-born wife, Elizabeth; a friend, Franz; and Franz’s lover, Isabel, a young Mexican woman. Javier, who met Elizabeth when he was a student in New York City, is at once in love with and bored by her. Because of his ambivalence, he is taken in by the charms of Isabel, though in his imagination he sees her as a vacuous version of his wife. In this surrealistic novel, Javier may or may not have led Elizabeth and Franz to a terrible death inside an Aztec pyramid and may or may not have attempted to strangle Elizabeth and put Franz’s body in his car trunk.
Elizabeth, the American-born wife of Javier. Elizabeth, growing restless, finds life with Javier increasingly unfulfilling, sensing as she does that Javier finds her too old for him. She wishes not only that Javier was more attuned to her needs but also that he would become a successful writer rather than an aimless, unproven one.
Franz, a young Czechoslovakian-born friend of Javier who becomes emotionally and sexually involved with Elizabeth while carrying on an affair with lovely Isabel. He incurs Javier’s envy because of his youthful energy, wit, and good looks. That envy may have led Javier to murder him. In any event, Franz, at the very least, creates problems for Javier, and these problems create hostility.
Isabel (EE-sah-behl), the youngest and most naïve of the four principal characters. She lacks Elizabeth’s worldliness, mental powers, and acerbic wit, but her sexual intensity draws Javier’s attentions away from Elizabeth. Whether in fact or only in his imagination, Javier wins Isabel’s affections, only to become disgusted by her lack of depth and maturity. For the most part, Isabel is a pawn caught up in the unhappiness of Javier, Elizabeth, and Franz.
Freddy Lambert, the all-knowing and all-seeing, yet thoroughly mysterious, narrator of the story. Lambert not only can overhear dialogue but also can peer deep into characters’ minds, capturing their thoughts, dreams, and fantasies.