Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Santiago Zavala (sahn-tee-AH-goh sah-VAH-lah), also known as Skinny and Superbrain, who is progressively transformed from the favorite son into an aspiring Communist and finally into a columnist in a dead-end newspaper job. He is the novel’s protagonist, and much of the narrative is rendered in his voice and from his perspective. He is a disillusioned intellectual and self-disinherited son of the bourgeoisie who is determined to forge an authentic existence. When he is unable to break with his past, however, he slowly sinks into despair and cynicism. His preoccupation throughout the novel is with how both the nation and the individual have been betrayed by the same degrading and corrupt political forces.
Ambrosio Pardo (ahm-BROH-see-oh PAHR-doh), a zambo (part black and part Indian), first a chauffeur for Santiago’s father, then a worker at a dog pound. His particular mixture of blood carries an implicit tension that is externalized in the novel. He is both an innocent victim of Peru’s social order and a victimizer who adapts to a corrupt system to survive. Ambrosio’s inability to break the social, political, and economic bonds that shackle him illustrates one of the novel’s major themes: how society, especially a politically corrupt society, can...
(The entire section is 598 words.)
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As in The Green House (1966), Vargas Llosa defines each character through his actions, dialogue, and circumstances affecting his conduct. Although the motives behind each character's actions are never clarified, there are several whose motives are not difficult to discern given their extensive participation in the story's plot and many subplots.
The story is told essentially by five main narrators: Santiago Zavala, a newspaperman and son of the wealthy industrialist Fermin Zavala; Cayo Bermudez, head of police and intelligence and Minister of Internal Affairs; Amalia Cerda, a servant at the Zavala's house; Ambrosio Pardo, a chauffeur for Bermudez, later for Zavala, and finally for Amalia's husband; and Queta, a prostitute at the brothel run by Hortensia. Their stories are told within the framework of an ongoing conversation between Santiago and Ambrosio in a sleazy bar named The Cathedral. Santiago runs into Ambrosio, his father's former chauffeur, in the bar a few years after the events described in the novel have transpired.
Santiago is the central character whose narrative encompasses four periods in his life: his student days at the University of San Marcos, his work as a newspaper reporter with La Cronica, the discovery of his father's homosexuality, and his marriage to Ana. The most important incidents occur in his student days at the University where he becomes part of a leftist group. It is here that he becomes aware of...
(The entire section is 629 words.)