The colonel is not only the protagonist of the novel, he is the novel, for it is his humor and irony, his pride and courage against the inexplicable adversity of poverty and political repression, that give the novel dignity and structure. This wise yet childlike man assumes a sort of tragicomic stature in the course of the narrative. Although he goes to wait for the mail boat every Friday with hopeful expectation, his resigned response is always the same: “No one writes to the colonel.” Although he is often self-effacing, reconciled to the repressive regime which controls his life, he maintains his pride. For example, he does not wear a hat so, as he says, “I don’t have to take it off to anyone.”
He is both idealistic and ironic, a combination that makes him memorable in contemporary fiction. When his wife says that he is only skin and bones, he replies that he is taking care of himself so he can sell himself: “I’ve already been hired by a clarinet factory.” When his wife laments that the mush they are eating is from corn left over from the rooster, and says, “That’s life,” the colonel replies, “Life is the best thing that’s ever been invented.” In some ways, the colonel resembles the existential hero as described by Albert Camus—holding out no hope for transcendent value but maintaining a kind of stoic acceptance of struggle regardless of the outcome. In modern fiction, his closest parallel is Ernest Hemingway’s fisherman,...
(The entire section is 523 words.)