Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Pedro Rubião de Alvarenga

Pedro Rubião de Alvarenga, a simple schoolteacher known simply as Rubião. He befriends the eccentric and dying Quincas Borba, from whom he unexpectedly inherits a substantial fortune and the obligation to care for the deceased’s dog, also named Quincas Borba. While traveling to Rio de Janeiro, he meets Christiano and Sophia Palha, who introduce him into Rio’s high society. He suffers from his unrequited love for Sophia. A generous man, he lends money freely, gives lavish gifts, and frequently entertains his many new friends, gradually dissipating his fortune. His rise in social status thus leads to his downfall. His descent into madness parallels his descent into poverty. He comes to believe that he is Napoleon, emperor of France.

Christiano Palha

Christiano Palha, a friend of Rubião. Christiano lives beyond his means, borrowing money from Rubião many times. He goes into partnership with Rubião and tries to restrain Rubião’s impractical generosity. Christiano is particularly proud of his wife Sophia, whose beauty he displays—and uses—at every opportunity. The capital provided by Rubião gives him social mobility. As he rises up the social ladder, he leaves many old friends behind, but he does honor, to some extent, his promise to his wife to see to the care of Rubião.

Sophia Palha

Sophia Palha, the beautiful and gracious wife of Christiano...

(The entire section is 552 words.)

Philosopher or Dog? Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Caldwell, Helen. Machado de Assis: The Brazilian Master and His Novels. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. Caldwell was one of the first to translate Machado de Assis’ work into English. Her chapter on Philosopher or Dog? provides a succinct and helpful overview of the major themes and unities of the novel, which she calls “a subtle web of allusion and symbol.”

Fitz, Earl. Machado de Assis. Boston: Twayne, 1989. A good introduction to Machado de Assis’ work. Contains chapters on the major themes, analysis of style and technique in Machado de Assis’ work, including Philosopher or Dog?, and an annotated bibliography.

Gledson, John. The Descriptive Realism of Machado de Assis: A Dissenting Interpretation of Dom Casmurro. Liverpool: Francis Cairns, 1984. One of the few critical studies of Machado de Assis’ work in English. Much of the social background Gledson gives for Dom Casmurro applies to Philosopher or Dog?

Machado, José Bettencourt. Machado of Brazil: The Life and Times of Machado de Assis, Brazil’s Greatest Novelist. New York: Charles Frank, 1962. An English translation, this Brazilian study of Machado de Assis’ life and work is interesting though not always completely reliable.

Nuñes, Maria Luisa. The Craft of an Absolute Winner: Characterization and Narratology in the Novels of Machado de Assis. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983. Gives a detailed analysis of Machado de Assis’ handling of characterization and narrative technique in his novels, including Philosopher or Dog?