The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Abrán has always been an outsider in the Mexican community in which he was reared. Because his skin was lighter, he was teased and harassed by his classmates. He began fighting, first on the playground and later in the ring, to prove that he was as good a Mexican as any of the other boys in the barrio. When he discovers that his mother is an Anglo, his sense of identity is shaken, and he is driven to find his father. Uncomfortable in the world of power, wealth, and glamour, Abrán instinctively recognizes his proper place in the mountains of northern New Mexico. He is drawn to their “pure light” and their traditional Mexican culture, and it is here that he and Lucinda plan to settle down, rear a family, and open a much-needed health clinic.

Ben Chávez, the writer and teacher, is a partly autobiographical version of the author and is the most fully realized of the novel’s characters. While still in high school, Chávez was injured in a street fight and thus was hospitalized when Cynthia Johnson gave birth to his son. More comfortable with his fictional characters than with Abrán, the son he has fathered, Ben is working on a novel, which he feels compelled to write, about his love for Cynthia. He is an observer rather than a man of action, and it is largely through his consciousness that the reader understands and evaluates the other characters.

Frank Dominic, the son of a hardworking shoemaker of indefinite ethnic background, is one of the two thoroughly unsympathetic characters and the focus of the novel’s pointed and often personal political satire. He is interested only in gaining power and in self-aggrandizement. An expert on image-building, Dominic has tried to link himself with the old Spanish blood in New Mexico; he married a...

(The entire section is 723 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Abrán González

Abrán González (ah-BRAHN gohn-SAH-lehs), a twenty-one-year-old boxer from the barrio who has given up fighting because he feels responsible for the death of a sparring partner. Abrán learns that he was adopted and that his mother was Cynthia Johnson, a talented painter. She dies from cancer shortly after Abrán discovers the truth about his birth. He sets out to discover the identity of his father. He agrees to return to the ring in exchange for information about his father and is thus drawn into the world of Albuquerque wealth and politics. Two women are attracted to him: the mayor, who represents the power and glamour that can be his as a successful fighter, and a poor nurse from a small village in the mountains, who represents a simple life of service to others and the traditional Mexican values of family and land. In the end, Abrán discovers that it is not through biology that one gains one’s identity; rather, he learns, one defines oneself through the choices one makes.

Ben Chávez

Ben Chávez (CHAH-vehs), Abrán’s biological father, a writer and teacher at the University of New Mexico. A poor boy from the barrio, Ben fell in love with Cynthia Johnson, an Anglo girl and the mother of Abrán, but her father insisted that the baby be put up for adoption, and she never revealed the identity of her lover to anyone. Even though he learns that Abrán is his son, he respects Cynthia’s silence. Ben is an observer with a compulsion to write, rather than a man of action. He represents the artist in society, and through his stories he tells people who they are; his art enables them to understand themselves and their values.

Frank Dominic

Frank Dominic, a wealthy attorney running for mayor of Albuquerque. Although he was a high-school classmate of Ben and Cynthia, Dominic is unaware that Ben was...

(The entire section is 814 words.)