The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Mallea excels in portraying “closed” characters who are at war with themselves or somehow imprisoned within the confines of their own consciousness. The inner drama of Ágata Cruz is revealed and symbolized in her name (which translates literally as “agate cross”). What is cold and hard in Ágata is in conflict with her passion and her need for sacrifice. Ágata’s passivity, her limited emotional development, her narrowness of perspective, and, above all, her awkwardness and shyness, are at war with the intensity of her need to live life to the utmost and to make life meaningful. The grim circumstances of her life and the predisposition of her own nature doom her to defeat, but Mallea succeeds in making the reader identify with Ágata’s struggle and empathize with her. In spite of the melodramatic contrast between Ágata’s “extraordinary beauty” and her withdrawn and pessimistic character, Mallea succeeds in making Ágata a believable heroine.

Ágata is described in terms of death, recalling the parched landscape of the beginning: “While in bed, her slender body at rest, her face white against a bedspread a thousand years old, her eyes devoid of inner scenery, her limp fingers relaxed over the material they rested on, everything in her suggested a corpse, with the exception of that knot which from the depth of her being still insisted on having hidden rights.” In a conversation with Sotero, Ágata inadvertently reveals her inner...

(The entire section is 450 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ágata Cruz

Ágata Cruz (AH-gah-tah krews), the protagonist, a once strikingly beautiful, fair-skinned, dark-haired woman, grown pallid and harder-featured from the frustration of her barren fifteen years of married life on unproductive farms in southern Argentina. She was reared in a similarly drab setting by her widowed father, developed a need to escape, and for that purpose accepted the marriage proposal of Nicanor, whom she did not love. Life with Nicanor is even less sociable than it was with her father, stifling her inner passion. When she is thirty-five years old, Ágata’s anguish reaches a point of crisis. Seeking to end it all, she spends a freezing winter night outdoors and leaves doors and windows open during winter when Nicanor is inside delirious with fever. After his death from freezing, she falls into a brief affair with Sotero. With him, Ágata is able to get out of her intense, tortured subjectivity and thereby knows fleeting happiness. When Sotero callously discards her, though, she again takes up her doomed quest for self. It leads her back to the town in which she was reared, where she ends up as a street person, roaming in closed concentration on her personal void. Ágata’s suicidal tendencies are restrained by the fear that the emptiness of her earthly existence will persist after death.

Nicanor Cruz

Nicanor Cruz (nee-KAH-nohr), a dry, unimaginative landowner who has sunk into defeat and resentment. A failure as a farmer, Nicanor has to abandon...

(The entire section is 645 words.)