The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The characters in Barren Lives are individuals who also portray typical types of the backlands in which the novel takes place. The adults have no surname and the children have no given names, suggesting their function as archetypes. Like the backlanders they represent, Ramos’s characters are uneducated and illiterate, superstitious and fearful, and barely capable of using language to express themselves. Yet Ramos creates sympathetic characters through his use of shifting perspective. Vitória, the younger boy, the older boy, and even the dog each seem to tell the story from their own perspectives in the chapters that bear their names. Fabiano likewise narrates the “Fabiano” chapter, but his point of view dominates four other chapters and is represented in three others. Such use of point of view reveals the inner thoughts and feelings of each character, even though that character is unable to articulate those thoughts and feelings to the other characters.

Fabiano is a typical backlander herdsman, at once the lord of his family and the victim of the landowners for whom he works, simultaneously highly skilled at his job and frightened by his superiors. He plods through life with little imagination. What small dreams he does have are beyond his reach.

Vitória is the smart one in the family, able to figure sums by using seeds of different kinds and sizes. Her one dream is to have a real bed, a bed made of leather stretched across a...

(The entire section is 446 words.)