Octavio is a complex character who gambles compulsively and who is often absent from his family, yet he commands the respect of most readers for his sense of social justice and his dedication to his children. He functions as the radicalized worker who decides to fight the exploitation to which he has been subjected, and he provides an opportunity for the reader to learn something about the multiethnic unions that existed in Southern California throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. Octavio is the first-generation immigrant whose children will live better than he did thanks in large part to their parents’ hard work.
As a child, Nana de León Revueltas experiences discrimination because of her family’s poverty; at one point, she meets and identifies with an African American baseball player. Once married to Octavio, she provides a solid base for her family even as she struggles to better their living conditions by making contacts outside the closed circle of Simons workers. In many ways, she is a proto-feminist character who insists upon equal status with her husband, though always within the limits of traditional Mexican values.
Walter Simons inherits a family business from wealthy parents. Unlike his brother Joseph, Walter attempts to understand Mexican culture, not because he is socially progressive but because he wants to know how to better manage his workers. He believes that if the brickyard satisfies the basic needs of the workers and their families, the threat of unionism and strikes will not arise. As a representative of “benign capitalism,” Walter is the ideological foil to Octavio Revueltas and the union movement.
Malaquias de León is a precursor to Octavio’s radicalism in that he is the first character who challenges the arrangement at the brickyard and decides to leave its confines in order to seek economic independence.
Rosendo Guerrero functions as a vehicle for the indigenous elements of Chicano/Mexicano culture. He is in touch with the ancient traditions and myths that periodically assert themselves over and against the rationalization of society by capitalism and Anglo puritanism.
Arturo Revueltas represents the younger generation in the novel, already anglicized to a certain extent and less familiar with Mexican traditions. His difficulty with language learning typifies the problems of all children of non-English-speaking immigrants, yet the novel presents bilingualism itself as a gift.