Onetti presents in A Brief Life an interesting, three-dimensional protagonist. By splitting the character’s personality, the author is able to make a more profound study of human identity.
Onetti concentrates on Brausen’s psychological problems, fears, and fantasies, rather than on a narrative description of his life. For this reason, Brausen’s internal life, depicted through his reflections and through passages of stream of consciousness, predominates over action in the book.
Juan María Brausen, like many of Onetti’s protagonists, is an imaginative man who refuses to develop the practical qualities that his world demands of him. Brausen is an alienated, existentially tortured man, an outsider. He knows that the world in which he lives is full of falsehood, but he does not fight it. He adopts a skeptical and resigned attitude. He invents new lies, new identities. Brausen creates other selves through which he evades his anxiety, taking refuge in his fantasy as a self-defense mechanism, but he does not undergo change in the course of the novel. His life has changed with his wife’s surgery and the consequent trauma, but Brausen has the same wandering attitude from the beginning to the end. He is consistently a failure.
The noises and voices to which Brausen listens through the wall of his room invite him to enter the world of sex, a world from which his wife’s scars have separated him. Brausen transformed into...
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