Characters Discussed

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Carmen, an attractive, quick-tempered, thieving gypsy girl who seduces, torments, and eventually tries to drop Don José, as she had done with several other lovers before. As a gypsy woman, she is without rights, lives by her own code, and belongs nowhere. This exotic femme fatale leads men, through her fickleness and infidelities, not only to distraction but also to destruction. When she slashes the face of another girl working in the cigarette factory during an argument, she persuades the corporal of the guard, Don José, to let her escape but allows him to pay the price. She does this shrewdly; having discovered his Basque origin, she addresses him in his own tongue to win his sympathies. Carmen is also a free spirit who cannot be tamed, a girl with a strong sense of independence who cannot commit herself to any single relationship: To her, love, certainly within the bonds of marriage, represents servitude. She therefore refuses Don José’s offer to escape with him to America after he kills two men and becomes an outlaw, all on her account. She explains that no one will determine the course of her life. She does so even though she realizes that such refusal and her admission that she no longer loves Don José will lead inevitably to her own death. Remaining true to her nature until the end, she adds up to more than a promiscuous gypsy.

Don José

Don José (hoh-SAY), also known as Don José Lizzarrabengoa (lee-zah-rrah-behn-GOH-ah) or Don José Navarro (nah-VAH-rroh), a handsome, well-born Basque cavalryman from Navarre. At first, he is an innocent, honest, kind, and unadventurous man launched on a promising military career. As punishment for releasing Carmen after the knife incident, he accepts his demotion from corporal to private and a prison term, and he refuses to escape when Carmen sends him a metal file and money in jail. His passion for Carmen drives him to the angry killing of one of his officers, another of Carmen’s lovers. With his military career now ruined, Don José deserts the army and joins a band of outlaws, by arrangement of Carmen, who spies for this group. Don José is unhappy in his criminal life, which is out of character for him, and is tormented by his fickle but increasingly compelling lover. In a fit of irrational rage and jealousy, he eventually kills Garcia (gahr-SEE-uh), the one-eyed brutal leader of the smugglers’ band, after learning that Garcia is also Carmen’s first husband—even though by now Garcia would have been willing to waive any claims on her for a small amount of money. On discovering that, during his absence on plundering and robbing assignments across Spain, Carmen has taken up with Lucas, a bullfighter in Córdoba, Don José follows her and again pleads with her to be faithful to him and to accompany him to America to start a new life. Carmen claims not to love him anymore even while recognizing his right to punish her with death according to gypsy tradition. Don José’s final act is to ask a monk to pray for the soul of one about to die. After killing Carmen, Don José turns himself in to the constabulary and awaits execution. He comes through as a weak yet passionate, idealistic, and even honorable man.

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