El Zarco, the Bandit

by Ignacio Manuel Altamirano

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

El Zarco

This bandit’s name translates as “light blue,” a reference to the color of his eyes, which lend him a generally charming appearance. He is in fact a violent and unpleasant man, whose sadism dictates that he takes great pleasure not only in murder but also in torture and in the aimless destruction of property. He has a calculating mind, as shown by his systematic seduction of Manuela with various gifts, but he also suffers from vanity and pride, which at first makes him susceptible to Manuela’s flirtations and later encourages him to overreach in trying to capture Pilar as well.

Doña Antonia

The mother of Manuela, this woman attempts to intimidate her daughter into complying with social norms out of a genuine concern for her happiness. She is not a strong character, as shown by her collapse in the face of her daughter's betrayal.


In his strong moral sentiments (as demonstrated by his challenging of the Mexican army officer), his stability of character (as demonstrated by his respectable persistence in pursuing Manuela), and his clarity of thought (as demonstrated when he recognizes that he is, in fact, in love with Pilar instead of Manuela), this blacksmith constitutes the perfect man, according to the mores of Mexican society in the second half of the nineteenth century. While he is seen as boring by Manuela, the security and respectability he represents are recognized by Pilar. Both racially and socially, he represents the underprivileged elements of Mexican society, and his success at the end of the novel symbolizes the increasing equality that this society aspired to at the times of this work’s publication.


Responsible where Manuela is not, Pilar’s aspirations are not for a life of excitement, but rather, for a safe and stable marriage, like that desired by Doña Antonia for her daughter. Despite her willingness to comply with gender stereotypes in this respect, Pilar is revolutionary where love is concerned. For instance, she chooses visit her lover when he is in prison, a transgressive decision that demonstrates her sincerity of feeling where her lover is concerned. Like Nicolas, she is moved by empathy when she sees her godsister on the road, but she does not insist on helping her when the latter demonstrates that she does not feel repentant for her former behavior.


Manuela has a lust for life that drives her to seek excitement in the danger that El Zarco represents. Her love for him seems genuine—she stays loyal to him, even when faced by the nasty realities of his banditry, and later when given the opportunity to return to the right side of the law during her encounter with Nicolas and Pilar. Modern readers cannot help but sympathize with Manuela’s desire for autonomy, even given her harsh treatment of her godsister and her suitor.

Martín Sánchez

Sanchez’ primary motive is revenge. His fury at El Zarco for murdering his family members drives him to a military campaign against the bandits. Here, he is successful due to his ambition and military skill. Even when the bandits initially escape him, this merely redoubles his determination to have his vengeance—a determination in which due process and other human rights are not important.

El Tigre

This character’s capabilities as a warrior are born out by his name, which translates as "the tiger." He is a violent and sadistic individual, who makes no effort to disguise his sexual attraction to Manuela. In fact, he seems to take pleasure in intimidating her by telling her of this attraction.

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