All the characters except Ayres represent specific types of individuals that populate Machado de Assis’ novels. They are what they are fated to be. Although a quarter of a century passes and each main character develops, none changes roles or personae. Counselor Ayres, however, has been assigned a multidimensional role by Machado de Assis. The preface advises that Ayres, now deceased, was the author of an extended manuscript, six parts of which make up the notebooks labeled “Memorial” and a seventh part that is Esau and Jacob. The “Memorial” was a journal in which Ayres recorded almost daily observations, criticisms, and even anecdotes, some of which are actually included verbatim in the novel. Most of this journal was presumably used only to record notes that were then transferred to the plot of the novel.
In addition to being the silent outside observer, Ayres is the most important character in the plot of the novel itself. He is the central participant in all important events, often called on to use his diplomatic skills to mediate between conflicting factions. In his role as elder statesman, Ayres also brings the wisdom and counsel of the Western European literary and philosophical tradition to this sometimes turbulent and unrefined society.
Being both character and author further allows Ayres to function as the omniscient narrator of the novel. Having infinite awareness and complete knowledge, he can record the...
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