Helio Cara, the protagonist and central character of the novel. Helio starts out in the novel as a barber in the huge Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. By no means a successful or extraordinarily happy man, Helio nevertheless has the rudiments of life: a job, a girlfriend, and basic acceptance by others. All of this is jeopardized when he falls off a cliff and severely damages his face. Forced to wear a white handkerchief over his face to conceal injuries that other people find repulsive, Helio at first tries to go on with his life as if nothing had happened, but his coworkers and his girlfriend repudiate him, unable to adjust to or to cope with his injury. Helio petitions the city’s medical establishment for aid, but he is told that although his face can be physically repaired, his medical insurance will not cover the cost of making him look attractive once again. Helio decides to return to the town where he was born. Motivated to a new brilliance, Helio self-reliantly proceeds to reconstruct his own face using a mixture of medical guides, folk medicine, and the ingenuity of his own mind. At the end of the novel, Helio has repaired the damage to himself, both physical and psychological, and is ready to meet the challenge of living in society once again.
Lula, Helio’s mistress, who had been living with him at the time of the accident. Lula leaves Helio even though she still has some tenderness for him; the burden of coping with his injury is too much for her.
Mario, Helio’s coworkers at the barbershop. After the accident, they feel empathy for him that is a vestige of their former camaraderie, but they realize that because of the prejudices of their customers, Helio cannot be kept on at the shop.
Cardoso, a barber. Helio’s former boss at the shop, Cardoso had taught the younger man to read and had generally acclimated him to the ways of the overwhelming metropolis of Rio de Janeiro.
Senhora Cara, Helio’s mother. She dies just before the accident. Helio is bitter toward her for having remarried shortly after his father’s death.
Julião, Helio’s stepfather. Helio resents Julião for taking the place of his father. Long before Helio’s face is injured, he suffers psychically from the trauma of his mother’s marriage to Julião.
Godoy, a doctor and hospital administrator. Godoy tells Helio of the insuperable obstacles facing his effort to have his face repaired courtesy of government funding. Later, after Helio has succeeded in convincingly reconstructing his face, Godoy sends Helio a letter at his shack in the hinterlands, presumably offering further help in the treatment.
Helio Cara, the hero and narrator of the book, is a young, lower-middle-class Brazilian man. Although the book shows Helio only after the accident has occurred, readers are offered glimpses of his earlier life. Helio appears to be an absolutely ordinary person; there is nothing unusual about his life at all. This changes after his face is damaged. Although the accident is a tragedy, completely destabilizing Helio’s life and robbing him of all that he cherishes, it has the curious side effect of making him for the first time an unusual person.
Initially, Helio appears only unusual in his torment, as he is pushed further and further to the margins of society. As he commences his heroic quest, however, Helio is revealed as determined and capable. Although he possesses a substandard education and seems to have only a normal mentality, Helio’s misfortune stimulates him to notable feats of imagination and intellect. Helio finds that he has the foresight and the competence to literally re-envisage himself, to re-create his own face, which, from the very beginning of the novel, symbolizes not just the physical lineaments of his facial features but also his inner soul, which has suffered far more severe damage. Additionally, Helio, working only from the limited amount of verbal knowledge that Cardoso...
(The entire section is 1,399 words.)