by Cecile Pineda

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Characters Discussed

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Helio Cara

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.


Luis and


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

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.

The Characters

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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...

(This entire section contains 590 words.)

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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 has provided him, is able to read medical manuals and piece together the methods he needs to effect his face’s repair, and he is able to find all the practical materials that he needs. At the beginning of the book, Helio is painfully average; at the end, he has made something inspiring and exemplary out of his own pain.

Helio is the narrative center of the book, and the only character fully revealed; all the other characters elucidate aspects of his identity. Lula, his former mistress, represents the social acceptance and validation that Helio loses after the accident. When a prospective meeting with her is pictured at the end of the novel, what is conveyed is Helio’s revitalized capacity to engage with his fellow human beings. More minor characters, such as Helio’s coworkers Luis and Mario, play much the same function on a diminished scale.

Cardoso is one of the few auxiliary characters pictured positively; in teaching Helio to read and initiating him into the ways of the world, he is one of the few constructive models that Helio can call upon as he begins his quest for self-healing. Godoy, the doctor, starts off as an antagonistic representative of insensitive scientific authority, but by the end of the book, he is ready to assist Helio in his effort. This can be seen as symbolizing the willingness of an indifferent society to suspend its recalcitrance toward those who are suffering after they have proved their merit, as has Helio.

Helio’s mother, dead father, and stepfather Julião represent the deeper level of his childhood, which is gradually revealed in the course of the novel. The cruel death of the father and his swift replacement by the hated Julião underscore the fact that Helio’s facial injury is but an overt metaphor for a kind of primal wound already inflicted upon him by this childhood trauma. Although Helio’s face had been intact before the accident, his psyche was badly injured. Helio’s self-healing operates on both the literal and psychological levels. This is demonstrated when he is finally able to come to grips with his father’s death even as he reaches the turning point in his odyssey of facial reconstruction.


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Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Deconstructing the Dominant Patriarchal Text: Cecile Pineda’s Narratives.” In Breaking Boundaries: Latina Writing and Critical Readings, edited by Asuncion Horno-Delgado et al. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. In the first discussion of Pineda to profit from the insights of contemporary literary theory, Bruce-Novoa discusses how Pineda encourages the reader to respond creatively to the plight of the protagonist of Face.

Clute, John. “Stitched Up.” Review of Face, by Cecile Pineda. The Times Literary Supplement, December 13, 1985, p. 1434. Clute understands the magnitude and the ambition of Pineda’s themes. He emphasizes their relationship to essential issues of identity and being. He is critical, however, of what he perceives to be the bland, innocuous nature of her presentation.

Cole, Diane. “The Pick of the Crop: Five First Novels.” Review of Face, by Cecile Pineda. Ms. 13 (April, 1985): 14-15. Pinpoints Pineda’s avoidance of sentimentality with potentially pathetic and maudlin subject material. Cole also mentions the novel’s complicated flashback and overvoice techniques, often slighted by other reviewers.

Colman, Cathy. Review of Face, by Cecile Pineda. The New York Times Book Review, April 28, 1985, p. 24. Discusses the primal terror of Helio’s experience. Colman, though, faults the novel for not developing more strong central characters.

Geeslin, Campbell. Review of Face, by Cecile Pineda. People Weekly 23 (April 1, 1985): 20. Geeslin offers a brief mention of the background of the novel, as well as a short plot synopsis. She likens the book to the work of Albert Camus’s in which “fate deals the hero catastrophic blows” but praises Pineda’s work as “surprisingly upbeat in its suggestion that man is indomitable.”

Johnson, David. “Face Value.” The Americas Review 19 (Summer, 1991): 73-93. Johnson discusses the imagery of masking in the novel, and the ideas of authenticity and inauthenticity it raises, as a Mexican American critique of modern consumer society.

Lowenkopf, Shelley. Review of Face, by Cecile Pineda. Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 23, 1985, pp. 2, 10. Emphasizes the stark force of the novel’s story. Also intelligently discusses the influence of Pineda’s stage experience on the construction of her fiction.




Critical Essays