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...
(The entire section is 468 words.)