The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien Characters

Oscar Hijuelos

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As a title, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien is a misnomer, or at least misleading. With an expansive, rhapsodic style, the novel celebrates fecundity, but it does not give equal time or attention to all fourteen sisters. Emilio, though not born until more than a third of the book is finished, is the object of as much narrative interest as any of the other O’Brien offspring. The first O’Brien child is old enough to be mother to the youngest, whom she in fact suckles as an infant.

Margarita is a creature of exquisite, insatiable longing, through sexual and romantic trials that span the twentieth century. Emilio is an Olympic philanderer whose brief brush with vulgar glamour suffuses the story with melancholy over mutability. He is graced by an acquaintance with Errol Flynn and enshrined in celluloid. Rather than three-dimensional personalities, most of the other O’Briens are types, for whom a simple set of traits suffices: Helen is a beauty, Irene “ever-plump” and omnivorous, Veronica compassionate, Violeta “pleasure-bound and promiscuous.”

Similarly, the non-O’Briens in the novel are foils to and extensions of the story’s central figures. Lester Thompson, the wealthy sadist whom Margarita marries, is a cad who serves to test and reveal his young wife’s qualities. Leslie Howard, the gentle, loving pilot she marries when she is ninety, enables the plot to circle back to Margarita’s girlish dreams of...

(The entire section is 540 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Emilio Montez O’Brien

Emilio Montez O’Brien, the youngest child and only son of Nelson O’Brien and Mariela Montez O’Brien. Reared and coddled in a household dominated by fifteen women, he serves in Italy during World War II. Following some success on the New York stage, he moves to Hollywood, where he makes forty-two B-films in five years. A vain philanderer, he is seduced by a Montana fan who marries him and soon ends his career in scandal. He flees to Alaska, where he finds true love with Jessica Brooks. Their joyous marriage ends in a fire that kills Jessica and their baby, Mary. Emilio overcomes drinking and depression to take up his father’s old profession, becoming “photographer to the stars” in Hollywood.

Margarita Montez O’Brien

Margarita Montez O’Brien, the eldest of the fifteen O’Brien children, born in 1902 on the ship taking her parents away from Cuba. Margarita’s erotic fantasies are first aroused when a barnstorming aviator is forced to stay at the O’Brien house. Her marriage to the wealthy but abusive Lester Thompson ends in divorce after sixteen years. One of the few siblings to maintain their mother’s language, she becomes a Spanish teacher. Still spry at the age of ninety, Margarita does volunteer work for the library, where she meets a gentle pilot named Leslie Howard and marries him, finally fulfilling her adolescent dream of love with a handsome flier.


(The entire section is 601 words.)