The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

With the exception of Menelao, Sainz puts little emphasis on character development. Even the main character is similar to his friends—middle-class teenage boys with a language directed only at their peers and designed to exclude the adults. Their preoccupations are typical of those of the adolescent of any society.

Because the novel is meant to present the generation gap from the point of view of the young, they are allowed to represent themselves in the superficial way in which one expects them to act toward one another and toward those outside their age group and social class. The adults are little more than caricatures, in some cases (Menelao’s grandmother, Gisela’s aunts, Tricardio’s father) farcical and overdrawn, even granting Sainz’s intention to show the young characters’ total lack of understanding of their elders. The female characters, such as Nacar and Bikina, remain as mysterious to the reader as they are to the boys. Sainz’s departure from the conventions of realism is signaled by the characters’ names, which are highly eccentric, not typically Mexican or Hispanic. In the case of Menelao, the allusion to Menelaus, Helen of Troy’s husband, adds to the humor. (Tricardio’s father calls him “Mentholado” in one instance.) Other names (Vulbo, Tricardio) add to the farcical characterizations and contrast sharply with the geographical accuracy of the characters’ travels through the city.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Menelao (meh-neh-LOH), a restless, confused, and somewhat fearful teenager who resists both parental and religious dicta. Much of the novel focuses on the sexual awakening of Menelao and Gisela, his girlfriend, and on the seemingly aimless activities of Menelao and his group of friends. It is evident that he struggles with many factors in his life. His mother and father were divorced when Menelao was four years old, and he does not see his mother again until he is in high school. Ambivalence marks his relationships with both his mother and his father. Menelao is living in his mother’s apartment, and he would prefer that she not return to Mexico City. His relationship with his father is also troubled, with much of the friction between the two growing out of the dislike that Menelao and his stepmother, Matriarca, feel for each other. None of the adults in the novel sanctions or understands the relationship between Menelao and Gisela, and even Menelao’s friends view it one-dimensionally. Brief, interspersed passages, however, suggest that Menelao seeks more than merely sexual satisfaction from Gisela. His activities—the meetings with Gisela and with friends, the fights with a rival, Tricardio, and the interactions with his parents and with other adults—are all recounted, usually ambiguously, through conversation, tape, and letter.


Gisela (hee-SEH-lah), Menelao’s girlfriend, who awakens sexually over the course of the novel. She is seemingly timid and naïve, but her bathing in front of an open door and her confident swimming in the presence of a floundering Menelao intimate strong latent feelings. Her parents and her two aunts disapprove of Gisela’s relationship with Menelao, fearing, it seems, Gisela’s loss of innocence.


Vulbo (

(The entire section is 779 words.)