The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Within a framework of interwoven descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of the river and of the Calemar Valley, a series of human incidents are recounted, which feature many of the villagers and their visitors. Although most characters are not developed very fully, and it is the river itself (the golden serpent, as seen from above) which predominates, the story is structured around the adventures and personalities of a few individuals: An engineer, the raftsmen (Arturo, Roge, and the narrator), and the wise older folk (Matías, Juan Plaza, and others) are recurrent characters in the series of episodes.

The first major character introduced, the engineer from Lima, Osvaldo Martínez de Calderón, passes through the village on his way to explore the region, and his visit is an occasion for descriptions and explanations of customs that are strange to him (and to the reader). The stranger asks questions, and his host, Don Matías, tells of their lives as ferrymen, their exploits and myths, of Colluash the river monster, and of Roge’s foolhardy swim across the swollen river. Introduced in the second chapter, Osvaldo begins his survey of the region in the fourth. His new city clothes and life-style begin to seem insufficient, his belief that modern science has mastered everything is shaken, and he begins to understand native ways; he even chews coca to overcome high altitude sickness, although he previously rejected it with revulsion. Osvaldo returns in the fifteenth chapter, tattered and matured by his experiences yet still unadapted to the harsh environment. He suffers from mosquitoes, is made nervous by coca. He seems closer to the villagers, a man more like them, more able now to cope with the ferocity of the land, yet still a harbinger of unwelcome modernization and change.

Through the character of Osvaldo, Ciro Alegría is able to explain the attraction of Calemar without seeming pedantic or judgmental. Osvaldo is appalled by the violence and...

(The entire section is 807 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lucas Vilca

Lucas Vilca (VEEL-kah), a young cholo (part Indian, part white) from the hamlet of Calemar, located in an Andean valley in northern Peru that is bordered by the mighty Marañón River. Lucas is a ferryman—transporting travelers on balsa rafts—and small coca farmer. As narrator, Lucas voices the cholos’ deep respect for the land and the river and their identification with nature. He pines for Rogelio Romero’s wife, Florinda, after Rogeleio dies, and he invokes the magical aid of the coca leaf to get her. When she becomes his wife, Lucas believes that the coca gave her to him.

Matías Romero

Matías Romero (maht-TEE-ahs roh-MEH-roh), the head ferryman and owner of the largest house in the Calemar valley. From his long experience, old Matías tells heroic tales of the raftsmen’s exploits. He is attentive to nature’s signs and has presentiments before the deaths of his son and of Don Osvaldo Martínez. Don Matías also predicts a disastrous landslide by the look of the slopes of the ravine overhanging Calemar. Rogelio’s fate depresses Matías, and he becomes less active, passing the title of head ferryman on to his elder son, Arturo. The old man’s eyes, however, still twinkle under the broad rim of his hat as he tells his stories.

Arturo Romero

Arturo Romero (ahr-TEW-roh), a brawny boatman, the son of Matías. Arturo is smitten with Lucinda at the yearly festival in the town of Sartín and, with rural Andean directness, invites her to return to Calemar with him. They all have to leave Sartín in a hurry when he and his similarly forthright brother Rogelio beat two state troopers who are harassing them. Arturo’s prudence is seen on a long raft trip, when he tries unsuccessfully to dissuade Rogelio from taking the rapids at a dangerous water level. He is deeply affected by Rogelio’s death there. Arturo’s rural naïveté comes out when he chases a puma that has been terrorizing the village and becomes convinced that it is a magic animal because it looks blue to him in the blaze from...

(The entire section is 909 words.)