The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Charles Portis’s protagonists are usually gentle, naïve fellows who drift artlessly through an absurd, often savage world. Since Portis’s fictional world is a comic one, the characters’ very innocence serves as their shield and as a comfort to the reader. Jimmy Burns, however, resembles Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn—the central characters in Portis’s second novel, True Grit (1968)—far more than he does the author’s other protagonists.

Jimmy is self-sufficient, competent (he can repair a clutch and perform other equally esoteric mechanical tasks), resourceful, brave, and loyal. He was a military policeman in the Marine Corps and saw combat in Korea. He is unaffected and approachable. He is extremely tolerant of others, but he does have his own code of conduct. For example, during his first encounter with the Jumping Jacks, he seems less offended by their insults and threats than by Beany Girl’s act of immodest urination. There are certain things, he thinks, that no decent woman will do, and that is one of them. Of course, Jimmy has his blind spots and shortcomings. It is so difficult for him to make a commitment to a member of the opposite sex that Louise Kurle, who experiences no such difficulties, finally transfers the matter of marriage from his to her own capable hands.

Although by no means one-dimensional, the other characters—as in Portis’s earlier fiction—are generally ruled by some particular obsession...

(The entire section is 543 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jimmy Burns

Jimmy Burns, the protagonist and narrator. A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, this former Marine military policeman who saw combat in Korea is now an expatriate, residing at the Posada Fausto in Mérida, in the Yucatán peninsula. Jimmy earns his living as a free-lance teamster and as an occasional tracer of lost persons. At one time, he also was a dealer in illicit Mayan artifacts. He accepts what he believes to be a routine job hauling supplies to an archaeological site, but it leads him into a jungle quest for two missing persons and a confrontation with the Jumping Jacks, a gang of dangerous hippies.

Refugio Bautista Osorio

Refugio Bautista Osorio, Jimmy’s stalwart friend and Mexican counterpart, a jack-of-all-trades. Refugio teams with Jimmy in his search for the mystical City of Dawn, a search to which the middle third of the novel is devoted. He fights bravely, and lethally, at Jimmy’s side in the climactic battle against the Jumping Jacks. Thereafter, he dates all occurrences as either before or after the night he and his gringo friend killed the “pagans.”

Rudy Kurle

Rudy Kurle, an investigator of extraterrestrial visitations. He spouts pseudoscientific babble about landings of flying saucers around the world and believes the City of Dawn to be a landing site for visitors from outer space. He takes voluminous notes, which he guards jealously. When he wanders off down the river and disappears, he becomes one of the missing persons Jimmy Burns must find.

Louise Kurle

Louise Kurle, supposedly Rudy’s wife and assistant, a helpful young woman with a degree in human dynamics. She is a social worker without portfolio; it is simply her nature to help everyone. Louise eventually...

(The entire section is 739 words.)