The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Valenzuela’s characters both are split and merge into one another: The semiotician refers to himself as “we”; the patient he studies has a twin sister and dreams her lover Alfredo Navoni’s dreams as if they were her own. When Pepe travels in the mountains through Mexico, he has access to the knowledge of his patient. His consciousness is no longer distinguishable from hers, even though she is absent.

Pepe, the main character, calls himself a “humble professor of semiotics.” He justifies his bizarre behavior to himself and to his jealous wife by claiming that he is merely engaging in a psychoanalytic investigation of his patient. Although he is blind to her political identity, he exploits what he believes to be true regarding her knowledge of his identity: She does not know that he is giving her therapy; she does not know who he is; she does not know that he is the same person every time he sees her, thanks to his disguises. His search ends when he finds her in a vision, dead, and thereby finds himself. This self-knowledge is followed by the experience of torture.

Valenzuela shows the reader what the characters cannot see; she guides the reader to the outermost edges of her characters and forces the reader to see them in their sociohistoric environments. Although the characters do not know one another’s identities, the reader of the novel does have access to this information.

The revolutionary in exile never identifies...

(The entire section is 552 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


AZ, the protagonist and main narrator, known by his initials and also called Pepe (PEH-peh) but not given a full name. He is an Argentine semiotics professor and psychoanalyst living in Barcelona. Although he is married, he is obsessed with a woman referred to only as “she,” whom he purports to analyze without her knowledge. Visiting her late at night in a number of disguises, including female costumes, AZ has sexual relations with her, secretly tapes her conversations and associations, and transcribes them as part of his narration. Professionally pompous (often lapsing as narrator into the royal “we”), he pretends to himself that his love interest in her is all in the line of psychoanalytic duty. AZ becomes so involved with the woman that his own identity begins to merge with hers, especially when he loses track of her and leaves Barcelona to search for her in Latin America. AZ’s quest is as much for self as for the other, and he also theorizes that he is searching for death. AZ feels a typically Argentine alienation from his Latin American identity, but his return to Latin America and Argentina brings him closer to his nationality: He is absorbed by the ritual magic he witnesses in Mexico and by the guerrilla operation he joins in Buenos Aires while standing in line with a multitude of his compatriots, who are expecting a miracle. Sometime after the miracle (the revelation of “her” radiating light from a glass coffin), AZ, who has been relatively apolitical, is tortured by the authorities because of his previous association with “her.”


She, a curly-haired Argentine living in political exile in Barcelona and working as a...

(The entire section is 708 words.)