The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The characters of the novel are developed not through the guidance of the overseeing narrator, as in most traditional realistic novels, but rather through the things that they say about one another and through what they reveal about themselves in their testimonies. The characters are firmly grounded in the popular culture of mid-twentieth century Argentine society, revealing the powerful influence of films and the popular lyrics and music of the tango. The characterization of Juan Carlos Etchepare as the supreme Latin lover is a reflection of the popular stereotypes presented in the films of the period and is juxtaposed to the “truth” of Juan Carlos’s experience with the women who have loved him and the men who have envied him.

The portrayal of the desperate, pitiful attempts of these characters to find fulfillment and happiness through love is contrasted to the idealized view of life presented in the mass media. Each of the sixteen episodes of Heartbreak Tango is preceded by quotations from films, tango lyrics, or commercial advertisements—quotations that reveal a romanticized view of reality. In an effective mixture of dreadful seriousness and ironic ridiculousness, Big Fanny murders the father of her unborn child, and Bette Davis laments, “I wish I could say I was sorry.” Nené romantically mourns the loss of her unrequited love, refusing to admit that she has settled for the kind of life that she has always had: marriage to an...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Juan Carlos Etchepare

Juan Carlos Etchepare (eht-cheh-PAH-reh), a ladies’ man who is suffering from tuberculosis. Although Juan Carlos is the center of the novel, the reader cannot with total confidence know his personality and character. The novel begins after his death, and the reader must reconstruct Juan Carlos through unreliable sources: the letters and memories of persons who loved him too much and understood him too little, his brief comments remembered years after the fact, and a few of his love letters, the sincerity of which is at least suspect. Tall, dark, and handsome, Juan Carlos is in a sense a walking cliché. He saw himself as a ladies’ man of the Hollywood matinee variety, as did many of the women whom he encountered. Beneath the arrogant playboy exterior is a sensitive, frightened man who becomes more frightened and more in need of true understanding and compassion as he approaches death. The reader’s task in untangling events is not so much to understand what really happened as to understand who Juan Carlos really was.

Nélida (Nené) Enriqueta Fernández

Nélida (Nené) Enriqueta Fernández (NEH-lee-dah neh-NEH ehn-ree-KEH-tah fehr-NAHN-dehs), a married woman who had been in love with Juan Carlos. Compared to most of her friends stuck back in the dusty hinterlands town of...

(The entire section is 612 words.)