The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Just as the novel represents an attempt to relieve an unspecified obsession, the characters are portrayed as engaged in a struggle to free themselves from their own mysterious preoccupations. Throughout the novel, Bruno seeks the thread of continuity that links the lives of Alejandra, Fernando, and Martín, primarily to understand finally the reasons for Alejandra’s act of killing her father and herself.

The contradictions of Alejandra’s behavior are not resolved in the text of the novel. Although her family has always opposed the regime of Perón, she devotes her life to satisfying the sexual appetite of the Perónists. She makes love with Martín, for whom she has a strange, obsessive fascination, yet she always remains distant and mysterious. At the same time, she engages in an incestuous relationship with her father, and then murders him and destroys herself in a ritualistic immolation.

Fernando’s lust for his daughter is barely explained. She bears a striking resemblance to Fernando’s mother and to her own mother, Georgina, who was the daughter of Patricio, the brother of Fernando’s mother. Bruno describes Fernando as an antiphilosopher, a nihilist who hates everything bourgeois and despises the world for its destruction of the aristocratic, elitist life that his family once enjoyed.

Martín is portrayed as a young man who is trying to find some explanation for life itself. Martín’s attempt to discover a hidden logic in the mysterious behavior of Alejandra creates the impression that these two characters represent opposite poles of human existence, the ordered and the chaotic, the logical and the contradictory, the rational and the irrational, oppositions that suggest that Martín and Alejandra are archetypal characters, incarnations of what Sábato understands as essentially masculine and essentially feminine characteristics.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Martín del Castillo

Martín del Castillo (mahr-TEEN dehl kahs-TEE-yoh), the sensitive young man whose relationship with the mysterious Alejandra Vidal Olmos provides the focus of the book. Martín, seventeen years old when he meets Alejandra in 1953, hates his mother and has no respect for his father; he lives on his own, in poverty. Until he meets Alejandra, he regards women as either pure and heroic or as gossiping deceivers. He has some weeks of happiness with Alejandra, but his enigmatic lover finally casts him aside brutally. His attraction to her is like the fascination exerted by a dark abyss, and she takes him to the verge of suicide. His attempt, with Bruno’s help, to heal himself and to understand what has happened to him and to Alejandra provides the intellectual problem of the novel.

Alejandra Vidal Olmos

Alejandra Vidal Olmos (ah-leh-HAHN-drah vee-DAHL OHL-mohs), the daughter of a decayed branch of an old family of the Argentine oligarchy. Alejandra is eighteen years old when she meets Martín and is an exotic beauty: She has long black hair with reddish tones, dark gray-green eyes, a pale face, a large mouth, and high cheekbones. She is a mysterious figure, exerting an almost occult influence on Martín. He never understands her puzzling personality and enigmatic lifestyle. She lives in the old family home, once a mansion but now a ruin located in an area of factories and tenements. Her family is lost in a time warp. Its members possess the manners and memories of the old Argentina; their aristocratic gentility only brings ruin in the materialistic modern world. Alejandra realizes that her family lives in a world that no longer exists, yet she detests the new Argentine elite. Alejandra’s beauty is vitalized...

(The entire section is 785 words.)