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.