Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 318
The protagonist, Martín Marco, is down on his luck during the events depicted in the novel, which is set in 1940s Spain. Rarely finding work because of his political beliefs and the scarcity of writing jobs, Martín lives off the charity of his family and friends but often squanders their money. Generally disillusioned by the fascist control of Spain and the war that is devastating Europe, he sometimes sinks into existential despair.
Filo, Martín’s sister, helps him by giving him meals. She is just turning 34. Married to Roberto González, she has five children. Despite his hard work, his earnings as an accountant are barely adequate to support the family. Robert, who values respectability, also resents Martín, whom he considers lazy and spoiled, for constantly asking their family for help.
Pablo Alonso, Martín’s friend, lets him stay in his home rent free.
Nati Robles is a former girlfriend from university days. Then politically active, she studied law and pushed for women’s rights, but has since set aside her Republican leanings in order to work.
Doña Rosa owns La Delicia, the café where Martín and his friends hang out. Perpetually bad-tempered, she ejects non-paying customers and sometimes tells her staff to beat them. Her pro-Franco politics clash with her patrons’ opposing beliefs.
Elvira, an aging prostitute, is one of the café’s regulars. She spends much of her time reminiscing about her unhappy life, including childhood parental abuse and a homicidal father, who killed her mother and left her orphaned. She has never emerged from poverty.
The wealthy Doña Ramona Bragado owns a dairy, but on the side she is a procuress who sees sex as strictly business. Doña Jesusa owns a brothel that Martín frequents. He had gotten to know her through his mother, who has passed away. Purita is a prostitute at the brothel.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 686
Martín Marco (mahr-TEEN), a chronically impoverished leftist intellectual and freelance writer of articles for daily newspapers in Madrid, Spain. Martín is first seen being thrown out of Doña Rosa’s café for his inability to pay his bill. His nighttime walks through post-civil war Madrid serve as the novel’s principal thread, linking the city’s dispersed locales and its plethora of lower-middle-class denizens. Martín’s republican sympathies oppose him to Francisco Franco’s fascist régime, and his obvious disaffection with Spanish life of the 1940’s may be a contributing factor to his apparent growing dementia. His aimless café-hopping and frequent association with prostitutes mirror the dispirited inertia and moral lassitude of the era. Although Martín’s political leanings tend toward the espousal of a collective responsibility for all Spaniards, he is not above accepting, or even expecting, handouts in the stagnant economy in which all of his fellow citizens must make do. Martín’s emergent mental unbalance is most clearly in evidence in the novel’s final section. Rambling and disoriented, he visits his mother’s grave and contemplates becoming part of the societal establishment he so despises.
Filo (FEE-loh), Martín’s kindhearted sister. She and her accountant husband, Roberto González, have five young children. Barely able to make ends meet with the paltry salary Roberto brings home, Filo must also contend with Martín’s constant expectation of leftover food as well as the intense mutual dislike the brothers-in-law feel toward one another. On the day before she turns thirty-four, Filo fears that Martín and Roberto will forget her birthday, as they did the previous year, and that she will again feel unimportant and neglected.
Roberto González (gohn-SAH-lehs), Filo’s husband, whose salary as an accountant for a perfume shop and a bakery barely keeps his large family clothed and fed. Roberto has always harbored an intense dislike for Martín, whom he considers arrogant and lazy. Martín calls Roberto “that beast” and despises his petty-bourgeois temperament and lifestyle. Roberto must ask his employer for an advance in order to buy Filo a birthday present and his children a new ball. Despite what Martín thinks, Roberto loves his family dearly and does his best to provide for them in hard economic times. Filo defends him as a decent and honorable man.
Doña Rosa, the mean-spirited owner of a café frequented by Martín and many other characters. Doña Rosa, fond of screaming at employees and customers alike, is not above watering down her drinks to save on precious ingredients during Spain’s postwar rationing. Doña Rosa’s recommendation that her waiters give Martín a sound thrashing for not being able to pay his tab provides a good glimpse into her typical behavior. In addition to having little use for the down-on-their-luck types who, whatever she may think about them, keep her establishment afloat, Doña Rosa is staunchly profascist and greets the news of Adolf Hitler’s World War II setbacks with considerable trepidation.
Señorita Elvira (ehl-VEE-rah), an aging prostitute who spends so many listless hours in Doña Rosa’s café that she is considered by the clientele to be part of its furniture. Orphaned young, after her father was executed for killing her mother, Elvira took up with a merchant to escape her crushing poverty. Once he started beating her, she left him for a life of prostitution. Elvira’s situation is undoubtedly one of the most pathetic and dire of any character in the book. She basically subsists from day to day, dreaming of a quiet death in some hospital room near a radiator.
Doña Ramona Bragado
Doña Ramona Bragado (brah-GAH-doh), a shrewd businesswoman who turns a large cash settlement from a past tryst with a nobleman into a lifelong nest egg. She purchases a dairy with her unethical gains and supplements her steady income by acting as a procuress of impoverished women for financially secure gentlemen.
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