The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Rodrigo S. M., the self-declared narrator of the novel, is the voice of self-consciousness, in counterpoint to Macabéa’s almost total lack of self-consciousness. He observes the oblivion of his protagonist, and by writing her story goads her into a kind of self-knowledge. The question of the narrative voice in this novel is complex, for Clarice Lispector’s own voice is also heard. At times, the reader hears her directly; at times, she can be detected behind or through Rodrigo’s words; at times, she seems to be speaking through Macabéa; and at times, her silence is as expressive as her voice.

In the naming of Macabéa and Olímpico, Lispector reveals her ironic playfulness. The Maccabees were a family of Jewish patriots and rulers in the second and first centuries b.c.e. who led the Jewish people in their struggle for freedom against Syrian rule. Their recapture of the Temple in Jerusalem is marked by the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. The triumphs, power, and fame of the Maccabees are in direct contrast to their namesake’s poverty, vulnerability, and obscurity. Olímpico, of course, suggests Mount Olympus and the Olympic Games—the classical spirit of Greek competition. Olímpico competes, but he does it furtively and criminally. He is an accomplished petty thief and is proud of his secret murder of a rival.

Lispector seems to have created Macabéa as a primitive alter-ego. Like Lispector, Macabéa comes...

(The entire section is 432 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Rodrigo S. M.

Rodrigo S. M., the intensely self-conscious narrator who struggles to write the story of Macabéa. He describes himself as an outsider who is essentially classless, as he is considered strange by the upper class, viewed with suspicion by the bourgeoisie, and avoided by the lower class. His financial situation is such that he does not have to worry about where his next meal is coming from. After having caught a glimpse of a girl from the Northeast, he becomes obsessed with creating a life for her. His obsessive self-reflection and marginality suggest to the reader his antecedents in the narrators of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and in Fyodor Dostoevski’s Underground Man. He declares that his writing of the narrative is accompanied by a nagging toothache resulting from an exposed nerve and by the music of a street-corner violinist.


Macabéa, a nineteen-year-old orphan from the northeastern Brazilian province of Alagoas. Her parents died when she was an infant, and she was reared by an unloving and abusive aunt. Barely literate, her only education beyond three years of primary schooling was a short typing course. She has migrated to Rio de Janeiro, where she works in an office. Macabéa, born under an unlucky star, covers her blotchy face with a layer of white powder and suffers from a chronic dripping nose and a hacking cough; she emits an unpleasant body odor, for she rarely washes, and she...

(The entire section is 561 words.)