There are three gravity points in this novel, each represented by a major character: the powerful, the disfranchised, and the spiritual. At the social level, they are created as stereotypes. At the individual level, each acquires his own voice through the technical device of the internal monologue. While this baroque characterization tends to disorient the reader, much of the novel’s vitality derives from the interplay between the external and internal experience of the characters.
Don Epifanio has dominated the landscape. A victim himself of the cacique image, he now carries on the tradition of the cardinal sins. He is gluttonous, greedy, insensitive, envious, proud, hard, and, ultimately, evil.
His cultural inheritance continues in Felipe and Jesús. There are no redeeming features in Felipe; his vengeance and malice are of a piece, and he fulfills adequately Yáñez’s design for him—as a projection of the external, cultural side of his father’s personality. Jesus is a loss, for his carefully wrought portrayal as the Snake reflects a lively intelligence, sensitivity, and psychological insight gone mad. In the language of the peasants, he is the devil’s very tongue.
With Jacob Gallo, the author completes his study of the various facets of the mano dura (ruthless justice) mentality. He suggests that this ingrained pattern not only refuses to yield to civilizing influences, but also seems, rather, to turn the benefits and promise of Progress into even more subtle forms of manipulation and dominance. Gallo beguiles the peasants with hope and an abrazo (hug) while he ravages them.
Yáñez broadens his study of the thwarting of human potential with the last figure under this category, Plácida. A half sister to the three men, she becomes the dominant personality in the Big House in the last years of Don Epifanio’s life. She matches any of the men for will, dominance, and greed; not for her is the sentimentality of her sisters as they wail...
(The entire section is 825 words.)