Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Manuel (mahn-WEHL), also called Gérard (zhay-RAHR), a twenty-one-year-old member of the French resistance and formerly a philosophy student in Paris. Manuel is a Spanish Red who fled to France after Francisco Franco’s victory in Spain. He is lucid, courageous, and a firm believer in humankind’s capacity for goodness and human solidarity, despite the horrors he witnesses in German concentration camps. As the novel begins, Manuel is traveling across Germany in a cattle car with other prisoners of war. The narrative then recounts his experience of the journey, his activities in the resistance before his arrest, the brutality of his existence in the camps, and finally his meditations after the war is over on the meaning of both his own sufferings and those of the other victims of the Nazis.

The guy from Semur

The guy from Semur (seh-MEWR), Manuel’s companion and soul mate on the train ride, also a young resistance fighter whose courage and dignity sustain him through most of the journey. Poorly educated and an inexperienced provincial, the guy from Semur nevertheless makes judgments that are remarkably sound. As the journey progresses, Manuel’s respect and admiration for him grows. Despite his courage and resolve, his fragile constitution cannot stand up to the rigors of the “long voyage,” and he dies of apparent heart failure shortly before the train arrives at the camp.

Hans Frieberg


(The entire section is 642 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Not only is Manuel the one character of any dimension in the book; it is actually his mind that is the novel’s focal point, the novel’s primary character. Some of the other people whom Manuel meets are momentarily striking in his description of them (particularly the man he rides literally pressed against for the entire train trip, called “the guy from Semur”), but none of them has any real existence beyond those moments when that person is in the narrator’s presence. These characters are not reduced to caricature or type—Jorge Semprun is particularly adept at capturing character with a short remark and at suggesting complex psychological dimensions in a brief conversation—but their primary function is to reflect or react to Manuel’s mood. Manuel’s mental processes are so important because Semprun has written The Long Voyage to demonstrate that the mind is the source of a person’s strength and to show that the inner working of a person’s mind is the best way to know his spirit and soul.

Semprun believes that integrity of character comes from clarity of thought and openness to the challenge of contradictory ideas. His commitment to the absolute freedom of expression stems from his hatred of the enclosures that any totalitarian system places over the minds of its subjects. Manuel is a warrior whose weapon is his mental agility, which permits him to act effectively in situations that present no easy solution and to endure...

(The entire section is 503 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Boyers, Robert. “The Voyage of Jorge Semprun,” in Atrocity and Amnesia: The Political Novel Since 1945, 1985.

Butor, Michel. Passing Time, 1960.

Genies, Bernard. “L’Experience de J. Semprun a Buchenwald,” in La Quinzaine Litteraire. CCCXXI (March, 1980), pp. 24-25.

Schmigalle, Gunther. “Jorge Semprun’s Kritik des Kommunismes,” in Iberoamerica. XII (1984), pp. 3-21.

Sinnegen, J. Narrative and Ideology, 1982.