Roberto personifies what it means to be macho, without bluster or crude language (though the language of others is occasionally blunt). The desperate situations into which he is drawn neither oversimplify nor glamorize that ideal: a fight with a thief; the clash with Pedro; a barroom rescue; and finally, the novel’s climactic confrontation. Although Roberto outwardly displays the Mexican cultural ideal of fierce arrogance, he also uses his intellect to question tradition and to preserve both life and honor.
Finally, it becomes clear that the central struggle in Macho! is not simply one of peace versus violence but of the struggle to reconcile tradition with change. Roberto succeeds not merely because he can endure the old ways of violence, but because he is willing to challenge his cultural traditions with the tools of change (reason), to create new roles that are both more honorable and more productive than death by violence.
Juan Aguilar, prematurely aged by his life as a norteño, at first impresses the reader with his knowledge of the road to fortune beyond the Mexican border. As the novel unfolds, however, Juan shows, not only by his speech and actions but also by comparison with more sophisticated migrant workers, that his knowledge of American culture and customs is as limited as his possibilities in, and perhaps for, life.
Juan’s role as Roberto’s protector is also flawed, for that relationship is based almost exclusively on Roberto’s potential to contribute to Juan’s continued success. Throughout the novel, Juan’s role alternates between that of parasite and protector: His mercenary impulses conflict with his growing image of Roberto as the son he never had. Until the very end of the novel, suspense results from the uncertainty over which impulse will win out.
Pedro, the hardened norteño companion of Juan who is Roberto’s sworn enemy, brings an image of pure violence to the novel. Pedro is not even identified by last name, making it easier for him to remain a faceless personification of evil. Despite his decisive defeat at Roberto’s hands, Pedro’s continued behind-the-scenes presence illustrates the pervasive and persistent nature of human violence and, in the end, ultimately refutes the axiom of live and let live.
Esperanza, who has a North American counterpart in the less well-developed character of Gloria Sanchez, represents progress through education and reason. Education and reason, long the principal tools of progress and the primary means by which tradition may be successfully challenged, also represent hope. (Esperanza’s name, fittingly, means “hope”). Without hope there can be no progress toward a better world and society.
Don Carlos Villanueva, aged local landowner and farmer, has successfully combined traditional principles with progressive practices. He alone had the insight to see that the changes brought by the volcano could be beneficial. Although his bearing and presence are regal, his advanced age will soon force him into oblivion. Unless others such as Roberto are willing to continue in his stead, the good that the old generation offers the new may also be lost.
Roberto Garcia (rroh-BEHR-toh gahr-SEE -ah), the eldest child in a large family of poor farmers, natives of a rural village in Michoacan, Mexico. Because of his father’s drinking, Roberto, not yet eighteen when the story begins, must provide for his mother and the other children by doing most of the farm labor. His maturity, strength, and intelligence are immediately evident. Roberto embodies the best of the Spanish male/macho tradition: He silently accepts his father’s condition and does his work for him; he competently oversees the older men with whom he works, offering no excuses for anything; and he tactfully deals with those who challenge him—but fights when necessary. Roberto’s struggle between tradition and change quickly becomes the novel’s central conflict. Roberto meets every test with honor, and, in...
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