The Characters

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...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

Characters Discussed

Roberto Garcia

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 the process, shows that a real man, while honor-bound, may choose not only how he honors his traditions but also how he may change them.

Juan Aguilar

Juan Aguilar (hwahn ah-gee-LAHR), the most experienced and most dominant of the village norteños, who travel north across the Mexican border illegally each year to work seasonally on U.S. farms. Like most norteños, Juan returns to the village each year to squander his earnings. Prematurely old, Juan is feeling the effects of his hard and dissolute life; thus, mostly out of predatory self-interest, he asks Roberto to accompany him north. Although the...

(The entire section is 647 words.)