The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The subtitle of the work is “the hero with no character.” It has been generally assumed that Macunaíma is a symbolic representation of Brazilian man, and, in this fantastic fiction, national character emerges as the lack of character. Indeed, there is little logic or consistency in the person of Macunaíma. Although there is emphasis on the hero’s indigenous roots, he is in many ways an ethnological collage or amalgamation which is still in formation. The language he speaks, the roles he plays, and the values he upholds are drawn from diverse regional, cultural, social, and historical sources of the varied Brazilian experience. The shifting foundations of the hero’s amorphous self are metamorphosis and resurrection; the hero transforms himself into a prince or some animal at several junctures, and he is repeatedly brought back from the dead. Macunaíma is born ugly but discovers magic that aids him in the first of his many sexual conquests. He cannot, however, exercise supernatural powers at will. At times he has the ability to perform miracles to elude danger or create food; at others he must live by his wits or suffer humiliations. Some qualities of the protagonist do stand out. His aversion to work is evident from childhood; he prefers lounging about in a hammock, singing folk songs, and engaging in wanton erotic play. As a child, the hero is mischievous, and in adult life he is an unyielding trickster and an irresponsible liar. Many episodes portray him as vindictive, greedy, and self-accommodating; his constant abuse of Jiguê shows these traits best. Since Macunaíma is epic in conception, the nature of the hero is inseparable from the thematic concerns and messages of the work.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Macunaíma (ma-kew-nah-EE-mah), the mock hero. He is lazy, selfish, and abusive, a liar whose main interests are women and money. Even as a child, he shows an incredible capacity to metamorphose himself into different appearances to fulfill his needs and desires. After killing his mother unintentionally—she had been changed into a deer by an evil force—Macunaíma, along with his two brothers and Iriqui, mourns for a month. They then leave their homeland. On their way, they encounter Ci, the Mother of the Forest, who is raped by Macunaíma with the help of his two brothers. As a consequence, he becomes the Emperor of the Dense Jungle. Later, in a fight against a lake monster, he loses the magical amulet, called Muiraquitã, that Ci gave to him. The stone accidentally comes into Venceslau’s possession, and this event precipitates the hero’s journey to São Paulo to recover it. After several failed attempts, he kills his enemy and recovers the magical stone. Back in the forest, Macunaíma falls victim to Vei’s rancor: The hero dives into the lake to find a siren that Vei has promised to him and instead is attacked and crippled by piranhas. Once again, he loses the Muiraquitã. Ultimately, because he is bored with life, the hero is transformed into the constellation Ursa Major.


Maanape (mah-ah-NAH-peh), Macunaíma’s elder brother....

(The entire section is 556 words.)