The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As is sometimes the case with Carpentier’s protagonists, the principal character of this novel goes unnamed. Nevertheless, Carpentier still provides the reader with a nuanced and vivid psychological profile. Since the interest of the story resides, in no small measure, in this portrayal of the anguish of the informer, it would not be a mistake to look upon this novella as primarily a character study. Fleeing through the streets of Havana, the protagonist finds himself utterly alone, without refuge or meaningful human contact. His relationship with Estrella, one is led to believe, was a superficial and passing sexual infatuation, at least on her part. The only other human contact the protagonist had in the city was the old black woman, who has recently died. Symptomatic of the protagonist’s predicament is the attitude of the priest, who refuses to confess him. Tormented with guilt, lacking friends, and with no place to escape, the protagonist is an easy prey for his pursuers. As he says: “Why were men today denied that ancient privilege of sanctuary that he read about in a book on the Gothic?” The whole story centers on his failed quest for sanctuary—political, emotional, artistic. The other two most important characters in the story are Estrella and the old black woman. These two women act as foils for each other. As her name suggests, Estrella (meaning “star”) is potentially a bright spot in the protagonist’s existence, and he prides himself on being...

(The entire section is 450 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The unnamed protagonist

The unnamed protagonist, referred to mainly as the hunted, a university student and a member of a terrorist group. A boy imitating macho types, he comes from the province to turbulent Havana at the end of General Gerardo Machado’s dictatorship (1933) to study architecture and the charms of the prostitute Estrella. He takes residence with his old wet nurse but soon gets swept away by the political turmoil. He joins the Communist Party but abandons it for “direct” action. He participates in the execution of his friend and role model, who has betrayed an important plan. Later, he sees the revolutionary terrorism degenerate into killings for a price, though justified by the same rhetoric. After a murder he has arranged, he is betrayed by Estrella and is arrested by the police. The hint of torture makes him betray his comrades. When he is released, he himself becomes hunted by the survivors. After rediscovering God, he wanders through Havana and remembers different episodes of his life. Thrown out of every possible shelter and fleeing from his pursuers, he ends up in the concert hall, where Beethoven’s Eroica symphony is being performed, precisely the music he heard when he was in hiding with the wet nurse. In too much of a rush to wait for a ticket, he leaves the alleged false banknote with the ticket taker. During the performance, guided by the music, he reviews the key events of his life. After the...

(The entire section is 577 words.)