Characters Discussed

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Manuel (mahn-WEHL), a sound engineer in the film industry when the novel opens. He is a handsome, jovial, and idealistic young man whose political convictions have led him to join the Communist Party. When the Spanish Civil War breaks out, he becomes a soldier in the Republican army, and because of his leadership qualities, he quickly climbs through the ranks to become a high-ranking officer. Generous and outgoing at the outset of the novel, Manuel becomes increasingly detached as the realities of command force him to make brutal and occasionally inhuman decisions in the name of efficiency. An able and courageous commander at the novel’s end, he has lost some of his humanity.

Colonel Magnin

Colonel Magnin (mah-NYEEN), a French aviator, volunteer for the Spanish Republic, and head of the Republic’s International Squadron. Tall, mustachioed, and philosophical by nature, Magnin is a shrewd observer of people and an excellent judge of character. He combines a passion for flying with an idealistic devotion to the cause of the Republic and the principles of individual liberty and social justice for which it stands. Although it is his responsibility to mold a motley assortment of foreign volunteers and mercenaries into an effective fighting force, he is skeptical of those like the communists who are obsessed with discipline.


Garcia (gahr-SEE-ah), the head of the Spanish intelligence service. He is a corpulent, robust, and good-natured man who, in Magnin’s view, gives the impression of being a wealthy landowner. An anthropologist before the war and a famous intellectual, Garcia is a man of extraordinary culture and learning. As the author’s principal mouthpiece within the novel, Garcia provides an overview of the meaning of the struggle, analyzes the role of the intellectual in revolutionary politics, and addresses with great insight the metaphysical and moral quandaries inevitably brought by war.

Captain Hernandez

Captain Hernandez (ehr-NAHN-dehs), a career army officer who remains loyal to the Republic when Francisco Franco launches his uprising. He is a severe, uncompromising idealist whose inflexibility ultimately destroys him. Although he recognizes that the brutal expediency and efficiency of the communists are necessary to defeat the fascists, Hernandez refuses to sacrifice his personal principles to the cause of victory. He is given to making noble and chivalric gestures that seem hopelessly outdated in a modern, mechanized war. Ultimately disillusioned, Hernandez is captured by the fascists during the Republican retreat from Toledo and is executed along with the other prisoners. Although a sympathetic and admirable character, Hernandez is held up as a negative example in the novel because his overly rigorous idealism ultimately serves no one and in fact plays into the hands of the fascists.

Colonel Ximenes

Colonel Ximenes (hee-MEHN-ehs), the Civil Guard commander in Barcelona and, like Hernandez, a career officer who remains loyal to the Republic, despite his conservative and traditionalist views. Unlike Hernandez, Ximenes understands that one’s personal beliefs and values must be sacrificed in the short run for the sake of victory over the fascists. Thus, during the struggle for Barcelona, Ximenes willingly fights alongside the anarchists, the traditional enemies of the Civil Guard, to save the city from falling into the hands of Franco’s supporters.


Puig (pweeg), a dashing, enthusiastic anarchist leader in Barcelona. He cuts a romantic figure, in his leather jacket and turban, during the fighting. Despite important philosophical and temperamental differences, Puig and his comrade-in-arms Colonel Ximenes share an admiration for courage and a belief in the fraternity of those fighting for the Republic that transcends social and political differences. Puig has no patience and can conceive of the struggle only in terms of an immediate victory. In keeping with this “apocalyptic” stance, he dies while driving a car full speed into a barricade set up by the fascists.


Slade, a tough young American journalist whose reports on important events in the war such as the bombing of Madrid are quoted verbatim in the novel. His reports confirm his strong support of the Republic and underscore the brutality of the fascists’ tactics and their utter contempt for human life.

Giovanni Scali

Giovanni Scali (jee-oh-VAH-nee SKAH-lee), an Italian art historian who serves as a volunteer in the international air squadron and acts as second in command to Magnin. He is a diminutive, curly-haired man who is both sensitive and intelligent. Scali believes in the value of the individual and the individual’s creative potential but insists that the greatness of people lies in their capacity to act collectively to achieve a common goal. The international air squadron therefore is greater than the individual members who compose it.


Alvear (ahl-veh-AHR), an aging Spanish art dealer and the father of pilot Jaime Alvear. He questions the value of the Republic’s struggle against Franco. He does not believe that social and economic reform alleviate suffering or improve what he describes as the “quality of man.” In a conversation with Scali, he claims that art is superior to life because the latter is ephemeral and full of suffering, whereas art is eternal and a source of comfort and fulfillment.

The Negus

The Negus (NEH-gews), one of the leaders of the anarchists and a former deckhand in Barcelona. He is a skilled saboteur and guerrilla fighter who accompanies Puig in his suicidal assault on the Fascist barricade. When the war drags on, he loses interest but continues to fight because he enjoys his work as a saboteur.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427

Although there are dozens of characters in this epic novel, Manuel may be seen as its protagonist. In fact, the book could be read as Manuel’s Bildungsroman, showing his transformation from a rather irresponsible and playboyish sound technician into a lieutenant colonel in nine months’ time. In Manuel, the reader watches an individual’s love of adventure deepen into an appreciation of fraternity in communal risk-taking and turn into a realization that structure and organization are essential for military and political victory. Malraux also uses Manuel’s development to illustrate the potential loss of humanistic values that may accompany the gain in ability to act efficiently. Manuel himself is acutely aware of this problem. He himself overcomes the virtuous scruples of a woman whom he has loved for several years and efficiently seduces her, but finds that he can no longer feel for her. Again, after he court-martials some deserters and sends them to a firing squad, Manuel loses his voice. Thus Malraux explores some excruciating problems attendant upon the evolution of a character from carefree artist to efficient military commander.

Magnin, too, is a prominent character, present in many scenes of the book. Superficially, he could be thought of as a projection of Malraux himself. Nevertheless, although intelligent and aware, Magnin is not so deeply troubled as are Manuel and several of the other characters. Magnin is generally cheerful, practical, and an effective leader, and his vision of the life-renewing apple tree is a symbol central to the novel.

Several other characters, perhaps representing aspects of Malraux’s own thinking, may be pointed out for special note. Negus, the leader of the Anarchists, revels in the early days of the popular uprising, seeing it as the apocalypse of romantic, individual action; as the war wears on, however, he realizes that Anarchism must increasingly give way to the better organized, if soulless, ethic of Communism. Garcia, the ethnology professor turned Intelligence officer, is an intellectual and landowner who commands the love and respect of peasants and soldiers alike. Observant, intelligent, and understanding, he is a clarifying element in the ideological debates that intersperse this book. He often formulates intellectual positions lucidly, summing up an argument memorably. While Garcia and Magnin are examples of intelligence that can be transformed into action, other intellectuals, such as Scali and Alvear, are examples of intelligence that ends in paralysis. Both these latter men are humanists by calling, men of good will, and the brutality of war fills them with despair and a vision of the futility of the human endeavor.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 51

Boak, Denis. André Malraux, 1968.

Chua, Cheng Lok. “Nature and Art in the Aesthetics of Malraux’s L’Espoir,” in Symposium. XXVI (1972), pp. 114-127.

Frohock, Wilbur Merrill. André Malraux and the Tragic Imagination, 1952.

Horvath, Violet. André Malraux: The Human Adventure, 1969.

Thompson, Brian, and Carl Viggiani, eds. Witnessing André Malraux: Visions and Re-visions, 1984.

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Critical Essays