In comparison with more traditional novelists of the nineteenth century, Cortázar does not create memorable characters; rather, his characters emerge from cultural codes. That is, political discourse determines the boundaries of, for example, Heredia or Gomez, while the character of Andres is shaped by the aleatory music that he loves.
Cortázar is not concerned with a psychological analysis, a realistic representation, or a symbolic use of characters. Rather, his characters are placed in situations in order to provoke the reader.
Cortázar’s characters are typically marginal in relation to society; in Rayuela (1963; Hopscotch, 1966), they are students, transients, circus performers, and mental patients. In A Manual for Manuel, they are a marginal political group. A Manual for Manuel is a sort of mirror image of Hopscotch. Traveler and Horacio reappear as Marcos and Andres; La Maga and Talita as Ludmilla and Francine. Just as Traveler was able to make a commitment to Talita, while Horacio could not make such a commitment either to politics or to La Maga, so Marcos is a member of the Screwery while Andres is on the edge of the revolutionary group. Ludmilla is confused by the activities of the Screwery. Francine owns a book and stationery shop and lives in an elegant apartment with her cat, library, and scotch. Ludmilla lives in disorder with pieces of leek “hung all over the place.” Andres is...
Andrés Fava (ahn-DREHSFAH-vah), the main narrator, an Argentine intellectual living in Paris. He is connected to the members, though not much to the activities, of a principally Latin American activist group, the Screwery, that operates there. Andrés tenaciously clings to his world of ideas and aesthetics, erotic freedom, and phonograph records but also harbors an underlying urge to be a man of action. This urge is expressed in a dream he has had, in which an unknown Cuban gives him a message. Andrés cannot remember the dream message until he makes a kind of personal commitment to activism by going to join the members of the Screwery at Verrières, the suburb where they are holding a kidnapped Latin American police official. The message proves to be simple: “Wake up.” Andrés does so more through this show of solidarity than through his intense erotic experiences with Ludmilla and Francine, in which he also was seeking illumination.
The one I told you
The one I told you, always designated by this expression, never by name, an Argentine writer who is quietly chronicling the activities of the Screwery, with which he is peripherally involved. His narrative, together with the clippings and other documentary materials collected by Susana for her son Manuel, seems to correspond to the novel, so the one I told you can be seen as a surrogate author. Throughout, he worries about the disjunct quality of his narrative and its multiple perspectives—aspects of A Manual for Manuel itself. The one I told you is present at the Verrières shootout and appears to die there—many plot details are left hanging—because subsequently Andrés is organizing the writer’s somewhat chaotic notes and jottings.
Marcos, the Argentine head of the Screwery, a curly-haired, dedicated revolutionary who is also something of an intellectual. Under Marcos’ direction, the members of the Screwery create small provocations in Parisian public places, aimed at raising consciousness among ordinary citizens. They also undertake a complex international operation, the kidnapping of a police official. Marcos is resolute, and he can be tender with someone he loves, such as Ludmilla. He apparently dies at the Verrières shootout.
Ludmilla, an actress of Polish descent who has been Andrés’ lover and who begins a relationship with Marcos shortly before the kidnapping. Both men call her Polonette, or little Polish girl. She is more intuitive and less structured and conceptual than these men; her imagination inspires them both. Aware of Andrés’ parallel relationship with Francine, Ludmilla is quicker than he to recognize that their own relationship is at an end. She moves on naturally and unresentfully to Marcos and to involvement in the Screwery. Ludmilla wishes to learn about Latin American politics and activism, and Marcos patiently begins to teach her. She is a survivor of the events at Verrières.
Susana, an Argentine member of the Screwery, married to Patricio. They are the parents of the infant Manuel. Susana is putting together a scrapbook of political clippings that is to...