The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

None of the major characters fully captures the sympathy of the reader in this story of revolutionary fervor, partly, perhaps, because they are symbolic stereotypes borrowed from the American Western: The outlaw (Arroyo), the gunfighter (the gringo), and the schoolmarm (Harriet). The fact that the characters seem to belong to a popular and familiar genre may, however, help to explain the novel’s popular success.

Both Tomás Arroyo and the old gringo are defined by their courage and integrity. The gringo, an erstwhile cynic, is also a would-be idealist trying to rectify the mistakes of a lifetime. He is admirable in his dedication to truth and uncompromising in his determination not to let others be self-deceived. He forces Harriet to admit that she gave herself to Arroyo out of passion and desire. He forces Arroyo to take action by burning the Spanish documents that Arroyo considers his birthright. The gringo’s death is a natural consequence of his actions, but his death is hardly to be pitied, since by his own admission he came to Mexico to die. His death serves a purpose; it puts Arroyo back on the revolutionary track.

If Arroyo’s course is derailed, finally, it is because of Harriet’s vindictiveness, not because of the old gringo. Just as the gringo represents age, wisdom, truth, and integrity, Tomás Arroyo represents unspoiled Mexican machismo. He is a pure revolutionary uncompromised by politics, unlike Pancho Villa, whose...

(The entire section is 514 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Harriet Winslow

Harriet Winslow, the character who “sits and remembers” the story of her adventure in Mexico. Harriet, who is unmarried, agrees to go to Mexico in the service of the Miranda family to teach English to their three children; she hopes thus to escape a stultifying existence in Washington, D.C. Arriving in Mexico, she is used by revolutionary leaders, and she finds the country in turmoil and the Miranda hacienda in ruins. She becomes involved with a revolutionary general, whom she ultimately betrays.

Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce (beers), the “old gringo,” a famous, real-life writer whose true identity is only gradually disclosed to the reader. Notorious for his bitterness and cynicism, Bierce has worked for the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst for more than twenty years and now regrets having misused his talents. During the fall of 1913, Bierce retires to Mexico as a seventy-one-year-old alcoholic and asthmatic seeking Pancho Villa and the adventure of revolution. The novel makes Bierce a heroic figure but sidetracks his mission through his encounter with Tomás Arroyo, whom he serves briefly and who then murders him.

General Tomás Arroyo

General Tomás Arroyo (toh-MAHS ah-RROY-oh), a simple peasant who symbolizes Hispanic virility and machismo. Arroyo is driven by revolutionary idealism and a personal quest for revenge against Miranda, whose bastard son he is. After his army takes over the Miranda estate, however, Arroyo begins to think of the Miranda lands as his own birthright and becomes obsessed with documenting his claim. As he seems to lose his revolutionary focus, the old gringo takes action to shake his complacency, and the enraged Arroyo kills him.

Pancho Villa

Pancho Villa (PAHN-choh VEE-yah), the bandit turned revolutionary leader and wily politician, another historical figure. Villa is troubled by the political crisis caused by Arroyo’s murder of Bierce. Villa is forced to execute Arroyo in order to avoid an embarrassing international incident.


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Old Gringo is an imaginative attempt to explain the disappearance in Mexico of the American writer Ambrose Bierce. Bierce is the...

(The entire section is 566 words.)