All readers of Paradiso are struck by Lezama’s unusual characterization. No matter what their social rank, age, or education, his characters all seem to speak in the same manner and with the same vast erudition. In fact, they all seem to speak exactly as the author himself does. In Paradiso, Lezama makes a total departure from the psychological character portrayal of the traditional novel. Lezama himself has explained that his characters are really metaphors that became too developed for poetry. That, he claims, is what led him to write his first novel, Paradiso.
The title Paradiso proclaims the author’s tribute to Dante’s The Divine Comedy and furnishes a clue to the proper understanding of Lezama’s characterization. The characters of Paradiso, like those of The Divine Comedy, have an allegorical meaning. José Cemí, the protagonist, represents the search for the poetic image and truth. His last name is the word used by the Indians of the Caribbean for the images of their gods; at the same time, it seems to be a pun on the Greek work for “sign,” an appropriate allusion in the case of a poet whose tools are letters and words.
Oppiano Licario, Cemí’s mentor in the art of poetry, is described in the novel as the new Icarus who attempts the impossible. Licario plays a role in Paradiso similar to that played by Vergil in Dante’s Inferno. Like Vergil,...
(The entire section is 583 words.)