The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Barrio balances fully rounded characters with stock types in order to integrate his themes with the psychological development of his strongest characters. The novel achieves its significance and power more through skillfully constructed characters than through the elaboration of a linear plot. Barrio relies heavily on a combination of precise description, blatant polemic, and insistent dialogue. These elements find common ground in the speech patterns of characters and the third-person narration.

Reproducing rhythmic dialect of his protagonist pickers, highlighting the bark of clichés from Barfy and Turner, and crafting the affected diction of menial workers in the compound who have deceived themselves into thinking that they have improved their lives because they no longer depend on picking for their low wages, Barrio uses parallel syntax, arranging English in a typically Spanish word order, and provides immediate translations of Spanish words and phrases. His switching between Spanish and English within paragraphs or even sentences echoes the larger thematic conflict between Chicano pickers and Anglo growers.

Manuel, an innocent man who believes in the dignity of his labor but struggles with despair, internalizes this conflict. When Morales pushes Manuel’s crew to the brink of collapse, Manuel resists by proclaiming himself a man like any other in the hierarchy—owner, overseer, crew boss, or picker. Setting the tone for eventual resistance to exploitation, he wins the respect of his crew and realizes his own qualities of leadership. Turner’s system permits no development of Chicano leaders, for that inevitably would...

(The entire section is 673 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Manuel Gutierrez

Manuel Gutierrez (gew-tee-EH-rrehs), a Chicano farmworker from Texas. Seeking to assert his Mexican heritage and its celebration of the land’s potential, Manuel struggles to define himself through the value of his work. He is not ashamed of physical labor, viewing himself as the crucial link between the ripening plums that either will provide sustaining nutrition or, left unattended, will fall to the ground and rot. Unconvinced by the rhetoric of the growers that the conditions of his life are steadily improving and that he will someday reap the benefits of his labor, Manuel clings to his integrity of self-identity, even when he is reduced to the status of a caged animal.

Lupe Gutierrez

Lupe Gutierrez (LEW-pay), Manuel’s wife and the mother of his three children. She cleans their tiny shack on the compound, obsessed with providing the best possible conditions for the children’s health. Although she realizes the ever-present threat of agricultural accidents and the narrowness of her children’s lives, she keeps hoping to escape the probable destiny of her children of following their father into farm labor.

Ramiro Sanchez

Ramiro Sanchez (rah-MEE-roh SAHN-chehz), a mestizo who urges the crews to claim their independence from the abuse of the...

(The entire section is 455 words.)