The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Remo Erdosain is considered one of the most memorable incarnations of alienated modern man in all Latin American literature. Within the first pages of the novel, he demonstrates his disaffection from society and its norms. Caught embezzling from his firm, Erdosain is brought to the manager’s office and required to explain his motives and purposes in taking the money. He admits that he stole for no reason and dispersed the money in a gratuitous way.

The loss of his job coincides with the flight of his wife, Elsa, who has lost patience with Erdosain’s inexplicable lack of interest in career progress and the establishment of a regular home life. These two breaks with the middle-class world set Erdosain adrift. Subsequently, he only associates with individuals whose livelihood and personal lives follow an eccentric or disturbed path.

The protagonist’s need for strange companions allows Arlt to create dialogues and monologues full of exotic, mysterious talk. Among the most notable are the prophetic harangues of The Pharmacist Ergueta. Drawing equally on his deranged reading of Scripture and his knowledge of Buenos Aires lowlife, Ergueta uses a jumbled apocalyptic jargon that horrifies but fascinates his listeners. Gregorio Barsut also has the power to compel the attention even of disgusted listeners. Obsessively afraid of going mad, Barsut retells his dreams and neurotic symptoms for hours on end. Hipolita, whom Ergueta marries while on a manic spree, continually switches her persona and manner of talking in her desperate eagerness to please. Other eccentric, fascinating talkers include The Gold Seeker, who mesmerizes Erdosain with tales of adventure; Haffner (The Melancholy Ruffian), who builds elaborate theories to justify his unsavory existence; and Bromberg (The Man Who Saw the Midwife), another unhinged mystic.

All the characters mentioned, except the well-bred Elsa, fall in with The Astrologer. This character has as his announced goal to provide modern humankind, alienated from traditional sources of spiritual orientation, with a renewed sense of purpose. To achieve this end, he is willing to resort to demagogy, deceit, and “mind games.” The Astrologer often hints that he is indifferent to the viability or outcome of his conspiracy, so long as those involved can escape the pervasive meaninglessness of modern existence.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Augusto Remo Erdosaín

Augusto Remo Erdosaín (ow-GEWS-toh RREH-moh ehr-doh-sah-EEN), the protagonist, a hapless dreamer who, at the beginning of the novel, loses both his wife (to a virile military captain) and his low-paying job as a bill collector for a sugar company in Buenos Aires (because he has embezzled funds). Frustrated, humiliated, and emotionally overwrought, Remo surrenders himself to fantasies of amorous and financial success, as well as to the crackpot schemes of a subversive group that he joins. He fancies himself an inventor, and his desire to fortify his precarious existence is reflected in his project of coating roses with copper to preserve them. Out of resentment, he plans to kill his wife’s obnoxious cousin, Barsut, who turned him in for embezzlement.

The Astrologer

The Astrologer, a charismatic charlatan who leads a pseudorevolutionary cell of down-and-outers and plans to take over Argentina in a coup d’état. With his rhombus-shaped face and broken nose, his hulking frame, and his kinky, tangled hair, the Astrologer has looks that are as bizarre as his ideas. His plan for revolution is elitist in intention: the happy few will benefit from the labor of the masses, who will be regimented for maximum productivity. The Astrologer’s subversive society meets at his house in a wooded suburb of Buenos Aires.

Arturo Haffner

Arturo Haffner (ahr-TEW-roh), called the Melancholy Ruffian, a pimp and member of the Astrologer’s activist cell. Haffner despises women, seeing only potential earnings in them. He befriends Erdosaín at the Astrologer’s house and gives him the money he needs to pay back the funds he...

(The entire section is 752 words.)