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.