The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Though much of the story is told from the perspective of Mundo Morales, he does not dominate it, for the narrative shifts back and forth among him, Cole McCurtain, and Uncle Luther; one chapter is even told from the point of view of the corpse. A veteran of Vietnam, Mundo has a shaky position as a deputy sheriff; his boss threatens to throw him back to being a janitor if he persists in asserting himself instead of being a docile subordinate. Despite opposition from all the authorities, he continues his investigation with intelligence and tenacity. Mundo’s Mexican ancestors once owned all the land in the Salinas Valley; now most of it belongs to Dan Nemi, the chief suspect in the murder. Yet Mundo does not feel sorry for himself; he has a good marriage and self-respect, and he comes to appreciate the part-Indian ancestry that he shares with the McCurtains.

Hoey McCurtain’s Irish father would not let him speak the language of his Choctaw mother and labeled him “white” on his birth certificate, but Hoey has chosen to consider himself an Indian and to direct his son Cole back to his roots. Cole could pass for white yet has not only a Choctaw grandmother but also a Cherokee mother; it is by learning the lessons of the Choctaw shamans that he finds himself and allays his murdered brother’s troubled spirit. Diana Nemi, the white teenage princess, is addicted to having sex with Indians as a substitute for finding her own identity. The ghost of Mundo’s grandfather calls her a witch, a “bruja.” Hoey’s Uncle Luther and his friend Onatima express most of the wisdom (as well as the humor) of the novel as they explore with Cole the significance of Indian values and the nature of the evil running amok in a world out of balance. Jessard Deal, the enormous, violent, poetry-quoting tavern owner, alludes to Jonathan Edwards, believes in innate depravity, and manifests it in his own actions.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ramon (Mundo) Morales

Ramon (Mundo) Morales (rah-MOHN MEWN-doh moh-RAH-lehs), a twenty-five-year-old deputy sheriff in Amarga, California. This Vietnam veteran and conscientious law enforcer was a friend of Attis McCurtain, a mixed-blood Indian, in high school and during the Vietnam conflict. The Morales’ vast ranch, given to them by the Spanish king in the 1700’s, has been taken over by Dan Nemi, the richest, most powerful rancher in the valley. When Attis McCurtain, suffering from shell shock after Vietnam, is reported to have escaped from a mental hospital, Mundo is certain that Attis was murdered and that he had seen Attis’ body floating in the floodwaters of the Salinas River. Although Mundo is under suspicion from Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and local police for perhaps having helped Attis to escape and hide, he is determined to find Attis’ killer, whom he suspects to be one of the Nemi family, and to prevent Attis’ father, Hoey, from killing Dan Nemi.

Cole McCurtain

Cole McCurtain, a mixed-blood Choctaw-Cherokee-Irish, the son of Hoey McCurtain and the younger brother of Attis. He returns to the cabin in a Mississippi swamp where he and his father were born. He is being sheltered by his Chactaw great-uncle, Luther, in order to avoid being drafted and becoming another Indian sacrificed in a white man’s war. At first, he is immature and uncertain of his identity, but through Uncle Luther’s teachings and by getting back to his own family’s connections with the Mississippi land, Cole comes to know himself as Indian. He returns to California to find Attis’ bones and take them back to Uncle Luther’s place so...

(The entire section is 730 words.)