The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The main characters in Spidertown either strive to be like their fathers or struggle to be different. Firebug became an arsonist because his father revered fire, forced him to leap flames at community barbecues, and punished him by burning parts of his body. Amelia’s “masculinity” is at least partly an attempt to earn her father’s respect and love. She tries to be the son he always wanted. Cristalena is a victim of her father’s religious fanaticism. She rebels successfully against his effort to make her “a little child of Christ,” but she cannot completely liberate herself from his terrifying sermons on sin. Miguel reads voraciously because his father hated books. Spider strives to be the antithesis of his father, who plays dominoes outside the neighborhood market. Spider’s ambition is a rejection of his father’s mundane existence as well as a desperate quest for excitement and purpose in life.

The most corrupt characters, such as Spider and Firebug, have become insensitive to the suffering around them. Firebug contemplates Miguel’s bruises with stolid curiosity. He is incapable of feeling sympathy for a friend or love for a woman. Interested only in business, Spider betrays his associates coldly, without remorse. Other characters such as Amelia and Miguel are soft because of their compassion. Though she has learned to use people, Amelia still cares. Miguel, too, has too much heart to become a hardened criminal. He shows...

(The entire section is 524 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Miguel (mee-GEHL), a sixteen-year-old crack cocaine delivery boy. At one time in his life, he wanted to become a writer, but he abandoned this dream when he realized that there were no famous Puerto Rican writers. In the seventh grade, his English teacher asked him to compose an essay about his father, but he could only think of negative things to say; he then dropped out of school. On the streets, he turned to Spider for support, regarding the crack czar as a surrogate father. Miguel is well read, intelligent, and uncommonly sensitive, but he is also self-deluded. He misconstrues money and power as success and considers himself to be an adult. His relationship with Cristalena forces him to see the perversion and ugliness of his life. Gradually, through a process of self-analysis, he redeems and defines himself. By the end of the novel, he has attained considerable self-awareness and crossed the threshold of maturity.


Amelia, a twenty-one-year-old crack user and psychology major at City College (though she has taken a brief respite from her studies). She is Firebug’s girlfriend and Miguel’s best friend. Miguel describes her as “funny and twisted and sometimes sad.” She has sex with Spider in exchange for crack. Although she suffers from low self-esteem, she is intelligent, sensitive, and independent. She reads books by Charles Dickens and Jean-Paul Sartre, whose existential philosophy appeals to her. She describes herself as a “Latino girl with brains.” Unlike her two older sisters, obsequious husband-hunters, Amelia has set her sights on a career as a therapist and a marriage of equality, but the men in her life discouraged her, treated her contemptuously,...

(The entire section is 720 words.)