The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Chepa is a character-type frequently encountered in Donoso’s fiction. She is the incarnation of the matriarch—in this case, a frigid and frustrated woman whose life is governed by the urge to dominate others, whether they be members of her own family or those she considers in need of her insatiable willingness to help.

In Alvaro, Donoso presents the counterpart of the dictatorial matriarch: the pitifully weak man. Heir of a wealthy middle-class family, Alvaro is a man whose selfishness grows mainly out of his inability to face “real” life. When aging, he becomes a stranger to his own family, and even more of a stranger to his grandchildren, who call him “the doll.” At the beginning of the novel, the reader finds Alvaro in a panic facing the possibility of skin cancer. Nobody seems to believe him, but at the end his terrors will turn into reality.

Maya incarnates the unexpected element that destroys the artificial world built up by the Viveses. From their very first meeting, Maya exerts an animal attraction over Chepa, bringing to life her repressed sexuality. Tortured by the conflict between gratitude and hatred toward the woman who has obtained his freedom but is turning him into a toy, Maya—Alvaro’s macho counterpart—rebels against the complacent, self-contained world represented by Chepa, the world of bourgeois society.

Like Maya, the maid Violeta, the fourth major character, represents the world outside the sanctuary of the bourgeois household; she is Chepa’s counterpart, as Maya is Alvaro’s. At the end, Violeta will also be involved in the torturous relationship between Chepa and Maya, eventually becoming the main victim of its dire consequences.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Josefina Rosas de Vives

Josefina Rosas de Vives (hoh-seh-FEE-nah RROH-sahs deh VEE-vehs), called Chepa (CHEH-pah), the well-to-do daughter of Alejandro Rosas and the wife of the lawyer Alvaro, who likens her to a bitch constantly nursing a vast litter. In her preoccupation with giving aid and sustenance to slum dwellers, she assumes the character of an Artemis of Ephesus and even envisions herself as a many-breasted nurturer who, in giving suck to a multitude, is bitten and consumed. Her ostensible charity is actually an obsession with making others completely dependent on her. In her passion to control others, she develops a strange attachment to a convicted murderer, Maya, whose release from prison she secures and whom she sets up in a leather business. Seeking him in the slums after his desertion of her, she is manhandled by the slum dwellers and loses consciousness. Broken by the experience and by her loss of Maya, she spends the last ten years of her life in silence and sadness and dies at the age of sixty-five.

Alvaro Vives

Alvaro Vives (AHL-vah-roh), a fifty-five-year-old lawyer and husband of Chepa, who is the same age. His cancer, evidenced by a growing mole above his left nipple, will take his life within five months. His youthful sexual affair with Violeta had been followed by dates with many women, eight of whom are named in the novel, and by his marriage to Chepa when both were twenty-two years old. Although he and Chepa have two daughters, his extramarital affairs with Matilde Greene (who later commits suicide), Carmen Méndez, and Picha attest his loveless marriage. Both he and Chepa, each irrefragably self-centered, are incapable of love. They remain married but stop sleeping together after the exposure of Alvaro’s affair with Matilde Greene. His grandchildren call the terminally ill Alvaro La Muñeca (the Doll) because of his porcelain-like whiteness.


Maya (MI-yah), a convicted murderer. He is tall and ungainly. Like Alvaro, he has a mole, but it is on his upper lip and is not symptomatic of cancer; also like Alvaro, he is compared to a doll, but whereas Alvaro is in metaphor a muñeca (female doll), Maya is a muñeco (male doll). Maya exploits Chepa’s fascination with him by prevailing on her to secure his release from prison. Once released and...

(The entire section is 1043 words.)