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.