The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In one of the segments narrated by Silvestre, he mentions that the five principal male characters are engaged in a search for total wisdom and that they desire to achieve immortality “by uniting the end with the beginning.” Each of them carries out that quest in his own way. Arsenio Cué races his convertible madly down the streets of Havana in what strikes Silvestre as an attempt to convert space into time. Códac seems to wish that he could unite sexually with all women at the same time, and Eribó transcends his mundane circumstances by means of sound and rhythm. For his part, Silvestre, who is a writer, desires to remember everything, while, as mentioned above, Bustrófedon has “tried to be language.” All of them suffer from a vague uneasiness as they witness the progressive disintegration of the Havana nightlife that they have known and loved, with the result that they become preoccupied with their personal mortality.

The social disintegration around them, the description of which is often couched in apocalyptic terms, reflects the precarious situation of Cuba in mid-1958, a few months before Fidel Castro’s revolution triumphed and Cuba’s national life was utterly transformed. The epigraph to the text, drawn from Carroll’s work Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), reads, “And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out.” Cabrera Infante has stated that his novels represent,...

(The entire section is 529 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Bustrófedon (bews-TROH-feh-dohn), a character who embodies language and its creative potential. His name, of Greek origin, means “to write alternately from right to left and left to right.” He is fascinated with anything reversible: words, numbers, or concepts. He represents an appreciation of the potential of language and of the sheer joy of spontaneous and uninhibited creation. He is a character in the process of discovering and creating himself through language. After his death, he continues to live in the minds of many of the novel’s characters.


Silvestre (seel-VEHS-treh), a would-be writer. Estranged from the present, he is obsessed with the past, preferring his memories over experiencing life. He is particularly concerned with ordering the chaos of existence by means of the written word. He is linked to one of the novel’s major themes: humanity’s attempt to comprehend the implications of formlessness.

Arsenio Cué

Arsenio Cué (kew-EH), a professional actor and television star, and Silvestre’s closest friend. His personal and professional lives merge to such an extent that they seem one and the same. He is so often playing a role that it is difficult to know who he is. His humor, his continual role-playing, and his dark sunglasses protect him from the...

(The entire section is 522 words.)