The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Alberto the Poet captures the sympathy of the reader at the beginning of the book. A thinker rather than a doer, he must survive through his intelligence and wit in the rough school environment. He nevertheless proves disappointing in the end. He reveals the Circle’s secrets presumably to avenge his friend Ricardo’s death; he then, however, withdraws all charges—making it possible for school officials to close the investigation—revealing a selfish and cowardly nature. Alberto also disenchants the reader when he befriends and romances Teresa, whom he visits to deliver a message from her boyfriend, the Slave, who is unable to make the rendezvous in person because he has been grounded. The role of the bourgeois intellectual, the novel suggests, is to take the easy way out even if it means, as in this case, to be a traitor.

Jaguar, a petty thief and delinquent, impresses the reader with his strength, and with his control and leadership over the other boys. When he kills the Slave, he does so to protect the honor code of the Circle; yet, ironically, he is punished in the end not by the system itself but by his fellow cadets. Jaguar emerges as the only cadet with a firm set of laudable values and a willingness to suffer for the sake of a principle. At the end of the novel he rehabilitates himself, marries, and begins a life of middle-class respectability.

Ricardo the Slave is the professional victim, serving as prey even to his best friend,...

(The entire section is 463 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Porfirio Cava

Porfirio Cava (pohr-FEE-ree-oh KAH-vah), a cadet in the Leoncio Prado Military Academy in Lima, Peru. A highlander with a peasant background, he has chosen to attend the academy because he plans a career in the military. He is one of four members of “the Circle,” a group of cadets formed for mutual protection and support. After a losing roll of the dice, he is obligated to steal a chemistry examination for the Circle. During the late-night theft, he accidentally breaks a window. This evidence, coupled with information supplied by the informant Arana, leads to his court-martial and expulsion, ending his chance for a career in the military and the concomitant improvement in economic and social status.

Alberto Fernández Temple

Alberto Fernández Temple (ahl-BEHR-toh fehr-NAHN-dehs TEHM-pleh), the Poet, the bourgeois intellectual of the Circle, a cadet whose wit and skill at writing love letters and pornographic stories are admired by the other cadets. His father is a womanizer and his mother a complainer. Like his father, Alberto is preoccupied with women. First he was infatuated with Helena; after she broke off their relationship, his grades suffered and his father sent him to the academy to teach him discipline. Alberto has his first sexual experience with Golden Toes, the prostitute who has serviced half of his class. At the request of Ricardo, who cannot get a pass, he agrees to meet with Teresa. He takes her to see films, is smitten, and continues to date her. Sustaining a friendship with Ricardo and a relationship with Teresa troubles his conscience. When Ricardo is murdered, Alberto is so overwhelmed with guilt that he denounces the murderer before Lieutenant Gamboa. Academy officials ignore the facts, and nothing is done. As the novel ends, Alberto has finished the academy with high marks, has received a gift from his father as a reward, and will probably go to the United States to...

(The entire section is 835 words.)