Demetrio Macías (day-MAY-tree-oh mah-SEE-ahs), a Mexican Indian who fights against government forces in the Mexican Revolution. Demetrio rebels against the government as a result of the treatment he receives at the hands of Federalist troops. He has no personal ambition, but his bravery and leadership eventually earn him the rank of general. Still, he is not a student of the rebel cause. His reasons for fighting at the outset are simple, even personal; later, he does not know why he continues to fight. His men wreak havoc on the many towns they enter, but Demetrio, in general, is not the sociopathic thug that so many of his men are, and he often steps in to keep their behavior in check. Demetrio is successful at defeating his enemy in battle but rejects several chances to kill those who have wronged him. He will not consider immigrating to the United States. He is an essentially peaceful man who has reacted to his circumstances. His only wish is to return home and to a peaceful life. He does return home, but the revolution does not provide him with a peaceful end.
Luis Cervantes (lew-EES sehr-VAHN-tehs), a pseudointellectual who joins Demetrio’s troupe, claiming to be a former journalist who has just deserted from the Federalist forces. He has deserted in part because he has come to see the truth about the government’s side, and he sympathizes with the poor and oppressed, represented by the rebels. How much of Cervantes’ story and, more important, his stated beliefs about the revolution is true is often difficult to discern. It takes some time for Demetrio and his men to trust him. He has the ability to intellectualize the revolution in all the ways in which Demetrio cannot, and it is Cervantes who encourages Demetrio to take his rightful place in history. Cervantes, however, looks out for himself. He always keeps himself out of harm’s way during battle, he collects booty when the opportunity arises, and he finally immigrates to Texas, from where he invites another of Demetrio’s men to come so the two of them can open a Mexican restaurant together.
Solís (soh-LEES), a true intellectual who has become disillusioned with the rebel cause. Solís appears only briefly, but his conversation with Cervantes provides an important view of the revolution, one probably similar to the author’s view. Solís began as an idealist and supported the rebel cause, but he has come to see the revolution as a hurricane and its participants like leaves in the wind, simply swept up by circumstances. He still appreciates the revolution on an ideal, theoretical level, but in the hands of the thugs who have executed it, he recognizes that it has become nothing more than an arena for robbery and murder. Solís is killed by a stray bullet as he and Cervantes talk.
Blondie (or Whitey Margarito, depending on the edition of the translation), a rebel who exhibits outrageous, even sadistic, behavior. Virtually all of Demetrio’s men display repugnant, criminal behavior (and in fact share criminal pasts), but Blondie’s behavior borders on the criminally insane. For example, he tortures a prisoner by dragging him down a road with a rope around his neck, and he makes an innocent person he meets in the street dance by shooting at his feet.
Camilla (kah-MEE-yah) or Camila (kah-MEE-lah), depending on the edition of the translation, a young woman who helps nurse a wounded Demetrio back to health. Her interests lie in Cervantes, who ignores her. Later, Cervantes tricks her into coming to join Demetrio, who has expressed an interest in her. She comes to care for Demetrio, but her criticism of the barbaric behavior of Blondie lands her on the wrong side of War Paint, who brutally murders her later.
War Paint or La Pintada (lah peen-TAH-dah), depending on the edition of the translation, a camp follower and armed female thug who accompanies Demetrio’s men. At first, she expresses interest in Demetrio, but soon she is back at Blondie’s side. She is jealous of Camilla on many levels, and when Demetrio orders the women not to accompany the men—an order instigated by Camilla—La Pintada, already enraged by Camilla’s comments about Blondie’s behavior, stabs Camilla to death in front of Demetrio and his men. Her attitude and actions are surpassed in their criminal nature only by those of Blondie.