The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

One of the novel’s indisputable strengths lies precisely in the telling of the many stories of Canudos through a highly artistic rendition of characters. Vargas Llosa works through an accumulation of physical detail, psychological description, and expert dialogue to create memorable, individualized, and well-articulated characters who both create history and bear its burden. The Counselor is both a realistically portrayed and a mysteriously evoked presence throughout the work. He gathers into his New Jerusalem at Canudos the poor, halt, deformed, mad, and fallen as well as a considerable group of sometime bandits and outlaws; the figurative lions lie down with the lambs in a unity of peace that is quickly galvanized into a church militant. At times, the Counselor appears to be John the Baptist preaching conversion in the wilderness; at times he appears to be a reincarnation of Jesus of Nazareth who has come to bring fire and the sword.

In the tradition of those whom he has called “God-supplanters,” such as Henry Fielding, Honoré de Balzac, James Joyce, and William Faulkner, Vargas Llosa not only re-creates reality but also competes with it. His rich characterizations of the Counselor and the Journalist are replicated in a variety of lesser characters such as his soldiers, bandits, adventurers, circus performers, and clerics whom he imbues with a protoliberationist theology so that they would be quite at home in late twentieth century Brazil. One of the many successful creations in the work is the adventurer Galileo Gall, a red-headed Scot with a penchant for phrenology, Marxist thought, and the spread of international revolution. Gall turns up in Brazil after several revolutionary escapades in Europe just in time to participate in the Counselor’s revolt. The naïve Gall plays into the hands of the...

(The entire section is 743 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The Counselor

The Counselor, whose name is Antônio Conselheiro, a tall, thin, and bearded man with fiery eyes, of mysterious identity and origins. He proclaims that he has been sent by God to become the lord of Canudos. This backlands mystic cloaked in a purple tunic begins to develop a following in the interior of the state of Bahia, Brazil. Predicting the end of the present world and the beginning of a new one, he gradually becomes a symbol and leader for those who remain committed to the monarchy. He preaches an errant Christian message of love, peace, and repentance, of death and judgment. He and several thousand of his followers establish a community at an abandoned cattle ranch called Canudos, where they plan to wait out the apocalyptic developments that he has predicted. Rejecting the advances of the encroaching republican civilization, they refuse to pay taxes and also shelter numerous backlands outlaws. The insecure new federal government eventually crushes this “revolt” in 1897.

Galileo Gall

Galileo Gall, the alias of a Scottish-born utopian anarchist and phrenologist. This libertarian intellectual views Canudos idealistically as a model of human fraternity, only superficially cluttered by religion. In his view, the Canudos movement is the beginning of a revolution that ultimately will end the tyranny of the state.

Epaminondas Gonçalves

Epaminondas Gonçalves...

(The entire section is 482 words.)