The Woman from Sarajevo Characters

Ivo Andrić

Characters Discussed

Rajka Radakovi

Rajka Radakovi (RI-kah rah-DA-koh-vihch), a woman from Sarajevo. Rajka is the quintessential miser. Her miserliness derives from a sense of insecurity, which came about primarily from her father’s failure in business. Her father dies from grief, but not before advising his daughter to save at every step and to distrust people, because trusting people allows concern for others to govern one’s life, which, in turn, makes one dangerously vulnerable. Rajka’s bitter childhood experience stays with her all of her life. After taking over her father’s business, she makes sure never to allow others to take advantage of her. Moreover, she denies herself every pleasure and isolates herself from people, even relatives. Eventually, her thrift and avarice become an obsession and grow to monstrous proportions. The excessive egotism, selfishness, miserliness, and lack of normal human drives in the end ruin her, along with everyone with whom she associates. The author offers some plausible explanations for Rajka’s behavior. In addition to insecurity, a desire to avenge and redeem her father contributes heavily to her behavior. The remembrance of the past shapes her view of the world as basically evil, selfish, insensitive, and even cruel. Such a cruel world crushes soft and emotional people, like her father, but it bows before hard and resolute people, like herself. The only...

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The Characters

The main character of The Woman from Sarajevo is Rajka. All other characters are only props in Ivo Andri’s efforts to draw the unusual character of this woman. Rajka is the quintessential miser, recalling the classic examples of the type portrayed in works such as Plautus’ Aulularia (The Pot of Gold), Moliere’s L’Avare (1668; The Miser, 1672), and Jovan Sterija Popovic’s Tvrdica: Ili, Kir Janja (1837; the miser). She leaves little to the reader’s imagination as far as her avarice is concerned. She saves on firewood, for example, while her hands are purple, her lips are gray, and her nose is red from the cold. She dresses poorly, without attention to fashion and to the normal woman’s need to adorn and beautify herself. To Rajka, beauty is insanely expensive, a worthless and fickle thing. One can always save and shortchange time, warmth, light, food, rest—even when it seems to be impossible. She refuses to make a donation to any charitable cause, which earns for her the nickname “Shylock in a Skirt.” She carries her stinginess into the nonmaterial world, such as in her relationships with other people; unless necessary, she does not say even “hello.”

Andri describes her succinctly at a later stage in her life:Her ties even with the deceased relatives are weaker and weaker.... In town she doesn’t see anybody. She doesn’t need people; they pass her by, are born, grow and die, yet they are only one of the harmful or useful, good or dangerous factors in her savings. Otherwise she is not aware of their presence and has nothing in common with them. Even time does not exist for her—only the deposit and pay-off deadlines. There is no future, and the past is buried.

At that late stage in her life, she finds the greatest pleasure in watching with glee her gold pieces, “the basis, meaning and goal of life.” Her only goal is to add to the principal and watch it grow. In addition, she refuses to marry throughout her life, even though she had suitors in the beginning. For this reason, she is called “Miss” and is better known by the nickname than by...

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