The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

None of the characters is fully developed. Indeed, they all seem to be caricatures drawn by a literary expressionist. There are virtually no physical descriptions, only sketchy background information, and little sense of balance in them as real persons. They speak, act, and react in exaggerated, often implausible ways, as people appearing in dreams and nightmares. Many characters come on the scene, provide some significant insight into the work’s meaning, then disappear for the rest of the novel.

The character of José Gonçalves, the protagonist, is drawn by his actions and words. The reader is told little of his background, there is no introspection, and what other characters say about him centers on his outward behavior. Even the third-person narrator, who is not omniscient, relates only what José does and says. Nevertheless, the reader can follow a basic evolution of the protagonist’s character. José becomes aware of the depravity of his occupation as rat killer, gains political consciousness and a general awareness of the world around him through reading, marries, seeks a house and a better job, and begins an individual revolt through acts of robbery and murder. Although he eventually joins the Commons, the violence he commits in conjunction with this radical group essentially continues his personal revolt and is not motivated politically. Thus, he is largely a pathetic character who does not grow in his human dimension but, as a victim of his times and environment, ends up contributing to the general despair of society.

Rosa is the object of José’s love, fear, and rage. Her role is more that of a foil for José than that of...

(The entire section is 680 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

José Gonçalves

José Gonçalves (gohn-SAHL-vehz), also called Zé, a vagabond worker at odd jobs and later an assassin and subversive. At twenty-eight years of age, he is small and unattractive, with a limp caused by a deformed foot. Though lacking the requisite self-assurance and drive, he once dreamed of being a singer. An avid reader, he is attracted to grotesques and oddities. Although seemingly apathetic, he is violent, feeling trapped and conscious of systematic oppression and his own mundane, captive life. José is relatively content as long as he retains his solitude, but when he marries, he is thrust into a confusing world that both beckons him and rejects him, threatening his individuality. In an atmosphere of rising political turmoil and violence, he is picked up and questioned regarding various small crimes. Bombarded by his wife Rosa, advertisements, and the government, he is pressured for material comforts. He begins robbing, then killing, and he gets what he wants, but it seems not to be worth it, especially when Rosa becomes estranged and ill and loses their child. After being harassed and brutalized by government officials, he finally joins the Communs, an antigovernment terrorist group. As the fight escalates, he wants only to escape everything. Betrayed and arrested, he is to be executed but escapes. He finally realizes that the group threatens his identity as much as does the oppressive government that he is fighting.

Rosa Maria

Rosa Maria, Jose’s wife. Short and plump, she is seen as unattractive by José’s friends. She was reared as a good Catholic. She answers José’s...

(The entire section is 688 words.)