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...
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