Macabéa, a nineteen-year-old orphan from the northeastern Brazilian province of Alagoas. Her parents died when she was an infant, and she was reared by an unloving and abusive aunt. Barely literate, her only education beyond three years of primary schooling was a short typing course. She has migrated to Rio de Janeiro, where she works in an office. Macabéa, born under an unlucky star, covers her blotchy face with a layer of white powder and suffers from a chronic dripping nose and a hacking cough; she emits an unpleasant body odor, for she rarely washes, and she exists on hot dogs, coffee, and soft drinks. Although she affirms her identity by asserting, “I am a typist and a virgin, and I like coca-cola,” she is hardly aware of her own existence. What awareness she does have comes strictly through her senses.
Olímpico de Jesus Moreira Chaves, Macabéa’s boyfriend, who has also emigrated from the Northeast. In many respects, he is a self-made character, starting with his name, adopted to mask the fact that his true surname, Jesus, marked him as illegitimate. He works in a metal factory transferring metal rods from one area to another, but he insists on calling himself a metallurgist. By murdering a rival and by becoming adept at petty theft, he has confirmed his manhood to himself. A curious artistic sensibility reveals itself in his carvings of effigies of saints, which he refuses to sell because he finds them so attractive. He has a morbid fascination for funerals, which terrify him but which he attends at least twice a week. Although being a bullfighter is his dream (he is fascinated by blood and knives), his goal is to become a politician.
Glória, Macabéa’s much more competent officemate, a voluptuous and self-confident young woman. Although both the narrator and Macabéa describe her as ugly, she is well aware of her charms. The daughter of a butcher, she is well fed and lives on a street named after a general. Her animal magnetism and the attraction of her father’s profession prove to be irresistible to Olímpico.
Madame Carlota, a talkative fortune-teller. Madama Carlota is as interested in relating her own history to Macabéa as she is in revealing what the cards can tell about her client’s destiny. She credits Jesus with her rise from prostitute to brothel owner to fortune-teller.