Zero Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1974 (English translation, 1983)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Political

Time of work: The late 1960’s

Locale: A large city in Latin America

Characters DiscussedJosé Gonçalves

José ZeroGonçalves (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 personal advertisement and they marry, though her people do not approve. Immediately, she begins to pressure him for material comforts for them and their unborn child, especially for a house of their own. The difficulties they encounter render her sick and apathetic. She aborts the child, then hemorrhages and returns to her parents, because José spends much time away as a terrorist. She is abducted by members of a cult and, in a grotesque ritual, is sacrificed as a means of ridding the earth of evil.

Gê, the leader of the Communs, a terrorist group. Self-sacrificing and charismatic, he is a well-known fighter with an obscure background, apparently a medical school graduate turned rebel. Surviving all attempts to capture or kill him, he walks into José’s house one day and provides José with a possible outlet for his frustrations. With Gê’s persuasion, José joins the group. Gê takes José under his wing and lectures him on the necessity of living for the group cause and not for individual action, a necessity that José never accepts.


Atila, José’s friend and fellow subversive. His nickname derives from his tendency toward violence when drinking. His teaching degree proved useless when he refused to bribe officials for a position. He drives a bus until José goes to join the Communs; he accompanies José for the fun of it. He joins in robbing and killing, is eventually caught and brutally tortured, but will not divulge information on the group and is finally released.


Malevil, José’s friend and fellow subversive. A twenty-one-year-old student and a neighbor of José and Rosa, he is out of school because of military intervention there. Atila tells José that Malevil is the first case of reanimation after having been frozen. He works at a nightclub. When he is framed by the police and imprisoned, he joins the Communs and the fight against oppression. When he becomes disillusioned with this as well, he betrays and identifies José in a scene much like that of Judas at Gethsemane.


Ige-Sha, a female African shaman. Searching for a person as a sacrifice for purifying the world from evil, she finds Rosa and executes her in a brutal ritual.

Carlos Lopez

Carlos Lopez, a textile worker. A patriot with a sick son, he keeps running up against a bureaucratic government as he tries to find treatment. He is faithful, persevering in the face of all apathy, but when his son finally dies without care, he, too, turns against the system.

BibliographyKrabbenhoft, Kenneth. “Ignacio de Loyola Brandão and the Fiction of Cognitive Estrangement.” Luso-Braizilian Review 24 (Summer, 1987): 35-45. A discussion of the theme of metamorphoses in Loyola Brandão’s works.
Categories: Characters