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Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols


At the beginning of Bel Canto, Hosokawa is a man with a tidy, conventional life. He works very hard. He is a success. He has a family. But when Hosokawa listens to opera, he stops doing and thinking and feeling what is proper and experiences the intensity of human love, anguish, and passion.

During his captivity, Hosokawa experiences a major awakening. Once a man who only felt passion while appreciating art, Hosokawa is transformed by his captivity into a man who feels passion while experiencing life. When his romance with Roxanne Coss blooms, the love that he used to feel only while listening to opera begins to color all of his days. This transformation amazes Hosokawa, who never knew that such a life could exist.

Coss alone is not responsible for the change in Hosokawa. He, like all of the characters in Bel Canto, experiences life with particular intensity during the siege. Unlike the other characters, Hosokawa faces the reality that the almost magical idyll of captivity will one day come to an end, and that when it does, the relationships formed under duress will be affected. Hosokawa wonders if he and Coss will be able to protect and maintain their passion for each other once they have been released.

Roxanne Coss

When Roxanne Coss sings, her voice is at once “reckless and controlled.” People love her for her fearlessness and her ability to capture life’s pain and beauty in song. Many men who hear Coss sing declare their love for her, although they hardly know her. Until she falls in love with Katsumi Hosokawa, Coss is a woman who receives love without giving love in return.

Coss is flattered by her fans’ admiration, and she enjoys being a star. When she is taken hostage, she believes that whatever may happen to everyone else, she will survive because she is special. Her stardom is an essential part of her identity. Still, the professions of love from near-strangers sometimes annoy Coss. Like many artists, Coss wants the world to love her for her art but is irked when people love her too eagerly or too invasively.

At first Hosokawa, like the others, loves Coss for her singing, and her talent never ceases to enthrall him. But Hosokawa and Coss grow to find a deep comfort with each other that is different from the one-sided adoration and adulation that characterizes Coss’s relationship with her fans. Roxanne Coss says, “If someone loves you for what you can do, then it’s flattering . . . but if they love you for who you are, they have to know you, which means you have to know them.” Once Coss finds love with Hosokawa, she is able to love Cesar, the young terrorist who aspires to be a great singer. During their lessons, her desire to be a star is temporarily replaced by her desire to help someone else. One love begets another.

Gen Watanabe

Most of the characters in Bel Canto use Watanabe as a means of communication. Watanabe has a great gift for languages, and helps the hostages understand one another and the terrorists. Despite his facility with languages, Watanabe has a hard time expressing his own thoughts and emotions.

Although the terrorist Carmen cannot read or write, she is passionate about words, and Watanabe falls in love with her partly because of her intense desire to master the language. Watanabe’s love for Carmen allows him to become a person in his own right, instead of the quiet interpreter who serves everyone else.

Watanabe also functions as a symbol of language. Like language itself, Watanabe both facilitates and impedes direct communication. People cannot communicate without him, but he is almost a third wheel in conversation, an impediment to heart-to-heart talks.

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