The narrator and protagonist of I, Rigoberta Menchu
Proud, hardworking, and idealistic, Rigoberta is a Quiche Indian who finds
herself poised for leadership when her people are persecuted and exploited by
the powerful Guatemalan dictatorship. Rigoberta oscillates between despair and
anger as she gains the skills and confidence that enable her to make a
difference in her community and in the world. Fiercely traditional, Rigoberta
defends her family and fellow Indians, celebrating the folkways and stories that
have been passed down for generations. Rigoberta repeatedly pursues activities
that aren’t typical among the women in her culture. Eventually, Rigoberta
becomes a radical political activist who travels throughout the world, telling
her story and furthering the Guatemalan peasant cause.
in-depth analysis of Rigoberta Menchu.
The editor of I, Rigoberta Menchu
interviewed, recorded, transcribed, and arranged Rigoberta’s autobiography.
Though Burgos-Debray’s presence is only implied in the action of I,
, she shapes the story. An educated, left-leaning
anthropologist, Burgos-Debray sympathizes with Rigoberta and holds a romantic
view of her and her fellow Indian peasants. Cooking the traditional dishes that
are staples in both women’s homelands, for instance, Burgos-Debray feels a deep
connection with Rigoberta, but Rigoberta doesn’t return the connection because
she mistrusts ladinos
and other outsiders.
Rigoberta’s father. A leader in his community, the Roman Catholic
Church, and the CUC, Vicente is Rigoberta’s chief role model. From early in
Rigoberta’s life, Vicente presses on her his hope that she’ll continue his
cause. Vicente was an orphan who entered the Guatemalan army at a young age
before he met and married Juana Tum, and he is committed to his family and the
Indian community. Despite his apparent strength, he can also be thin-skinned,
sometimes escaping his problems by drinking alcohol.
in-depth analysis of Vicente Menchu.
Rigoberta’s mother. A traditional Indian healer, Juana believes
strongly in upholding the values and practices of the elders and the ancestors.
However, she wholeheartedly embraces the cause of the Guatemalan peasants and is
able to unite people in simple but powerful ways. After seeing three of her sons
die at the hands of the Guatemalan landowners and government, Juana becomes more
militant and even sympathizes with guerillas who live in the mountains near her
Rigoberta’s older brother. Petrocinio is singled out by the
Guatemalan military for his work as a catechist and as a community leader among
the Guatemalan peasants. Rigoberta, her family, and their community must watch
as he is burned alive by the Guatemalan military, which galvanizes their
commitment to fight for Indian rights.
Another maid in the landowner’s house, where Rigoberta works in
Guatemala City. Candelaria is a “ladinized” Indian, which means she speaks
Spanish and wears ladino clothing, not the traditional Indian dress. Confident
and street-smart, Candelaria shows Rigoberta how to perform household duties at
the landowner’s house, but she also teaches her how to sabotage wealthy
landowners and what it takes to stand up to authority. She is a survivor who
holds onto her dignity, even though she is eventually thrown out of the
in-depth analysis of Candelaria.
Rigoberta’s little brother. Two-year-old Nicolas succumbs to illness
at the finca. His death spurs Rigoberta’s dawning realization of her people’s
exploitation and her understanding of what life means for Indians living in
Guatemala. Upon Nicholas’s death, Rigoberta feels angry and wishes to make
changes in her own life and the lives of her people.
The wife of the wealthy landowner who hires Rigoberta to work as a
maid in Guatemala City. The mistress hates Indians but also relies on their
strong work ethic to keep her household running. She sees Rigoberta and
Candelaria as an extension of her household and expects them to behave and dress
appropriately. Yet she also mistreats them, feeding her dog better food than she
sets aside for the Indians.
Rigoberta’s Younger Sister
A member of the Guerilla army. Rigoberta’s twelve-year-old sister
visits Rigoberta while Rigoberta is in hiding in Guatemala and reminds her that
being a revolutionary isn’t born of something good but of “wretchedness and
Rigoberta’s Youngest Sister
A member of the guerilla army. Rigoberta’s youngest sister says she
can honor her mother only by taking up arms.
Rigoberta’s friend at the finca. Maria exists only in Rigoberta’s
memory, but her death sets off a rage within Rigoberta that energizes her
commitment to become a leader among her people and to do whatever it takes to
transform the dismal lot most Indians face.
The Old Woman
A resident in one of the communities where Rigoberta organizes the
Guatemalan peasant movement. A widow who has lost her entire family, the Old
Woman is tired of fighting the Guatemalan government. However, she is also
willing to take more risks than her neighbors in rebelling against them and ends
up killing a member of the Guatemalan army. Because she has traits that appear
in legends and myths cross-culturally, the Old Woman is an archetypal
Dona Petrona Chona
A friend of Rigoberta’s from the finca. Dona Petrona Chona, the
mother of two small children, is murdered after she refuses advances from the
landowner’s son. Her role in I, Rigoberta Menchu
symbolic and suggests the fractured identity of Rigoberta and all of the Indian
people. Like the Old Woman, Dona Petrona Chona is also an archetypal mother
Kjell Laugerud Garcia
The president of Guatemala from 1974–1978. Rigoberta refers to him as
Kjell Laugerud, and he tells the Indians he sympathizes with them. However, he
then betrays them and sides with the Guatemalan landowners.
The president of Guatemala from 1978–1982. Lucas Garcia is more
aggressive toward the Indians than was Kjell Laugerud. He sets up military bases
in the Altiplano, where his soldiers routinely rape, torture, and kidnap