At first glance, Gabriel appears to be a washed-up old vaquero, or cowboy, who lives in a state of nostalgic regret on a patch of barren land. Gabriel works a demeaning job, drinks himself into a stupor on a weekly basis, and frequently fights with his wife. But as the novel progresses, the depth and dignity of Gabriel’s relationship with the llano becomes clear. Even though he lives in a state of regret, he does so only out of his genuine fondness for the vaquero way of life. His choice to live on barren rather than fertile land results from his desire to be near the llano. His barren surroundings also support the idea that his family lives on the threshold of civilization and isolation.
The family’s in-between state causes a great deal of conflict between Gabriel and his wife, María, a Catholic who would like to live in a civilized town. For the sake of María and his family, Gabriel leaves the llano, moves to town, and begins to attend church. Gabriel continually demonstrates maturity, equanimity, and self-sacrifice in this vein as the story progresses. María tries to force Antonio to follow her family’s tradition and become a priest, but Gabriel does not coax him to follow his background and become a vaquero. Instead, Gabriel wants Antonio to become a vaquero only if he chooses that lifestyle. At the conclusion of the novel, Gabriel volunteers to put aside the conflict with the Lunas and help Antonio make his own choice about his future. Like Antonio himself, Gabriel has a serious and inquisitive mind. He has suffered hardship and bad luck, but he continues to strive to do the right thing and to help the people he loves.