Tropic of Orange: Summary & Characters Video

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  • 0:00 ''Tropic of Orange''
  • 0:27 Major Characters
  • 2:41 Summary
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

'Tropic of Orange' is a 1997 book by Karen Tei Yamashita. The novel revolves around a single orange, a not-quite-human man, and seven loosely connected characters. This lesson will focus on the characters and a summary of events of the book.

Tropic of Orange

Tropic of Orange is a novel told in seven voices, one for each of the main characters. Each character gets seven chapters, one for each day of the week that passes while these events unfold. The connection between the characters builds until they are brought together in an explosive, almost apocalyptic conclusion on a freeway in Los Angeles.

Major Characters

Let's take a look at each of the characters.

Rafaela Cortes is in some ways the female protagonist of the novel. She was born in Mexico, but was allowed to stay in the U.S. when she met and married Bobby. She and her husband started a cleaning company and had a son together, Sol, who is just over two years old when the events in the novel start. Rafaela and Bobby argue a lot and as a result she decides to take a break from their marriage and returns to Mexico with Sol.

Bobby Ngu is Rafaela's husband. He was born in Singapore and lied to get into the U.S., and then lied again to get a job when he arrived in Los Angeles. He had many responsibilities piled upon him during childhood and as a result has a strong work ethic and never slows down mentally.

Gabriel Balboa is a Mexican-born journalist who worked his way up to the top. He has an on-again off-again relationship with fellow journalist Emi. Their relationship is mostly carried on through electronic communication. Gabriel hires Rafaela as the overseer for the construction on his house in Mexico.

Emi is a Japanese-American journalist. She dislikes her ethnic heritage and sometimes denies it. Emi sees human tragedy as a tool that is good for ratings, and is obsessed with her work and technology.

Buzzworm is an African-American former soldier living in Los Angeles. After a childhood of poverty, Buzzworm fought for the US in the Vietnam War. When he returned home, he struggled with drug addiction that he eventually overcame. Buzzworm has dedicated his life to helping others overcome addiction.

Manzanar Murakami is one of the homeless people who Buzzworm helps. The Japanese-American man used to be a doctor, but now stands on the top of highway overpasses, pretending to direct the traffic. Manzanar is presumed to be mentally ill by the other characters. He is obsessed with order and sound.

Arcangel is a supernatural character. He is old and frail but is strong enough to move an entire bus by himself. Arcangel puts the events in Tropic of Orange into motion. One of the major topics in the book is immigration, and analysts have argued that Arcangel represents the physical embodiment of immigration and the positives and negatives that go along with it.

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