Santosh is at once the most likable and the least sympathetic of the three protagonists. His charming, unacculturated reportage of life in Washington, D.C., lends a comic air to the narrative which greatly adds to the story’s richness. The reader is unlikely to forget, however, that Santosh has abandoned a wife and two children in India because he could not face the disgrace of returning to his village in the hills, and that even at the story’s end, when he has nothing to look forward to except death, his motivation is his own prestige and comfort.
The narrator of “Tell Me Who to Kill,” however, powerfully engages the reader’s sympathies. His motives are entirely altruistic to help his younger brother Dayo and his rural family. When the narrator must drop out of school, the great shame that he feels for perpetuating his family’s poverty manifests itself in two ways: in an ambitious plan to help his dearly loved brother obtain a higher education, and in an overpowering, soul-destroying hatred, first toward his uncle’s snobbish urban family and later toward the whites, whose seemingly impenetrable culture contributes to the defeat of his plan.
Bobby, like the other two protagonists, also has a trait which prompts him to expatriate; he is emotionally unstable, presumably because of English hostility to his homosexuality, as illustrated by his psychiatrist’s wife’s remark about having to take in “one of Arthur’s young queers.” Also, like the other protagonists, he searches for freedom in an alien culture but finds only loneliness and despair. He has great sympathy for his adopted countrymen, but his inability to understand them causes his every endeavor to fail.