The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.

In a Free State Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Santosh (SAN-tosh), the protagonist of “One out of Many,” an Indian domestic. When his employer, an Indian in government service, is posted to Washington, D.C., the naïve Santosh anticipates a life of freedom in America. His unrealistic view of America is enhanced by his watching television commercials. His lust leads him into an affair with a black maid. Overwhelmed with guilt, he abandons his employer and takes a job as a chef in an Indian restaurant. Lacking a work permit, he is afraid to walk the streets lest he be arrested. Finding himself in a psychological prison, he compromises his earlier dreams and settles for a life of detachment. He marries the black maid, thereby becoming a U.S. citizen, and continues to work as a chef. His final attitude is one of stoic acceptance of his loss of freedom and the recognition that he must merely feed and clothe his body for several years; then life mercifully will be over.


Sahib (SAH-heeb), Santosh’s first employer, a benevolent man who works for the Indian government and is sent as its agent to Washington, D.C. He warns Santosh that Washington, D.C., is not like Bombay and that he will not be able to live as comfortably there as he did in India.


Priya (PREE-yah), an Indian restaurateur in Washington, D.C., who lures Santosh away from his first employer. He advises Santosh to forget his wife and children in the hills at home and to marry the black maid and become an American citizen.

The narrator

The narrator, an unnamed West Indian in “Tell Me Who to Kill,” working in London to help his brother, Dayo, get an education. Having known nothing but poverty and...

(The entire section is 749 words.)