Study Guide

God's Bits of Wood

by Ousmane Sembène

God's Bits of Wood Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Based on the events surrounding an actual strike by African railway workers, God’s Bits of Wood presents a dramatic fictionalized account of the way in which the strike in 1947 and 1948 must have affected the lives of the African union leaders, workers, and their families, as well as the French managers of the railroad. The novel, set along the Dakar-Niger railway line in Senegal (at that time a French colony), employs a large cast of characters, moves from city to village to countryside, and develops a variety of situations. The central conflict, which stems from the strike itself, serves to unify these often disparate characters, places, and narrative strands.

The opening chapter introduces the set of characters who initiate the workers’ walkout. Soon, as their defiance of the French-owned railroad spreads along the line, the trains stop running. Once determined to stand united against the foreign management and to carry the strike to its resolution (and in a sense to reclaim their own country), the Africans resign themselves to a long period of hardship. Food becomes scarce, then the water does the same, and both are rationed by the officials. Before long, the euphoria that first filled the idle workers turns into discouragement. Faced with the struggle for survival, friends and relatives turn on one another, making cruelty and violence commonplace. The strikers and their families also face random acts of retribution and punishment carried...

(The entire section is 464 words.)