The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Unlike the conventional novel, The Lonely Londoners has no protagonist. Moses Aleotta, to whom readers are initially introduced, has a certain status, but this derives not from his social position, his special resources, or his extraordinary experiences. It derives instead from the length of time he has been in London. Seniority gives Moses an authority and significance in the eyes of the group that has formed around him. In the eyes of newcomers, Moses is a vital mentor, guide, and informant. Such a view makes Moses increasingly conscious of the human cost of his immigrant status, as revealed in his rather embittered and nostalgic conversation with the younger, fresher Galahad toward the end of the novel. Although none of the characters is immune from the loneliness of the novel’s title, it is Moses who is the most complete embodiment of unsensational, unsentimental isolation.

Galahad, on the contrary, makes a much more obvious effort to enter English society in his pursuit of white women. His date with Dolly, however, is not exactly what either partner expects; Galahad is somewhat disappointed by the girl’s grade of culture, while she is unaccustomed to his standard of hospitality. The conflicts that are gently implied in this episode are repeated in various ways throughout the novel. They are most obviously in evidence in the area of sexual relations, but they also exist between West Indian family members, as in the case of Tolroy’s brother and sister-in-law, and between members of the West Indian community generally, as the pretentious behavior of the impresario Harris demonstrates. These remain conflicts without issue. Dolly appears and disappears. What she is...

(The entire section is 693 words.)

The Lonely Londoners Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Moses Aloetta

Moses Aloetta, a factory worker on the night shift, a dialect-speaking Trinidadian immigrant who arrives several years before the large influx of West Indians into England. He is softhearted despite himself, generous, and relatively responsible. Newer immigrants often contact him for help in getting settled. Having confronted the problems of racism and low status in securing lodging and employment himself, he is knowing, weary, and tolerant, initiating others in the ways of survival in London but concerned that black people not be seen as social parasites. A wry observer of the passing scene, he has an active sex life but decides never to marry. Often lonely, miserable, homesick, and ambivalent about life in the metropolis, he is sustained, and sustains others, by maintaining close contact with a circle of fellow West Indian exiles for whom he is a natural, though unofficial, leader and father-confessor. Worried about the future and his lack of progress, with a sense of impermanence but little to return to in the Caribbean, he nevertheless preserves his calypsonian sense of humor and essential delight in life.

Henry Oliver

Henry Oliver, called Galahad, a Trinidadian immigrant befriended by Moses. An electrician at home, he acts brash and overconfident but soon turns to Moses for guidance. Determined to avoid going on the dole, he finds night work in a factory. Arriving in winter wearing only a tropical suit over his pajamas and with only a toothbrush for luggage, he is an eccentric who sweats in the cold and freezes in the summer; he later acquires a large wardrobe and takes elaborate care of his appearance. At first wounded and puzzled by British color prejudice, he is gradually swept along by the excitement of...

(The entire section is 725 words.)

The Lonely Londoners The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Moses Aloetta is the central and most fully realized character in the novel. A natural leader, he is generous and relatively responsible, helping to sustain his people in the wilderness that is London. Although he accepts the role of father-confessor, he sometimes resents the strain of this responsibility. He is not above having fun at the expense of others, using the elaborate calypsonian put-on and the ridicule of “picong” and “fatigue.” Moses is the voice of experience, and he views the exploits of his fellow immigrants with an often weary tolerance and a characteristic “Take it easy.” More than any other characters in the novel, Moses is reflective and often worries about his future and the unpromising pattern of his life: “From winter to winter, summer to summer, work after work. Sleep, eat, hustle pussy, work.”

Clearly Selvon began the novel with the intention of creating a central character who was distinct from his omniscient third-person narrator; as the novel progressed, however, not only the wonderfully wrought language of the narrator but also his attitudes and judgments merged with those of Moses to such a degree that both voices can be considered expressions of the same character despite the logical inconsistencies this entails.

Only Galahad and Moses himself are supplied with complete names. The use of colorful nicknames—Big City, Five Past Twelve (because he is blacker than midnight)—or only one name to identify the other characters reflects their incompleteness as personalities. Samuel Selvon provides them with superficial eccentricities which he often uses as running jokes, but few of the characters are presented as anything more than caricatures, revealing an unwillingness or inability on the part of the author to deal with them on a deeper level....

(The entire section is 739 words.)