The Radiance of the King Characters

Camara Laye

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Clarence, a bankrupt, middle-aged white man in Africa. His previous occupation is not mentioned. Having lost all of his money and even incurred debts playing cards with his peers, he has been evicted from his hotel and landed in a miserable inn, where he also owes money. Destitute and wholly dependent on Africans in this tribal society, he thinks that he, as a white man, will be admitted to see the king and will be taken into the king’s service. His quest takes him from Adramé, a city of the North, to Aziana, a village of the South, in the company of an old beggar and two young dancing boys. Through painful, strange, and bewildering adventures, Clarence comes slowly to comprehend that his values (money, time, work, rights, and sex) carry no weight here; his color only makes him different from others. The beggar barters him to the Naba, the ruler of the South, for a donkey and a woman. Clarence is used to breed mulattoes through women from the Naba’s harem under the influence of aphrodisiac scents; the discovery that this is what is happening is deeply humiliating to him. When Clarence is stripped of his false pride and values, he does come into the radiance of the king, who draws him into his embrace, the end of his quest.

The beggar

The beggar, a cynical old African in rags who accompanies Clarence to the South. Abrupt in speech, contradictory, sharp, and repetitive, he responds not only to Clarence’s...

(The entire section is 511 words.)

The Radiance of the King The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In order to portray Clarence’s quest for spiritual salvation undeterred by cultural conflict, Camara Laye inverts the archetypal story of the African’s alienation in Europe that was begun in his first autobiographical novel, L’Enfant noir (1953; The Dark Child, 1954), and continued in his third novel, Dramouss (1966; A Dream of Africa, 1970). Clarence, however, undergoes much more than a difficult adaptation to an alien culture: He rep-resents an archetypal parody of African history in its subordination to the colonial empires of Europe. Instead of black slaves being taken to the New World (the symbolic North of European values), Clarence is sold into slavery in the South. Without understanding language, values, or culture, he is expected to assimilate the customs of a community in which he has no role except reproduction, thus satirizing the Western tendency to associate sensuality with blackness. Simultaneously, it is precisely that sensuality with which Clarence must come to terms, if he is to be saved by the King. His technological contributions, the rational inventions of the towel and shower, are, symbolically, the “cleansing” remnants of the Cartesian categories to which he unsuccessfully tried to cling while in Adrame. Yet, however much the historical exploitation of Africans by the West weighs in the allegory,Clarence, through Laye’s sympathetic, limited point of view, is never mistreated or even labeled a slave. Instead, he enjoys the tolerance and patience of his fellow villagers. He appears to himself to be a beast only when he discovers his role as stud—the Africans treat him with the respect accorded to his humanity.

Gradually, this respect permits Clarence to shed not only his clothes but also his fear of sexuality. Every other person in Aziana has a specific role; as Clarence comes to accept his own participation in the communal harmony of the village, he is less and less egocentric in his disgust at his erotic impulses. From his Western point of view, he is a lecherous sinner; in the tolerant view of the Africans, however, he...

(The entire section is 860 words.)

The Radiance of the King Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Deduck, Patricia A. ” Kafka’s Influence on Camara Laye’s Le Regard Du Roi,” in Studies in Twentieth-century Literature. IV (Spring, 1980), pp. 239-255.

Harrow, Kenneth. “A Sufi Interpretation of Le Regard du roi,” in Research in African Literatures. XIV (Summer, 1983), pp. 135-164.

King, Adele. The Writings of Camara Laye, 1981.

Obumselu, Ben. “The French and Moslem Backgrounds of The Radiance of the King,” in Research in African Literatures. XI (Spring, 1980), pp. 1-25.

Salt, M.J. “A Literary (and Social) Context for The Radiance of the King, by Camara Laye,” in Lore and Language. III (1979), pp. 62-72.