Perhaps because of the novel’s political bent, the characters are developed largely insofar as they illuminate the vagaries of revolution. For example, the Creole Thomas Lanwood, dean of Panafrica’s freedom movement, is first mentioned under circumstances that signify the kind of political type he is. While discussing Lanwood with Lois, Udomo broods, “A man’s lonely sometimes in a strange land.” This statement ironically limns Lanwood’s predicament in the novel: the Westernized, citified African alienated from his tribal heritage, uneasy with the European one as well. Upon returning to his newly liberated homeland, Lanwood never adjusts to the smells, rituals, and language of “the real Africa.” Yet he dies a lonely man shortly after fleeing to Europe, as if that soil as well could no longer sustain him.
In a similar way, Peter Abrahams links the two principal characters, Udomo and Mhendi, to call attention to the inevitable conflicts between personal and public life. Both leaders fall in love with women who subordinate their private dreams to the political cause: Udomo with Lois and Mhendi with a Panafrican named Maria. In contrast to the messianic plans of their men, Lois and Maria prefer lives of “present fulfillment,” of simple, happy days in a bucolic setting. That both relationships end prematurely and violently suggests an incompatibility of romance with the realities of revolution.
No restless rebel or rootless outcast, Paul Mabi is not so much a type as a mouthpiece for the author himself. Mabi surfaces always to challenge Udomo: He condemns the man for betraying both Mhendi and Lois (for he impregnates her roommate). Finally, Mabi departs Panafrica in exasperation, suspecting that subsequent generations of Africans will never understand “the price at which their freedom was bought, and the share of it non-Africans . . . had to pay.” Through Mabi, Abrahams both questions and admires larger-than-life African nationalist leaders. The author may also, however, be using this spokesperson in a very personal way. When Mabi later regrets his “brand of squeamish patriotism,” Abrahams could have in mind his own displacement from his native South Africa.