This novel expresses much anxiety about the ability of an African nation to survive in a post-colonial world. Having lived for decades under the control of a conquering empire, these nations had no structure for governing themselves. Therefore, when the colonial leadership pulled out, chaos ensued. African nations found themselves suffering an identity crisis - in traditions, economy, and government, should they appeal to their African past, or use the more recently familiar European standards?
Salim experiences an identity crisis that mirrors the crisis of the nation. As he travels inland, he seeks to find employment and social acceptance. His search shows readers the upheavals that are occurring in the country. The rise and fall of the copper industry, the rise and fall of the leadership of "The Big Man", the slogans and cults that rise and fall in popularity - all of these things show a country just trying to keep its head above water, not sure of its future.
The pessimistic vision of Naipaul can been seen in the resolution - or the lack thereof - of the various storylines. The central storyline is, of course, Salim. Unable to find a place for himself in this country, he is forced to flee. His alienation from his homeland is pessimistic. In addition to this, the last section of the novel ends with the failure of The Big Man's leadership and the failure of the copper industry. Naipaul is suggesting a bleak future for countries trying to reestablish themselves after colonialism - like Salim, they are destined for "nowhere."