Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 846
Samba Diallo, a young man of the Diallobé aristocracy who is perceived by all to represent the future of his people. For this reason, the older generation of the Diallobé people struggles to influence the course of his life. As a child, Samba evinces a profound sense of the spiritual beauty of Islam and of the Koran, the words of which he repeats without understanding them. When it is decided that he will attend a French school, he becomes enamored with the Western alphabet, philosophy, and scientific method, all of which suggest that everything can be expressed, analyzed, and mastered. Undertaking university studies in philosophy in Paris, he suffers deeply over the loss of the spiritual plenitude he had known before his contact with the West. As he discusses philosophical, spiritual, and political issues with those he meets, he realizes that in the course of his “ambiguous adventure” he has internalized aspects of both cultures and is no longer completely at ease in either. Recalled to Africa by his worried father, he seems to seek out his own demise and apparently experiences a return of faith at the moment of his death.
Thierno (tee-EHR-no), a teacher of Islam in the Koranic school and spiritual master of the Diallobé people. The fragility and stiffness of his aging body make a vivid contrast with the ethereal joy in his soul. Thierno declines to help the Diallobé decide whether to send their children to the colonial schools. With his preferred successor, Samba, away in Paris, he designates Demba, a pragmatic youth of peasant stock, whose first official act is to allow the Diallobé children to attend the French school.
The Knight, Samba’s father, so dubbed by a school friend of Samba (Jean Lacroix) because of his stature and noble bearing. Although he works at a civil service post in the colonial administration, his contact with the West has not altered his deep faith. Indeed, he asserts that Africa’s urgent mission is to restore a sense of spirituality to an impoverished Western civilization obsessed with scientific and technological progress.
The Chief of the Diallobé
The Chief of the Diallobé, the secular leader of his people, brother of the Most Royal Lady, and Samba’s cousin. The Chief represents a middle ground, a locus of indecisiveness in an era in which important decisions must be made. A lucid and profoundly human character, he clearly feels inadequate to play the role assigned him by his historical era.
The Most Royal Lady
The Most Royal Lady, Samba’s aunt and the Chief’s sister. Sixty years old but looking twenty years younger, she radiates the beauty and strength of the Diallobé aristocracy. Her principal role in the novel is to exhort her people to attend the French school. In an eloquent speech, she acknowledges that the consequences of this decision cannot be predicted; precious elements of cultural or spiritual heritage may be lost, but the Diallobé must move forward.
The Fool, a friend of Thierno. His daring gaze, strange clothing, odd speech, and marginalized position in Diallobé society have earned for him this title. His reasons for having visited the West are unclear, but he seems to have fought in World War I and to have been permanently traumatized by his experiences. The West he describes to Thierno is a cold, hard, mechanized, dehumanized world, and he opposes any contact with it. He is grief-stricken at Thierno’s death, and his efforts to force Samba to pray on the holy man’s grave precipitate Samba’s apparent death at the end of the novel.
Paul Lacroix (lah-KRWAH ), a colleague of the Knight. His principal importance is as a participant in a conversation with the Knight as the two men observe a magnificent African sunset; that sight causes them to...
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