Characters Discussed

Samba Diallo

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

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

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...

(The entire section is 846 words.)

The Characters

Schooled in the rich oral tradition of the Peul and firmly grounded in the Arabic scripture of the Koran, Kane draws clearly on his own experience, having pursued a French education in Paris. His affinities with his protagonist, however, resemble only the general movement out of Senegal. The name “Samba” was a title bestowed on the second son of the family, and Kane employs it to suggest a second generation of Peul-Muslim Senegalese who have to come to terms with their identity as French colonial subjects. Kane himself served both as the French regional Governor of Thies and, after Senegal’s independence, as cabinet director in the Ministry of Development and Planning of the new government. Remaining a devout Muslim but acknowledging his pragmatic perspective toward the French, Kane would say of “Europeanized Africans” that “we are cultural half-breeds. If we feel as Negroes, we express ourselves in French, because French is a language of universal vocation.” That vocation, as writer and as political leader, however, serves only to arm Kane with diverse experience upon which he reflects in order to create the protagonist Samba and the other characters, all of whom are largely type characters who express distinct points of view through the complex discussions in the novel.

Of the West African characters, Thierno exercises the greatest determining influence on Samba, who serves as the conscience and identity upon whom all issues of the debates converge. Thierno is a stern, demanding master, shaping Samba’s early consciousness. He demands perfect recitations and does not hesitate to draw blood in order to punish mistakes. From hour to hour, he sustains the principles of suffering and martyrdom in his training of Samba. Yet Thierno is also quietly compassionate, struggling not to show favoritism despite his pride in Samba’s spiritual growth. When the fool returns to the village crazed by Europe’s...

(The entire section is 788 words.)