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...
(The entire section is 846 words.)