Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

Characterization in Ambiguous Adventure is so pointedly typed that characters represent variations on the central philosophical tension in the novel: The values of the modern West force a movement from the values of traditional Islamic West Africa toward a universal destiny of oppositions united in nothingness. Science, progress, external evidence, materialism, and light oppose belief, stability, internal devotion, spirituality, and darkness. On the one hand, Islam, from the point of view in the West, is a “fascination of nothingness for those who have nothing. Their nothingness—they call it the absolute.” On the other hand, the West, from the Islamic West African point of view, “is the triumph of evidence, a proliferation of the surface,” which creates “masters of the external,” exiling those masters to a superficial world. For Europeans, truth is revealed day by day. For West African Muslims, truth comes from the belief “in the end of the world” and “takes its place at the end of history.” To the chief, Western values contract and constrain truth to increasingly relativistic, narrow, egoistic concerns. To Lacroix, the Diallobe pursue a cosmic drama that befits a defeated people who revel in absurd fears. Their common ground is only that both “shall have, strictly, the same future” of “the crucible in which the world is being fused.”

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That future is the torn conscience of Samba, in which the converging destinies of the West and Africa meet. Consequently, the novel’s theme with respect to the individual turns on a double question: “[C]an one learn this without forgetting that, and is what one learns worth what one forgets?” For Samba, the price of his French education is despair, alienation, and death. Like the fool who kills him, Samba is of two minds. The fool wears a spotless white boubous; yet over it, he wears an old, dirty European frock coat. He has been destroyed by his experience in the West, yet he cannot shed that brittle, hardening experience. Ironically, the fool’s murder of Samba is also Samba’s freedom from his doubled-dressed, agonized consciousness. Kane,however, does not free the reader from the perplexing complications of the two ideologies that clash throughout the novel.

Although Samba finds salvation in a dubious martyrdom that results from his refusal to be hypocritical to the Word of the Koran and in his return to the visible natural world of an eternal, unseen creator, he also negates the very oppositions of the novel’s tension. Death frees him just as Thierno taught him that it would. Dying confirms his devotion to the Word, vindicating his exile into a world of adventurous surfaces and precise evidence. The ideologies, however, remain; all the characters, all the variations of central opposing cultural viewpoints, survive Samba in the novel’s closure of implied nothingness. What is left for the reader is an array of disparate ideas yet to be played out as long as humanity senses the movement of history—or awaits the apocalyptic end of it.

Themes Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 880

A Spiritual Journey in a Colonial Setting

Ambiguous Adventure opens as Thierno chastises his pupil, Samba Diallo, for his mistakes in reciting the Koran. This opening scene sets the spiritual tone for Samba Diallo’s ambiguous adventure. At a young age, he feels a strong connection to God in spite of the fact that he does not understand the verses he recites. Sadly, by the time he has grown old enough to study the meaning behind the verses of the Koran, the Diallobé have decided to send Samba Diallo to the French school. Samba Diallo is quickly engrossed in his new studies, particularly the power of the French language. He is so...

(The entire section contains 1379 words.)

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