Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.”

That future is the torn conscience of Samba, in which the converging destinies of...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Themes Discussed

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 fascinated with the West that he travels to France to study philosophy.

Samba Diallo is on a spiritual journey, but his country is in the midst of a secular crisis. The Diallobé have been conquered and colonized. They now face difficult choices in an uncertain time. Although the French were militarily powerful, their colonizing bureaucracy seems to be their true strength. The French have managed to discover things about the world that the Diallobé have not, and they have set up schools to teach the Diallobé new things. These challenges are not spiritual, but political.

The Diallobé are divided by these political challenges. The chief of the Diallobé cannot reach a decision. The teacher of the Diallobé refuses to speak conclusively on the subject. Only the Most Royal Lady has come to a decision, and even she does not relish her decision. She argues that the Diallobé must send their strongest, most intelligent children to learn from the French schools. The foreign influence may corrupt the children, but it might also create for the Diallobé a guide for the new world in which they find themselves.

At first, it seems that Samba Diallo has indeed found a path along which his nation can follow. He is a successful student and he is fascinated by the ideas of Pascal. However, after he arrives in France, he begins to see signs of disconnection in the Africans who live there. Soon he, too, is forced to acknowledge that he has lost the path to God, and he is not certain that one can find...

(The entire section is 880 words.)