(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, the story’s central character and only developed personality, is an Everyman with needs to satisfy. His quest depicts the relative capacity of two different societies to fulfill his needs and to bring him to full humanity. On graduation from Sansom, he requires a job and will take what he can get, no matter how unpromising it seems. When the doing brings him to a greater truth than he had aimed at and through a path of apparent improbabilities, the result is nothing short of miracle or comedy in the Dantean sense, but it is tinged finally by his reversion to the values of the lesser civilization. This story realizes the full potential of I-narration by bringing the unwitting modern through his society’s delusions and his own limitations toward the will to faith. His dramatized example witnesses that, of all the stories having more than passing value, the deepest and most satisfying—toward which others lead—is the Christian mystery. His return to something less, though certainly human, is a letdown.

To run the course of his discovery, the narrator makes three trips to the primitive Dangs, about whom little is known except their appetite for prophecy and hostility toward intruders. Surprisingly, he makes three returns, though one seems unlikely, his qualifications to do anthropological research among the primitives being merely that he is a “good mimic, a long-distance-runner, and black.” These seem less than sufficient, considering the problems: He has no zeal for the quest but goes because he needs money and has no other prospects; he doubts that the “brick dust” black Dangs will spot a relative in his “granite dust” black skin and ersatz primitive getup.

Surprisingly, virtually everything goes his way. Entering primitiveness, he makes enough errant gestures to get a troop...

(The entire section is 747 words.)