The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Salim is a chilling realization of the displaced African Asian, in exile from his land of origin, India, and from his land of occupation, Africa; a man twice colonized, he has learned the art of detached perception but is fundamentally insecure about his own identity and deeply ambivalent about his relationship with Africa and Africans. He envies and admires the natives from the Bush—Zabeth and her son Ferdinand—but when his servant Metty impregnates an African girl, he can only exclaim: “Oh, Ali, what have you done? Don’t you think it’s disgusting to have a little African child running about in somebody’s yard, with its toto swinging from side to side?” Every aspect of Salim’s life is an instance of what Frantz Fanon has called “false de-colonization” because it is riddled with dependence on others: His obsession with Yvette depended on the happy illusions with which they fed themselves; his present life depends on the President’s whims and on Nazruddin suggesting he take over his business; his future depends on his marrying Nazruddin’s daughter; and his past depended on the image of his country provided by Europe:When I was a child Europe ruled my world. It had defeated the Arabs in Africa and controlled the interior of the continent. It ruled the coast and all the countries of the Indian Ocean with which we traded; it supplied our goods. We knew who we were and where we had come from. But it was Europe that gave us the descriptive postage stamps that gave us our ideas of what was picturesque about ourselves. It also gave us a new language.

Finally, his escape from Africa depends on a favor granted by Ferdinand, who once lived with Salim and chooses to repay him with freedom.

Indar serves in some ways as Salim’s double, his guide, and eventually, his Kurtz: he is a product of a wealthy Indian-African family who can afford the finest European education. He returns to Salim’s town as an envied former friend, now a lecturer at the polytechnic, cynical...

(The entire section is 817 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Salim, the narrator. Born and reared on the eastern coast of Africa, Salim does not feel himself to be a true African because his ancestors were Hindus of northwestern India. From an early age, Salim detached himself from his familiar community and now feels insecure and uncertain about his future in postcolonial Africa. Although nominally a Muslim, he lacks the religious sense of his family. When Nazruddin, a Europeanized Muslim and family friend, offers to sell him his shop in an unidentified country in central Africa, Salim accepts and drives there to take over the business. Racked by recently won independence, military coups, and civil war, the town is not at all what Salim expected based on Nazruddin’s enthusiastic descriptions. Gradually, the town comes back to life, business improves, and Salim becomes acquainted with a few of the non-African townspeople. Disorder returns to the town, however, and Salim again decides to break with his community. He travels to England to see Nazruddin’s daughter, to whom he has been engaged informally for many years. By mutual agreement, they end the engagement. Salim returns to the town, but, in his absence, it has become radicalized, and Salim’s shop has been taken over by a state trustee. Salim is betrayed and arrested for illegally possessing ivory, but he escapes. At the end of the novel, Salim leaves the town by steamer, presumably for Europe, moving down the river in darkness, away from the last...

(The entire section is 601 words.)