Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618
Remi (RAY-mee), a youth of the Maura tribe who is sent to the city to attend the university and return to his village as a political and social leader for his people in the government of a newly independent country. As a student activist, he has convinced his small tribe to support the Africanist Party, which now governs. He has stayed on in the city as a clerk in an oil company rather than returning to his village, as was expected. Before his departure from home, his father and the elders of the village prevailed upon him to marry the widow of his brother, recently killed in an accident. Because he has secretly loved her and believes that she could not have loved him and married his brother, he goes through with the ceremony but flees the reality of the marriage by staying on in the city and becoming the lover of Jane, a white South African student. When he returns home with a friend from another tribe, he decries racism and tribalism, and he spurns his wife.
Nyobi (NYOH-bee), a devout Christian convert, the mother of Remi and confidante and supporter of his wife, Thoni. Her concern for Thoni and longing to see Remi prompt her to bless the mission of the elders, undertaken in the name of the old religion. Repenting, she adjures the pastor of the Christian church to go on the same mission.
Thoni (DHOH-nee), the legal wife of Remi. She has loved him from the first but has no socially acceptable way of telling him until she leaves him a note before committing suicide.
The leader of the elders
The leader of the elders, a spokesman for the religious conservatives who believe that Christianity has been taking the best men of the tribe. Remi’s father was brought back to his ancestors’ religion only by his imminent death, when he appealed to the elders for help in convincing Remi to do the traditional thing and marry his brother’s widow. He and the other elders chafe at local administrators who are not of their tribe. They want Remi to return and do his duty as their educated citizen by forming a political party.
The pastor, a strict interpreter of morals according to the Christian view. He sees Nyobi’s task as completing Thoni’s conversion, and he views Remi’s continued absence as a defection from the church to do the devil’s work of the Africanist Party. Only Nyobi’s flattering pleas convince the pastor to go to the city himself. When Remi agrees to return, the pastor feels sure that Christ has won a victory.
Jane, a white South African student at the university. She has been Remi’s lover and companion in a year of frenetic partygoing. She learns of his marriage shortly before he returns home.
Omange (oh-MAHN-jee), Remi’s friend and fellow activist. He is much more skeptical of the new government than Remi seems to be, and he fears the repressive possibilities of tribal politics. When he hears Remi’s story of his thwarted love for Thoni, he urges Remi to go home.
The elders, who accompany their leader to the city to convince Remi to return.
The woman, who meets Thoni leaving the village. She fears what Thoni intends but cannot convince her to stay.
The first neighbor
The first neighbor, who announces Remi’s arrival. This neighbor emphasizes the freedom and political advantage to be gained from his return.
The second neighbor
The second neighbor, who reports on Remi’s speech, the effect of which was that of a stinging rebuke to the elders.