Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 748
Querry, a retired church architect in his mid-fifties who has come to the heart of Africa to escape fame and failure at love. When Querry arrives at a leper colony in the Congo, he decides to stay only because the boat can go no farther. Feeling depressed and spiritually empty, he describes himself figuratively as a “burnt-out case,” comparing his lack of emotion to the leprous condition of losing one’s fingers and toes to the disease and losing the feeling in one’s hands and feet. Soon after his arrival at the colony, Querry is drawn out of his emotional isolation by his friendship with Dr. Colin, the colony’s physician, and his affection for his servant, Deo Gratias. Eventually, Querry begins to experience a rebirth of interest in life and humanity. He draws up plans for a new hospital, and he shows Christian charity toward Marie Rycker, the young wife of a factory owner. Ironically, just as Querry begins to enjoy life and discover God, his happiness is cut short by Marie’s husband, who kills Querry in a jealous rage, falsely thinking that Querry has had an affair with Marie.
Dr. Colin, the sole physician of the leper colony, also a man in his mid-fifties. Colin can be seen as Querry’s opposite: While Querry struggles with his loss of religious faith, Colin is comfortable with his own atheism; while Querry fears and shuns the world around him, Colin embraces all humanity with loving kindness and compassion. Although he battles almost futilely against the poverty and disease that ravish his patients, and although he has no religious faith to sustain him, Colin never loses his belief in humanity and the power of good works. Colin is the only character who understands Querry’s spiritual dilemma, and Querry looks to him for encouragement and advice. Only with Colin’s help does Querry experience psychic rebirth and regeneration before his death.
Rycker, the middle-aged manager of a palm oil factory. As a young man, Rycker wanted to be a priest and studied for six years with the Jesuits before dropping his vocation. A bitter and unhappy man, Rycker takes comfort and pride in his “spiritual problems,” believing that his struggles with faith make him superior to other men. When Querry, the famous Catholic architect, comes to town, Rycker latches onto him to give his own meaningless life a sense of importance, but Querry shuns him. When Rycker’s wife, Marie, falsely claims that Querry is the father of her unborn child, Rycker is eager to believe the lie, and in a final bid for recognition and a sense of importance, he murders Querry in a jealous rage.
Marie Rycker, the pitiful, childlike wife of Rycker, a man old enough to be her father. Schooled in a convent, Marie has little understanding of life or love. Miserably unhappy with her uncaring, domineering husband, she feels empty and isolated from the world. When Querry comes to her house as a guest, she is dazzled by his fame and reputation with women. Later, when Querry befriends her in a time of need, she falls in love with him. In a naïve attempt to escape her life with Rycker, Marie unwittingly destroys Querry’s life by claiming that he is the father of her child.
Father Thomas, the young superintendent of the missionary school. Like Rycker, he latches onto Querry in an attempt to bolster his own sagging faith. Thomas is the first to believe the rumor that Querry is the father of Marie’s child, thus proving himself a figurative “doubting Thomas.”
Montagu Parkinson, an unscrupulous journalist who comes to the leper colony in search of Querry. Eager to maintain the safety and quiet of his new life, Querry begs Parkinson to leave him alone, but Parkinson refuses, taking cruel pleasure in writing false stories about Querry’s greatness. Parkinson functions as Querry’s double. Like Querry, he has lost his faith and given up his profession; unlike Querry, however, Parkinson is incapable of regeneration. Like Rycker and Father Thomas, Parkinson is eager to exploit Querry for his own gain.
Deo Gratias, a young leper who is assigned to be Querry’s servant boy. When Deo Gratias gets lost in the dark jungle, Querry rescues him. Querry’s concern and compassion for the young man can be seen as the first stirrings of Querry’s emotional rebirth.