Characters

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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 591

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The characters of this social-political commentary are predominantly the nations of the world and their citizens. Kaplan's central focus is on international problems, including government instability, civil unrest, chaos, crime, violence, famine, and disease, which he believes continue to put the world at risk. Kaplan uses West Africa as an example of an area with severe world problems, but he includes primary and secondary accounts of people from many nations. While his writing is lengthy, below are some examples from his work of the myriad of named and unnamed characters he includes.

In his accounts, Kaplan often describes situations and events without specific names of those involved. For example, he describes violent events in Cote d'Ivoire:

An Italian ambassador was killed by gunfire when robbers invaded an Abidjan restaurant. The family of the Nigerian ambassador was tied up and robbed at gunpoint in the ambassador's residence. After university students in the Ivory Coast caught bandits who had been plaguing their dorms, they executed them by hanging tires around their necks and setting the tires on fire. In one instance Ivorian policemen stood by and watched the "necklacings," afraid to intervene.

In other instances, he does include specific names of people to provide detailed perspective. For instance, while referring to a coup in Sierra Leone, he states, "The Minister mentioned one of the coup's leaders, Solomon Anthony Joseph Musa, who shot the people who had paid for his schooling, 'in order to erase the humiliation and mitigate the power his middle-class sponsors held over him.'"

As well, when Kaplan provides analysis of a nation's problems, he does evaluate many leaders. For example, he states, "President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who died last December at the age of about ninety, left behind a weak cluster of political parties and a leaden bureaucracy that discourages foreign investment."

While visiting the slum of Abidjan, he gained insight form some locals. "One man I met, Damba Tesele, came to Chicago from Burkina Faso in 1963. A cook by profession, he has four wives and thirty-two children, not one of whom has made it to high school."

Kaplan intertwines his characters with personal commentary on the state of the world and the predicted future for many areas. For example,

Most youths I met on the road in West Africa told me that they were from "extended" families, with a mother in one place and a father in another. Translated to an urban environment, loose family structures are largely responsible for the world's highest birth rates and the explosion of the HIV virus on the continent.

At times, he provides detailed accounts of his experiences, painting a specific picture for his readers of the problems faced by people of a particular area; however, again, sometimes his characters are nameless.

Few residents have easy access to electricity, a sewage system, or a clean water supply. The crumbly red laterite earth crawls with foot-long lizards both inside and outside the shacks. Children defecate in a stream filled with garbage and pigs, droning with malarial mosquitoes. In this stream women do the washing. Young unemployed men spend their time drinking beer, palm wine, and gin while gambling on pinball games constructed out of rotting wood and rusty nails.

Kaplan also includes references to others when he wants to provide additional insight or perspective on international issues, such as his reference to Samuel Huntington, who wrote an article entitled, "The Clash of Civilizations?" Kaplan gives much attention to evaluating Huntington's points.

Kaplan's comprehensive approach to his writing includes countless non-fictional characters, named and unnamed.

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