Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Camara Laye

Camara Laye (kah-mah-rah LAH-yeh), a young Guinean boy from a highly respected family of the Malinke people. Although somewhat timid, he is curious, intelligent, affectionate, and sensitive. As he moves from early childhood through adolescence, his advancement through the colonial French school system takes him away from his home in Kouroussa to Conakry (the capital of Guinea) and, finally, sends him to Paris to continue his studies. Through recounting his childhood memories, he seeks to preserve, defend, understand, and, perhaps, mourn the passing of the traditional way of life of his youth. These vignettes include observing his father’s mysterious familiarity with a small, black snake (“the guiding spirit of our race”), watching his father and mother at work, experiencing the seasonal rhythms of his grandmother’s farming village, and participating in various traditional ceremonies of initiation, including that of circumcision. Laye’s departure for Paris at the end of the novel contrasts the anguish of leaving traditional Africa with the attraction of the unfamiliar Western culture.

Camara’s father

Camara’s father, a blacksmith, goldsmith, and sculptor. Steeped in the traditional ways of his people, he has powers that can be described only as supernatural. These powers are most clearly seen in his relationship with a small, black snake and in the spirituality,...

(The entire section is 431 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The central character is Laye, himself. He portrays himself as a happy child, fitting perfectly into a coherent and benevolent culture in which each individual has an identity and a role. As he grows into young manhood, though, he finds himself pained by his need to leave the village and travel farther away in order to fulfill himself intellectually. He seems to know early that this separation is his fate, so he experiences nostalgia for his home long before leaving it.

Other than this feeling of loss (or perhaps because of it), Laye portrays himself as happy and content. When he has problems with school, his father solves them. When he loses a friend to death, he is comforted by thoughts of religion. It is important to the central idea of the story that this character should be happy; he is the product of a culture which is being idealized.

Laye’s father and mother represent two aspects of the African culture which Laye idealizes. The book begins with a poem of dedication to his mother, a prayer that she will know how much he loves and values her. It is she with whom he has an emotional relationship: She represents a more passionate, mystical side of life, and it is significant that her family are farmers, closely attuned to life through their rituals. Also, his mother is a healer with magical gifts. Laye, in his Westernized narrator’s voice, seeks to explain the miracles she performs but cannot.

The family’s respect for the...

(The entire section is 515 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

King, Adele. The Writings of Camara Laye, 1981.

Lee, Sonia. Camara Laye, 1984.

Moore, Gerald. “Camara Laye: Nostalgia and Idealism,” in Seven African Writers, 1962.

Olney, James. “Ces pays lointains,” in Tell Me Africa: An Approach to African Literature, 1973.

Palmer, Eustace. “Camara Laye,” in An Introduction to the African Novel, 1972.