The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although the physical action of the novel centers on Leon’s preparation for the Blue Riband bicycle race and his eventual triumph, the novel’s most important and interesting developments take place within the mind and heart of Sylvia. Leon simultaneously values and pities Sylvia for her seeming lack of a personality independent of his own; “she was always cool, always easy, always pliable to his will.” It is a view with which Sylvia herself concurs; her enforced loneliness and the boredom of her job, however, cause her to become more reflective and self-aware. At twenty-one, she leads a life of slightly prudish respectability, but her growing friendship with the disreputable May and her consciousness of the hypocrisy which often lies beneath the veneer of Trinidadian propriety lead her to recognize her own potential for coarse thoughts and immoral behavior.

Sylvia’s heightened awareness of Carnival and her liking for the melodies of calypsoes whose Iyrics she considers “vile” and “almost all immoral” reflect the moral ambiguity which soon leads to acquiescence in her seduction by Mohansingh, a married man. Sylvia’s decision to trick Leon into accepting Mohansingh’s baby as his own is not only an act of desperation and retribution but also an admission of moral weakness and the acceptance of a sense of debased self-worth.

Leon’s quest for glory illustrates an aspect of the importance of sport in preindependence Trinidad, a poor country where opportunities for respectable members of the working class to distinguish themselves were severely limited. Leon’s participation in cycling is predicated on an obsessive will to win and not on enjoyment of sport for its own sake. He is proud of his strong body and is willing to endure pain to turn it into an efficient instrument of his ambition, but the constant monitoring, massaging, and observation of his physique verges on the narcissistic; in his own way, he is every bit as preoccupied with the flesh as any Carnival reveler. Leon feels some shame for his...

(The entire section is 836 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Leon Seal

Leon Seal, a competitive cyclist who has quit his job to devote himself to preparing for the fifteen-mile race at the Southern Games. In his early twenties, big and powerfully built, he obeys his father’s instructions and pays exceptional attention to the training and care of his body. He ignores the Trinidad Carnival celebrations and willfully turns his back on his emotional life by severely limiting contact with his girlfriend, Sylvia. Disciplined, cold, and calculating in his quest for personal glory, Leon naïvely misreads the complexity of Sylvia’s personality and her potential for an identity independent of him. Controlled and cautious in his own behavior, Leon allows his ambition to blind him to Sylvia’s physical and emotional condition and her manipulation of him; in promising to marry her if he wins the race, he may have committed himself unknowingly to rearing another man’s child.


Sylvia, Leon’s girlfriend, a store clerk. A tall, attractive twenty-one-year-old, she is quiet and easygoing, the product of a poor but respectable upbringing. She is in love with Leon but hurt, frustrated, and confused by his recent neglect of her. Never particularly interested in sports, she is increasingly taken with the spirit of the Trinidad Carnival, with its undercurrent of abandon and immorality. Resentment and a desire for retribution combine with loneliness, boredom, and a shaken sense of self-worth to make Sylvia vulnerable to the advances of her married employer, Imbal Mohansingh. When she becomes pregnant, Sylvia wants an abortion but accepts her friend May’s suggestion and decides to try and trick Leon into accepting the baby as his...

(The entire section is 699 words.)