The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The identification of Evan as a character at a crossroads in his life is emphasized by the fact that he encounters a confluence of external forces. Evan’s passivity, indecisiveness, and erratic judgment are brought home to him by his headaches, paranoid imaginings, and profound sense of cultural dislocation. These sufferings are not merely the fabrications of Evan’s own distressed state of mind. They have their sources and their power in the ways in which he is perceived by the characters who come into close contact with him.

This quartet of characters consists of two Senegalese, Aminata and Lamont, and two Americans, Africa and Wanda. They establish the terms of the conflict that besets Evan, although to see the novel strictly in terms of the framework they provide is too schematic. The author is sufficiently attentive to the texture of the world he is creating to ensure that the scaffolding of imaginative logic that these four characters support is adequately concealed. In addition, many of the minor characters, both Senegalese and American, make distinctive contributions to the novel’s overall effects, even if the value of this contribution derives from the manner in which it augments the central issue of Evan’s psychological and cultural travail.

The combination of Aminata and Lamont represents, at different but interrelated levels, the seductive power of Senegal. Their sleek appearance, the supple manner in which their minds work, and their ability to negotiate Anglophone and Eurocentric mind-sets while retaining an alert sense of their native culture give their presence a potency that Evan finds irresistible. Evan’s attraction to this formidable couple is the very thing that undoes him. Aminata’s curative and restorative powers, together with Evan’s strongly developed sense of her sexuality, provide him with a viable and willed attachment to his foreign surroundings. It is largely as a result of Aminata’s intervention that...

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Evan Norris

Evan Norris, the protagonist and narrator, an alienated African American who has left the United States for two years to teach in Senegal for the Peace Corps. His experiences there generate mental and physical suffering and raise fundamental questions about the nature and viability of his personal and cultural identity.

Wanda Wright

Wanda Wright, Evan’s girlfriend in the United States, with whom he persistently fails to communicate, both during their life together and more literally when he is in Senegal. She is an important point of reference for Evan. Through her, the reader perceives that his troubles are not merely the result of being geographically dislocated.

Aminata Gueye

Aminata Gueye (ah-mee-NAH-tah geh-yay), a student, Evan’s Senegalese girlfriend. She is the daughter of a marabout, a Muslim holy man familiar with the occult who gives rise to the various forms of psychological and cultural duress that Evan is forced to undergo. She is a trickster figure, ostensibly attempting to do Evan good but undermining his sense of who he is and what he is doing.

Africa Mamadou Ford

Africa Mamadou Ford, a native of Oakland, California, currently residing in Senegal. His experiences of the country and its culture are models of what Evan has to go through. He tries to help Evan counteract what he perceives to be the effects of culture shock, advising Evan to respond to Senegal in its own terms rather than from an American perspective.

Lamont Samb

Lamont Samb, Aminata’s Senegalese fiancée, a former teacher of French in Wales. Allegedly well versed in phenomena that have caused and that will redress Evan’s condition, he is the most menacing and most elusive figure Evan encounters. He provides the culmination of Evan’s experiences.