Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ibrahima Bakayoko

Ibrahima Bakayoko (ih-brah-HEE-mah bah-kah-YOH-koh), a locomotive engineer on the Dakar-Niger railroad and union delegate in the strike in progress as the novel begins. A man of physical vigor and stamina, he circulates constantly among groups in Bamako, Thiès, Dakar, and the villages. Intelligent, reflective, perceptive, well-read, and multilingual, he understands the situation of his people: their need to retain their African heritage but also to deal with Western industrialized culture. Compassion tempers his strict sense of justice and hard militant approach. Through his unyielding stand and capacity for articulating the people’s position to men in power, he emerges as the leader to whom all look for decisive moves. His firm words transform a negotiating meeting with a company representative into a confrontation reinforcing the strikers’ determination to persevere until all demands are met. Facing the initial disapproval of the men, he supports and encourages the women’s participation in an organized march from Thiès to Dakar. It is his speech, given in four languages to the public, including civil, religious, and industrial authorities, in the Dakar stadium that brings final victory. At the end of the novel, when demands have been met and workers have returned to work, Bakayoko sets out alone to continue his work elsewhere; for him, this struggle of the oppressed is universal, and he must go on.


Ramatoulaye (rah-mah-tew-LAH-yay), the head of her large family concession in Dakar and sister of El Hadji Mabigé, a prominent and rich Muslim from Dakar. Both inside and outside her concession, she is concerned for others, meeting their needs and reconciling their differences. A woman of dignity, ordinarily quietly going about her affairs, she is capable of heroism when either her principles or the welfare of others is in jeopardy. When strikers’ families begin to lack sufficient food and water, she goes to her wealthy brother to ask him to obtain credit for food for the women and children. Outraged at his refusal, she reproaches him soundly for his conduct and attitude, adding a threat to kill his fat, well-cared-for ram, Vendredi, if the animal wanders into her concession. Vendredi does wander in, destroying property and the meager supply of rice. At the risk of her life, Ramatoulaye kills the foraging ram and orders that the meat be prepared and distributed to hungry families. She is arrested and tried; El Hadji is persuaded to withdraw his complaint, and Ramatoulaye is asked to apologize to him. She refuses to do so, instead walking out of the room in silent dignity. She becomes a support and leader in the women’s march on Dakar, instrumental in empowering them to become a crucial element in the success of the strike.

N’Deye Touti

N’Deye Touti (ihn-DAY-yay TEW-tee), the niece of Ramatoulaye and a student at the French normal school in Dakar. An attractive young African woman, she is torn between two different worlds: that of her native surroundings and traditions and that of...

(The entire section is 1327 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Considering the number of characters, Ousmane Sembène’s development of them is admirable for its economy. Each one assumes his individuality not so much through description as through actions and reactions. In some cases, interior monologues serve to tell more about the characters’ inner lives. All of them, caught up in this event, which is like no other in their experience as a people subjected to colonial rule, show their true mettle, whether it be indestructible or weak.

Of the many people who weave their way in and out of the narrative, certain ones emerge as more memorable. These personalities, to an extent, represent an entire group of lesser characters. Such a one is Ramatoulaye, a typical African woman who is devoted to her family and faithful to the restrictions that the Muslim religion places on her. Yet when the survival of the family lies in her hands, she meets the needs of everyone. As she changes, she does so in a way altogether natural, sometimes comic, always touching.

Both Beaugosse and N’Deye Touti portray another kind of African, one with education, the ability to speak the conqueror’s language and a longing to trade African tradition for European ways. Inner conflict accompanies such a division of loyalty, and the private battles that these two fight lend them a distinction in their portrayal.

Yet another sort is represented by Bakayoko, the union’s leader. Not as fully or as realistically developed...

(The entire section is 471 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Blair, Dorothy S. African Literature in French: A History of Creative Writing in French from West and Equatorial Africa, 1976.

Brench, Anthony C. Novelists’ Inheritance in French Africa, 1976.

Killam, G.D., ed. African Writers on African Writing, 1973.

Ogungbesan, Kolawole. New West African Literature, 1979.

Wauthier, Claude. The Literature and Thought of Modern Africa, 1966.