God's Bits of Wood Characters
Of the dozens of characters in God’s Bits of Wood, the four most central are Ramatoulaye, N’Deye Touti, Bakayoko, and Dejean.
- Ramatoulaye cares deeply for her family and community and steps forward as a leader when the women organize their march on Dakar.
- N’Deye Touti is torn between the European education she has received and the African culture she comes from.
- Bakayoko is a union leader who adeptly organizes the workers’ groups across Dakar, Thiès, and Bamako. He is instrumental in the strike.
- Dejean is the regional director of the railway. He represents French colonialism in his racist treatment of the workers.
Last Updated on January 4, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1327
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 (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 Europe, which she knows through books, film, and school experiences. Her normal life in the concession is colored by dreams of a Prince Charming styled after those encountered in romantic novels and imagined existence in upper bourgeois French settings. Fastidious about her appearance and sensitive to derogatory comments on her French ways, she is sometimes embarrassed by native behavior. Although Daouda Beaugosse would like to marry her, it is Bakayoko whom she admires and to whom she is first attracted by the breadth of his interests and by his personality. Having learned that the French way is to go through the law, she does not join the women in the strike. After the march on Dakar, however, she is among them collecting supplies. She expresses to Bakayoko her desire to become his wife; when he refuses her and leaves on his own route, she sinks into apathy, ceases to care about her appearance, and assumes a man’s heavy work hauling containers from the well. Ultimately, in a symbolic action, she burns her school journals, retaining one sheet on which she writes a poem, a death song to her youth. N’Deye moves temporarily out of her African culture but seems to belong to neither world in the end.
Doudou (DEW-dew), the father of five, an adjuster and secretary of the federation of railway workers. As secretary, he has responsibility for the conduct of the strike. It is an exhilarating task at the start, attending meetings and rallying workers, but the weight of this responsibility brings on fatigue and worry as the strike is prolonged and families suffer. At the point where responsibility for rationing food must be assigned, Doudou is relieved not to have to designate the committee, as that decision is reached through consensus. Presiding at the meeting of the delegates with the company negotiator, Edouard, he is indecisive, mildly suggesting a vote on the terms offered. It is Bakayoko who, rebuking Doudou, remains firm. Doudou has, however, strengthened the resistance of the strikers by revealing to them his angry refusal of a bribe from Isnard, a company man. Ultimately, Doudou contracts a work-related illness and dies in Thiès. His colleagues think his death might have been prevented had the company provided access to medical help.
Daouda Beaugosse (dah-EW-dah BOH-gahz), a turner on the Dakar-Niger railway and assistant to Alioune, the local strike committee chairperson. Having received his training in a professional school, learned French, and acquired a taste for elegance, he spends his money on clothes and finds it difficult to mingle with other workers on the job. His attraction to N’Deye Touti causes him to be jealous of Bakayoko, although he admires the latter. Tempted by the opening of a job that requires literacy, he is already contemplating leaving the railway when he attends the meeting at which union representatives are told that their demand for family allocations will not be granted. Taking courage from his feeling of support from the people, Daouda comments that in France everyone has that right. The reply that there is no concubinage in France serves to further anger the strikers. Beaugosse leaves the company for a job as a warehouse stock clerk.
Monsieur Dejean (deh-ZHAHN), the director of the regional office of the Dakar-Niger railway at Thiès. A company man who sees the Africans in his employ not as employees with whom one negotiates but as members of another and inferior race, subject to his authority. He typifies the colonial overlord: comfortably established in the colonies, condescending, authoritative, insensitive, uncomprehending, and obdurate. Assured of his own position, he expects his subordinates to handle the Africans and to penalize a subordinate who is disloyal. During his meeting with the strikers’ delegates, he releases his anger by striking Bakayoko before the entire group. In the ensuing struggle, the two men have to be separated by force. Subsequently, Monsieur Dejean leaves Dakar, thereby escaping any violent confrontation, such as that experienced by his colleague Isnard.
Edouard (ay-DWAHR), an inspector for the Dakar-Niger railway. Sincere in his mission as negotiator, believing that he can come to an understanding with the strikers, he has offered his services and been designated as negotiator. He is the only European present at the preliminary meeting. In response to his attempt to explain reasonably why the demands will have to be delayed for study, Bakayoko, in French and in hard terms, reminds him that nothing has been done in the seven years in which Edouard has been there. Edouard understands that he is not wanted but is too stunned to leave the meeting. When Bakayoko invites him to step out for a moment to permit discussion, he disappears, having escaped to warn Monsieur Dejean and the other waiting company delegates that he has failed in his mission and that Bakayoko is to be feared, thereby arousing anticipatory tension that colors the following meeting and leads to an explosion of conflict.