The Guardian of the Word Characters

Camara Laye

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Sundiata, a great warrior, brave and resolute but humane. Sundiata’s life follows a pattern common to mythic heroes in many cultures, African and otherwise: the auguries at birth (in this case, a violent storm), an inauspicious youth (he is unable to walk until the age of ten), exile from his homeland (to escape jealous relatives), many tests of bravery and manhood, encounters with supernatural persons and events, and an eventual triumphal return to his homeland. In addition to having courage and prowess, Sundiata is clever and resourceful, an able military tactician and leader of men, and lucky. Like all national heroes, despite the formidable odds against him, Sundiata seems destined to triumph from the outset. This “lucky” or “destined” quality imparts to Sundiata an almost supernatural or godlike aura, also characteristic of the mythic hero. At the same time, he is warm, humane, loyal, and loving, and he elicits these qualities from others.

Babu Condé

Babu Condé (kohn-DAY), the narrator, a griot (traditional storyteller). Not an active participant in the story that he tells, Babu is nevertheless its most important character, perhaps because his method of telling and attitude toward his materials are crucial to the reader’s apprehension of these materials. Babu narrates from a religious perspective (Islamic) about an ancient people who had not yet embraced that religion, although they were on the verge of doing so. More important, he narrates from a modern perspective, discussing his characters...

(The entire section is 653 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Following the demands of the epic tradition, the griot does not develop characters as the novelist might but relies instead on broad strokes, especially those derived from action, to bring the story’s figures to life. Although it may sometimes be difficult to believe in Sundiata as a flesh-and-blood person, considering the number of advantageous interventions he enjoys from mystical sources, the great warrior emerges as a memorable hero who takes his proper place alongside the Zulu’s Chaka, Beowulf, King Arthur, Sir Gawain, the mythological Greeks and Romans, and the Old Testament heroes. The fact that he loves his mother and shows devotion to his younger siblings, and that he even falls in love, gives Sundiata human dimensions, while his fear-less fight on the side of good to destroy the forces of evil lends him ideal dimensions.

Sundiata’s father, Maghan Kon Fatta, a powerful king whose son is destined to be even greater, also faces human problems, including confrontations with his jealous first wife after he marries Sogolon. Even his stormy relationship with Sogolon, who at first refuses his romantic advances, helps to turn him into more than simply an abstract instrument of prophecy. When the much-touted son proves to be an embarrassment, the disappointed father again shows his human fallibility.

Although ugly and deformed, Sogolon not only fulfills the role that supernatural forces had ordained for her but also evolves into a warm,...

(The entire section is 526 words.)