Major Scobie, “Ticki” to his wife, a police chief in a British-controlled West African colony. He is a man whose merit is frequently overlooked and whose capacities for sensitive reaction are underestimated. Thus, when he learns he is not to be chosen district commissioner, he feels the slight more for his wife than for himself. He is scrupulous in his dealings, and he has a reputation for honesty earned in fifteen years of hard work. His scrupulousness is a result of religious convictions that force him to view every problem as a moral conflict; the tendency also diminishes his powers of decision. Compromising with his principles under the hysterical pressure of his wife, who feels that she must leave the colony, he borrows money from Yusef, a suspected Syrian smuggler. Another threat of compromise arises when, during his wife’s absence, he meets Helen Rolt, a young widow who is among the survivors of a torpedoed British ship. Greatly in need of friendship and encouragement, she becomes Scobie’s mistress, but it is desperation as much as love that binds him to Helen. An honest man, he cannot conceal from himself the fact that he is an adulterer. The same honesty forces him to recognize that he has profaned the act of communion by sharing the rite with his returned wife; this act is another step toward damnation. He reaches the end of his rope when he discovers that he is under official surveillance because of his relationship with Yusef. He commits suicide after...
(The entire section is 618 words.)