The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Rather than develop one protagonist, Soyinka paints a picture of an entire society in a wide variety of settings, not only the professional class that receives primary attention but also a few people on the fringes of polite society an evangelical preacher, a courtesan, and a thief. In a sense, Soyinka divides the characters into two groups, the observed and the observer, though the observers themselves, the interpreters, must submit to the closest scrutiny.

Among the observed are the colleagues of Bandele at the University of Nigeria and their professional acquaintances. Theirs is a superficial world that Soyinka describes in a comic mode. Were they the only subjects of the novel, it would be a comedy of manners. The observed, however, are not only those who insist on Victorian manners and morals, those who hypocritically lecture on the “merel terpitude” of the young, or who, like Dr. Lumoye, exchange abortion services for sexual favors, but also more appealing characters. Lazarus, though a misguided evangelist, is both dignified and sympathetic, one of the false prophets that the moral chaos of modern Nigeria has created. Joe Golder, far from being a comic figure, contains within himself the conflict between the old and new cultures. As a quadroon American, he is descended from Africa. He has rejected Western society but, looking more white than black and not having been reared in Africa, he is homeless there as well. As a homosexual, he is alienated from society and from himself. In his conversation with Sagoe, Golder goes through a series of self-revelations, obviously repeated numerous times to different men, which, along with the “fastidious air” of his apartment, expose his lack of depth. He is, as he says in his favorite song “a motherless child,” cut off from his roots. This void torments him and results in self-pity and, paradoxically, in an elevation of the self to a sense of superiority. He belongs nowhere, but for that reason, even though he is not...

(The entire section is 811 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Bandele (bahn-DAY-lay), a professor of history at the University of Nigeria at Ibadan. He smooths social situations of the group, especially when Egbo becomes physical and upsets the group. When Sagoe physically disrupts some events, Bandele calmly states his insights or is a sage presence. At the Oguazors’ party, Bandele brings calm to Sagoe’s caustic remarks about artificiality in the host and hostess as well as in the decorations. He passes judgment on Dr. Oguazor, the hypocritical medical professor, regarding the pregnant coed. At the unveiling of Kola’s pantheon at Joe Golder’s concert, Bandele most closely resembles the cerebral tranquillity of Orisa-nla, the principal Yoruba deity.


Egbo, a clerk in the Foreign Office. Heir to a village chiefdom, Egbo most closely represents Ogun in Kola’s painting. The myth is that the god Ogun makes the greatest amount of actions of body and of words, so that he is the most successful bridger of the abyss of transition between the visible and invisible worlds. Egbo is the catalyst of the group of friends, for he starts a fight at the nightclub where the superb dancer stimulates him to pursue Simi, who is desired by most men. His sexual initiation fuses with his memories of canoeing back to his village. The coed he takes to Ogumo rock becomes part of Egbo’s physical action of a sacrificial nature. After Sekoni’s death, Egbo leads the group to the albino Lazarus’ church. His response to Joe Golder is physical disgust, even when he disrupts Joe’s concert by leaving midway. Egbo does not seem morally responsible but, like Ogun, is a mover.

Biodun Sagoe

Biodun Sagoe (bee-OH-dewn sah-

(The entire section is 738 words.)