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.)