Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Except for wearing a new snap-brimmed hat, the district chief looks like many other rural blacks in cast-off European clothing, but he has “the sharp, impatient, sceptical voice of a man quicker than the people he keeps around him.” He interrogates the Smaleses about the war: Who is blowing up the government? Why have whites lost control? What are the goals of the rebels? The chief views the black nationalists with greater trepidation than he does the white settlers because the black rebels might come and take away his land.

Bamford Smales cannot believe that the chief would shoot his own people. “You wouldn’t kill blacks.... You’re not going to take guns and help the white government kill blacks, are you?. . . You mustn’t let the government make you kill each other. The whole black nation is your nation.”

Bamford is referring to a black nation that does not exist, and probably never will unless, if European experience is any judge, there has been a wholesale butchery of blacks by blacks. A successful black revolt against white masters will only be a prelude to an eventual civil war among the blacks themselves. Bamford and Maureen are as badly prepared to help avoid this eventual tragedy as they are to meet the blacks on a level of true equality, which neither really wants anyway. Their rescue will only be a reprieve. If they can return to their home in the suburbs with its endless supply of toilet paper and soap and electrical energy, it will always be as strangers in an alien land, and their existence will be even more marginal and hopeless than before.


(Novels for Students)

The incredible situation which the Smales find themselves in is attested to and dealt with at a very personal...

(The entire section is 1196 words.)