The Lonely Londoners

by Samuel Selvon

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Moses Aloetta

The Lonely Londoners does not really portray characters in the conventional way one usually associates with Western fiction. Rather, there seems to be a sort of carousel or revolving door of various characters, most of whom are West Indian immigrants who now live in London. The idea seems to be that, despite the disparate lives and apparent lack of connection of these characters to the novel's central plot or story arc, there is a larger "story" functioning here in terms of the common experiences of this community, divergent though their lives may be in this large city. The first character introduced is Moses Aloetta, who is riding a bus to meet a man who will be arriving from Trinidad. The man is Henry Oliver, and Moses learns about him in a letter sent to him from a friend in Trinidad, who asks if Moses will meet Henry when he arrives. This scene apparently establishes the compassion and camaraderie that seems to exist within this immigrant community, wherein a stranger will help another, a newcomer who is undergoing a similar experience.

And yet, Moses is somewhat annoyed at being asked to perform this task; as he relates to his friend Harris: "I don’t know these people at all, yet they coming to me as if I is some liaison officer." Moses has been in London for a while and apparently is credited with "knowing the ropes" and being someone who can assist newcomers. Moses holds the belief that when West Indian immigrants rely solely on unemployment money, it tarnishes the chances of acceptance and respect for those who are working hard for their money. 

Galahad, or Henry Oliver

The characters in The Lonely Londoners do not interact so much with each other as they do with the idea of what it means to be a West Indian immigrant in London. Galahad, whose real name is Henry Oliver, is one of the newcomers from Trinidad who receives assistance from Moses. At first, he is especially eager to begin his new life. He doesn't even bring any luggage with him—he reasons that he will simply purchase new things with the money he makes. Initially, Galahad naively rejects Moses’s help in getting acquainted with the city. He panics that he will lose his way, and Moses intervenes. He remains optimistic and aims to work hard despite any challenges he encounters—he is determined to make London work and does not want to return to Trinidad. 

Captain (“Cap”)

Cap is the son of a wealthy family from Nigeria. He came to London to attend law school but dropped out shortly after starting. He is not as steady and reliable as Moses. Cap's living situation is precarious, his finances unstable, and his relationships with women are somewhat stormy. He uses women for their money, essentially staying afloat by manipulating several romantic interests at a time. 


Tolroy is originally from Jamaica. He has been saving up money to send for his mother to join him in London. When he arrives at the train station to meet her, he is shocked that several other relatives have joined her. He expresses worry that he will not have enough money or space to house all of their family members.

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