Clarence, a bankrupt, middle-aged white man in Africa. His previous occupation is not mentioned. Having lost all of his money and even incurred debts playing cards with his peers, he has been evicted from his hotel and landed in a miserable inn, where he also owes money. Destitute and wholly dependent on Africans in this tribal society, he thinks that he, as a white man, will be admitted to see the king and will be taken into the king’s service. His quest takes him from Adramé, a city of the North, to Aziana, a village of the South, in the company of an old beggar and two young dancing boys. Through painful, strange, and bewildering adventures, Clarence comes slowly to comprehend that his values (money, time, work, rights, and sex) carry no weight here; his color only makes him different from others. The beggar barters him to the Naba, the ruler of the South, for a donkey and a woman. Clarence is used to breed mulattoes through women from the Naba’s harem under the influence of aphrodisiac scents; the discovery that this is what is happening is deeply humiliating to him. When Clarence is stripped of his false pride and values, he does come into the radiance of the king, who draws him into his embrace, the end of his quest.
The beggar, a cynical old African in rags who accompanies Clarence to the South. Abrupt in speech, contradictory, sharp, and repetitive, he responds not only to Clarence’s...
(The entire section is 511 words.)