The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Ofeyi, as the center of consciousness, is the novel’s protagonist. Soyinka clearly distinguishes him from the other characters, not so much by giving him distinctive personality traits but by making him a representative Everyman. He is both a hero and an antihero. While engaging in the political struggle and committing himself to the serious and dangerous confrontations, he never actually becomes one of the guerrillas; the battle is over before he arrives in Cross-River, and his only violent act is forced upon him. His primary act in the novel’s main structure is rescuing Iriyise, yet even in this he seems to move confusedly through events that work themselves out independently of him. He is an observer of the action, maintaining his moral integrity through his intelligent, creative responses. Yet he is blind to the things that go on around him. He does not, for example, fully appreciate the controlling authority of Ahime until the end. The actual events in Ofeyi’s life are deadly serious, yet he moves through them at times with an almost comic, Chaplinesque air. His philosophical idealism, making him constantly aware of the moral nature of his choices, is both necessary and debilitating. He spends as much time reflecting, debating, and hesitating as he does acting out his decisions in the practical world of affairs. The confusion that pervades the scene at large is present also inside Ofeyi’s own consciousness. Because the reader sees what Ofeyi sees, he, too, must live through the experiences before he understands. Ofeyi begins the action fantasizing that he will be the Shelleyian propagator of revolutionary seeds. He fulfills his role but comes to realize, as the reader does, that he is only one member of a larger community and that events are being controlled by others, or by no one. Heroic behavior may be possible and effective but always takes place within a chaotic environment that seems unyielding and that...

(The entire section is 788 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Ofeyi (oh-FAY-yee), a chief promotions man for the Cocoa Corporation, also called the Coordinator because he organizes the campaign to sell cocoa products. Sent on a trip to study other methods because he is showing signs of insubordinate thought, he is fascinated by the power of backwater Aiyero to reclaim its youth after they study or work abroad. By placing Aiyero emigrants in key places throughout the country and lacing his advertising campaign with subtly antigovernment and anticorporation images, he undermines the ruling combination of white industrialists and native government and military men represented by the Cartel.

Pa Ahime

Pa Ahime (ah-HEE-may), the chief minister to the Founder of Aiyero and its breakaway cult. Ahime recruits Ofeyi as next Founder (Custodian of the Grain) and assists him in his plan of subversion. Later, he helps to organize and protect those who have escaped the Cartel’s bloody counterstroke.


Iriyise (ee-ree-YEE-say), also called the Celestial, the Iridescent, and the Cocoa Princess, Ofeyi’s volatile lover and the cynosure of his advertising campaign. She is kidnapped by Cartel forces and found in a coma by Ofeyi. Both are rescued from Temoko Prison by the combined efforts of Zaccheus, the Dentist, and the Doctor.


Zaccheus (ZAHK-ee-uhs), a bandleader who arranges and performs Ofeyi’s songs. He witnesses Iriyise’s kidnapping and accompanies Ofeyi on his many adventures to find and rescue her.


Taiila (ti-EE-lah), the Indian friend and lover of Ofeyi. She intends to become a nun, arguing with Ofeyi over their differing perceptions of the world. She meets him when he has an established relationship with Iriyise and sees him after a...

(The entire section is 812 words.)