The most important thing to be said about characterization in Ayi Kwei Armah’s fictional world is that there are no individuals with personalities in the Western sense. A major premise of traditional African culture, as Armah sees it, is that no individual can exist apart from a community. Abena, one of the twenty who are sold into slavery, expresses this principle when, against her better judgment, she agrees to leave the grove with her peer group and board the English ship: “There is no self to save apart from all of us. What would I have done with my life, alone, like a beast of prey?” The most pervasive character in the novel is the narrator, and he-she is not one individual but a voice that survives from generation to generation: present when the traditional peoples abandon the “way,” present during the orgy when the sexually abused women plot against their masters, and present during the pilgrimage to the south. The narrator accompanies the initiates aboard the slave ship and joins the guerrillas in the forest, constantly employs the self-reference “we,” and makes it clear that the voice might be in one generation a woman and in another a man. The narrator is the preserver of “the way,” the voice crying in the wilderness, when the entire population is pursuing alien values.
Some of the voices have names in the narrative: Anoa, the prophetess; Noliwe and Ningome, who inspire the wandering peoples not to give up their search; and...
(The entire section is 545 words.)