Timi Tabane, Mphahlele’s fictional alter ego, is a shy, gentle, and scholarly man, who chooses to leave South Africa because he has no realistic hope that the government will alter its repressive, racist policies. In exile, he becomes one of the homeless wanderers of the book’s title. His exile is an unending search for a free place, a physical and mental location in which he can practice his humanistic beliefs. Although he enjoys material benefits and less restrictive political environments during his residences in Iboyoru and Lao-Kiku, his exile frustrates him, for he discovers that the genuine literary and social freedom for which he yearns is no more available to him outside South Africa than it was within. Moreover, his exile forces him to wait passively for his life to be completed by events beyond his control. This maddening sense of powerless passivity is central to the book’s portrait of exile. Thus, for Tabane, Felang’s death becomes a hopeful sign that the younger generation’s determination to act will enable it to escape the desolate alienation of exile.
Steven Cartwright is Tabane’s white counterpart. Like Tabane, he is acutely aware of his color and the racist repression of South African culture. Yet while Tabane can resort only to escape and exile, Cartwright must actively disengage himself from his own racist heritage. His love for the black woman Naledi is a conscious effort to confront the system; he openly admits that his...
(The entire section is 600 words.)