The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

As the novel’s protagonist, twenty-six-year-old Toby is the most fully developed character. A World War II veteran who never left his navy training ship, Toby comes from a middle-class family which, it seems to him, was always fighting some injustice. In reaction against this upbringing, Toby initially wants nothing to do with the world’s problems. He proclaims, “I felt that what I really wanted was to enjoy what was left of the privileged life.... I really belonged to that bad old good life which my parents helped push down into a dishonoured grave.”

The other major characters appear as Toby divides his time between the black townships and the elaborate High House, with its tennis courts, swimming pools, and elaborate flower gardens. Gold-mining millionaire couple Hamish and Marion Alexander own the High House empire and enjoy hosting lavish parties. It is at one of these parties that Toby meets Cecil Rowe, a pretty twenty-nine-year-old divorcee, who later becomes his lover. Though she is a tender and enthusiastic lover, Cecil is an extremely shallow and self-centered person. She habitually neglects her little boy, and she desperately yearns for wealth and status.

At the heart of Toby’s black world are Anna Louw, Steven Sitole, and Sam Mofokenzazi. Like Cecil, Anna is a divorcee, but there the similarities end. Anna—disowned by her family for marrying an Indian and representing blacks and Indians in the courts—is sincere, while...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Tobias (Toby) Hood

Tobias (Toby) Hood, a publisher’s agent. He has come from London to Johannesburg, South Africa, to work for a time in his family’s publishing firm, Aden Parrot. Brown-haired and stocky, the Oxford-educated, twenty-six-year-old Toby is the first-person narrator of the novel. At odds with the liberal politics of his family, Toby comes to South Africa determined to see and do what interests him and not to be guided by social conscience. Through Hamish and Marion Alexander, he meets a group of privileged and luxury-loving white South Africans, including Cecil Rowe. He has an affair with Cecil, though he fails to make a serious commitment to her. Through Anna Louw, with whom he has a very brief affair, he meets Indians and Africans, including the black Steven Sitole, who becomes his closest friend. Toby finds himself slipping between two untouching worlds, the segregated white world and the world of the black townships. The death of Steven makes him face the changes that have shaped him since arriving in South Africa, where he now plans to stay indefinitely.

Steven Sitole

Steven Sitole (see-TOH-lay), formerly a journalist, then an insurance agent. Tall, thin, and elegantly dressed, Steven attracts many admirers. He has little stability, always moving from room to room and always pitting his wits against authority. A man of varied experience, he spent a year in England after the war and also earned a bachelor’s degree from a correspondence college. Toby is drawn to him for his vitality and for the strength of his desire for a private life. Anna Louw and Sam Mofokenzazi regret his lack of political concerns. Steven introduces Toby to the black townships and to his drinking companions. Steven dies tragically in a car...

(The entire section is 743 words.)