The Characters

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

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.”

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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 Cecil is superficial; Anna is cerebral and spiritual, while Cecil is unreflective and materialistic; Anna is plain, while Cecil is pretty. Symbolically, Anna and Cecil represent two separate and distinct worlds. The ambivalent Toby is torn between the two women, just as he dashes haphazardly between the townships and the High House. To illustrate his confusion, Nadine Gordimer has Toby fall in love with Cecil as he makes love to Anna.

Steven and Sam are the final two major characters. Perhaps because Toby loves both Steven and Cecil, he comes to realize that with the racial barriers removed, Steven and Cecil would have made the perfect couple: “Often I thought how well he and Cecil would have got on together, if they could have known each other. Their flaring enthusiasms, their unchanneled energy, their obstinately passionate aimlessness—each would have matched.” Yet apartheid reduces such a meeting to futile fantasy. The energetic and vibrant Steven, a man who enjoys life to the fullest, is the one character who dies, chased to an early death by the police. Sam, the African whom Toby initially views as a “little Black Sambo,” is a jazz pianist and the most sensitive and mature of the characters. Ironically, Sam is the person who comforts Toby after Steven’s death. No longer able to stomach the emptiness and the facade of High House, Toby goes to Sam’s house and finds a nurturing peace and harmony.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 743

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...

(The entire section contains 1222 words.)

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