Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Abdou Kader Beyè

Abdou Kader Beyè (ah-BEW KAY-dehr BAY-yay), called El Hadji, a prosperous Senegalese businessman in his fifties. He is a Muslim and a polygamist, with two wives and eleven children. Ousted from his first career as schoolteacher because of his union activities under the colonial regime, he prospers with the coming of independence, moving through a succession of business ventures, not always honest and sometimes exploiting the poor. Part of the rising native bourgeoisie, he is a member of the select Group of Businessmen of Dakar, as well as of several boards. Confident, ostentatious, and pompous, he spends money lavishly on a Mercedes-Benz automobile and a chauffeur, villas for each of his spouses, European clothes, and, finally, the showy, elaborate celebration of his third marriage. Someone has cast on him a spell, the xala, that makes him impotent, a disgrace in his society. Only at the end, when he has tried every means to remove the spell and correct his condition, when he has lost everything—wealth, reputation, two of his wives, colleagues and friends, and property—does he learn that the spell was cast by a relative with whom he had dealt dishonestly years earlier.

The beggar

The beggar, who is unrecognized as a member of Abdou Kader Beyè’s clan. In spite of being picked up by the police frequently at El Hadji’s request, the beggar returns consistently to the same spot opposite El Hadji’s office, sitting cross-legged at the street corner and chanting in an annoying, piercing voice. It is he who finally brings about the downfall of El Hadji, to avenge his...

(The entire section is 710 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The central character, El Hadji, is an object of satire, not a tragic hero. Through him, Ousmane Sembène attacks the Senegalese elite, who prosper while others starve. El Hadji lives in a world of contradictions, believing that he has control over them. The title by which he is known, “El Hadji,” refers to the fact that he has made a pilgrimage to Mecca. To a devout Muslim, this pilgrimage should be the culmination of a devout life, but for El Hadji it was merely a vacation: He lives a completely secular life.

El Hadji’s experience as a businessman is part of the satire. He believes that he is in control, when in fact his business is failing. He believes that he is liked and admired by his colleagues, yet they turn against him as soon as the opportunity arises. He believes that having three wives gives him three homes, when in fact he is an unwelcome guest in each of the three. He believes that tribal rituals are merely hocus-pocus, but when the xala descends upon him, it is a marabout, not a Western doctor, whom he seeks.

The xala reveals El Hadji’s nature most fully. To him, sexual prowess is the essence of life. One night of sexual failure throws him into a profound depression, and as word of the xala spreads, El Hadji becomes more and more comical in his inability to deal with any other part of his life. His wealth, his families, and his business are ignored in his obsession with restoring his sexual...

(The entire section is 464 words.)