Garry Gillard > writing > African Fiction > 5

Formal Aspects of Fictive Narrative in Africa

Chapter 5: Characterisation


The discussion of character in narrative is conducted under two heads: those aspects of characterisation which are identified as being part of the presentational process; and those aspects of character which are understood by their place in the presented world of the narrative.

Aspects of the Presentational Process

Our understanding of characters in fictions is influenced initially by the narrative situation in which they are presented. An authorial narrative situation tends to place the reader outside the character, and at some distance. This will tend to increase the amount of objectivity with which the character may be viewed, and decrease the amount of empathy possible for the reader to feel. The contrary is the case in a figural narrative situation, where the action appears to be viewed from within the mind of the character. [1]

Furthermore, the character of the narrator, specifically, will emerge more clearly if he is involved in the action than if he is not, although an uninvolved narrator will be characterised by the way in which he reveals action, and by his attitude to it. Distance is also a criterion here: the distances which are perceived between author, narrator, character and reader, and combinations of these.

Arguably the most direct method of the presentation of character is by the representing of his thought processes. This may be by thought report in an authorial narrative situation, or by interior monologue in a neutral or figural situation. [3] In the former case there will tend to be a greater distance between this process and the reader, and depending on our reading of the narrative, there may be introduced an element of unreliability, at least in the case of an involved narrator, who might assert the possession of knowledge of which he is not in possession, as the reader may become aware. In the special case of the first person narrative situation, the character could even misrepresent his own thoughts for some purpose. This could also apply to a narrated monologue, or to a presentation in the free indirect style. [4]

Characterisation is also achieved by tone; and by the use of spatial details. In this context, 'space' may refer to the notion of distance, discussed above; or to the way in which characters are associated with spatial details, and especially to the way in which this juxtaposition influences the meaning of the whole work. Atmospheric qualities of parts of the narrative will play a similar part. And in the same way that the association of spatial details with characters may govern meaning, so may the bringing together of action from different time zones by a montage effect. [5] Changes in narrative pace will also affect our view of a character.

Handling of action, in the sense of internal or mental action has been mentioned above, in the discussion of the presentation of thought. The handling of action in the sense of the external events of a narrative also affects our understanding of character. For example, the behaviour of a character in one strand of an action may be implicitly comparable to that of another in a contemporaneous strand, particularly in the case where the acts of those characters are directed towards the same end. Furthermore, with regard to the division of the action, the reader's perception of the character's patterns of behaviour will be partly governed by the structure of the whole action.

On completion of a reading of the work, the reader may judge that a world-view may validly be extrapolated from it. [6] If this is the case, his recollection of a given character, of his perception of that character in a re-reading, may change to fit into the perceived scheme.

Lastly, while not in fact part of the presentational process, but authorially determined, is the factor of the overall mode of presentation of the work. That is, the work may be seen as intended as a realistic work, or as documentary, allegory, fantasy, or as a combination of these. This will again frame the view of character.

Aspects of the Presented World

The manner in which the thoughts of a character are presented has been discussed in the section above. The thoughts themselves, as presented, are a characterising agent, in that they may include the stated ideas of the character - as well as showing the manner of his thought.. The reader will also be guided by the speech of the character: by the tone he employs, by his dialect and possible mannerisms.

Spatial details in the present sense will refer to our interpretation of character in relation to things with which the character allows himself to be surrounded - his property, and other things which are of importance to him. In the same way, we may infer something about a character by his attitude to time, or rather by the way he perceives time: by recollection, in moments of revelation, and so on. A character's awareness of the atmosphere surrounding him, working in conjunction with the reader's own awareness of that atmosphere may make a similar inference possible.

Analogically with the way that we derive information about real people by observing their actions, so do we observe the imagined people of the world of the narrative, and draw conclusions about them from the way in which they act. Of course we have the advantage, in a novel, of being able imaginatively to observe the mental action of the characters also.

Overall Mode of Presentation

Consideration of the overall mode of presentation reveals that there tends to be a great variety of modes produced within a short period, as writers of different backgrounds react to rapidly changing political and social situations. Form in African narrative tends to be governed by the pressures exerted on the writer's situation in his life and times to a greater extent than by formal conventions of writing. Not only have the latter had insufficient time to evolve any stable patterns, but fast-changing conditions of readership and revaluations of the status of the author have brought about a lively response in the form of African works. This could be a particularly fruitful field for the current school of Rezeptionsaesthetik, the aesthetics of literary response. The following section gives brief consideration to several works of widely varying modes in order to examine kinds of personae or devices of their presentation found in them.

Eating Chiefs

The traditional mode of narrative in Africa is the oral folk tale. These are normally the subject of study by anthropologists, but the work of Taban lo Liyong in consciously recasting some of the tales of the Lwo people brings them within the scope of the present discussion, at least inasmuch as they represent one direction in creative writing. In Eating Chiefs (1970) [7] lo Liyong writes that: his "idea has been to create literary works from what anthropologists collected and recorded." [8] "What I have done [he states in the Introduction] is to select some representative works, pass them through my creative workshop, and present them in their transmuted form. I had an eye for those incidents which lend themselves more easily to recreativity, through which the soul of the Lwo can be recreated." [9] That is, tales such as these present collectively the character of a people, rather than individual 'characters'.

The personae of the stories are therefore more typical (in E. M. Forster's sense, not in Lukács's) than individual: a man is proud, or brave, or avaricious, and his story demonstrates the effects of the trait. Development is not part of such characterisation, unless it be an intensification of the original trait.

Attribution of character quality at its most condensed is by nomenclature. [10] In his note to "The Spear, Bead and Bean Story", lo Liyong supplies what would be known to the audience of the tale in its oral form. The princes Gipir and Labongo, the main actors in the narrative, have names which mean respectively "he who revenges" and "he who is without power". The story demonstrates their possession of these qualities, imputed by the names. Gipir takes his revenge on a marauding elephant by spearing it, but in the process loses the spear which is the symbol of Lobongo's power: without it he is impotent. Gipir can only get the spear back from the elephant with the aid or a woman who was "as big as an elephant" and who is called "Min Lyec" or "Elephant Mother".

In a story called "The Birth of Heartbeat" the protagonist Apwoyo is given the derogatory "praise-name" Obala. This means (again according to the notes) "he who wastes (white ants) or lets white ants fly away uncollected", and is given to Apwoyo by the "master musician" millipede Okolok. The latter wishes to keep the termites for himself and causes Apwoyo to dance instead of collecting them, thus giving meaning to the name which he himself has bestowed. On his next two visits to the ant-hill, Apwoyo announces himself in the same terms: "I'm Obala's son, I'm Obala's son/Obala who lets the ants fly away." In keeping with this trait, Apwoyo finally gives up his domestic life and responsibilities to form a dance troupe, the 'Heartbeat' of the title.

Characterisation is also cogently achieved epithetically in some stories, although not as extensively as in epic narrative such as the Homeric. [11] A story called "The Path of Reason is a Twisted Thing" turns on the figure which appears in the title, the main statement being in an inherited maxim that "The hunchback cannot become king." As a result of this way of thinking that physical characteristics are identical with moral, "spine-twisted Ndoro" cannot accede to the throne as he otherwise would, and "frame-perfect Omyer was elected chief". The rest of the action shows him remaining in that office. The brothers each own bulls, which one day fight to the death; but although it is Ndoro's bull which wins, he gains no advantage; in fact, he loses his position totally and exiles himself. The story ends with a reference to obedience to the decrees of the gods, as a reaction to which "Ndoro's head sank into his spine". Thus it seems clear that the thematic concern of the storyteller is identical with that of the culture the story portrays. The tale is not set up to criticise the mores of the society, but to display them.

Other stories have a similarly deterministic tendency. A baby is born with his fist clenched: as a result he becomes chief. Raole 'Banyale by chance gets a taste for human liver, and kills his own grandchildren to maintain a convenient supply: he shows no remorse when caught, but only leaves the country. [13] Angulu "became fat by war" and could only be defeated by bad omens and the spear. [14] Majanga "was a cowherd who was no mere cowherd" who through his inborn ability to prophesy becomes a leader. [15] The stories in Eating Chiefs can be summed up in this context as presenting a range of character types which are simple in the sense that there is usually no basic change. If there is development of a trait, it is in the direction of its becoming more pronounced.

The Trial of Christopher Okigbo

A work of African fiction which is more difficult to categorise in terms of its overall mode of presentation is The Trial of Christopher Okigbo (1971) by Ali A. Mazrui. [16] Mazrui is more a political scientist than a creative writer as such and his main aim overall is to create a fictional forum in which certain ideas about artistic responsibility and patriotism can be debated in the light of the experience of the Biafran Secession. To do this, he uses an unusually wide range of personae. At one extreme, there are historical figures who are represented by a quotation of their actual words. Kwame Nkrumah is one of these figures, who are barely fictionalised. Then there are figures drawn from history but who appear in the narrative as speaking actors, supplied with fictive dialogue, which may be more or less related to their actual utterances in life. Lord Byron is the outstanding example. Some minor figures who are treated as historical also testify. At the other extreme, there is a central group of personae who are completely fictionalised and whose consciousness is rendered by the omniscient narrator. Thus, the work has some of the aspects of the conventional realist novel, some taken from the mode of fantasy, and some quasi-documentary aspects, all of which affect both the range and means of characterisation.

The Man Died

Also difficult to categorise in this way, although for different reasons, is The Man Died (1972) by Wole Soyinka. [17] Though not strictly speaking fiction - its sub-title is "Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka", it is included in this discussion because it represents the point at which non-fiction tends to have fictional aspects. [18] In relation to a discussion of characterisation, the work is interesting in two ways: firstly, in the treatment of the first-person narrative situation; and secondly, in the fictionalisation of other figures. The latter are mostly the warders with whom Soyinka comes into contact while in prison from August 1967 to October 1969 during the Nigerian crisis. They undergo an imaginative transformation whose effect is not only to increase the intensity of the scenic presentation, but also to evoke a range of responses which tend to de-particularise the encounter and broaden the significance of the particular figure. The very names with which Soyinka supplies the warders begin this process of transformation: they become 'Caliban' and 'Polyphemus', evoking grotesque worlds of fantasy already created in fiction. Having offered the indication of the name, the author fills in the outline:

Black enough to puzzle the loudest black purist for new black definitions, Polyphemus is eight feet tall, a thickly cicatrised tower of menace who grunts, looks quickly away when I plumb his vacant depths with a glance then furtively commences his inspection of a strange morsel which might try his digestion. (p.125)

The reader is referred to two presented worlds in the course of the one sentence: that of the real prison with its sadistic warder, and that of the fictional cave with its one-eyed giant. The whole of Section XVII is devoted to a similarly imaginative presentation of 'Caliban'.

Other parts of the book attempt to evoke the disordered states of mind of the prisoner during the periods of his protest fasting. In these, in order better to convey the alienation which he feels, the author sometimes moves to a point of observation outside himself, this process in itself being typical of a disordered mind. The language is highly figurative, and there is a sense of strain in the attempt to grasp an essentially imaginative vision.

His spirit moved among the laden clouds, across the dark gestation of waters, across the waters, restless, lonely ... I create, I re-create in tune with that which shuts or opens all about me ... He saw it was the anachrones, and their eyes were on his restless spirit among the clouds, and they sank their heads again and shook them, staring at the waiting land ... (pp. 257-8)

The inconsistency in the narrative situation helps to underline the disorder in the observing consciousness.

In these two ways, namely, by reference to a broader sphere of reference, and by imaginative extension of the spatial and temporal locus of the narration and of the linguistic means of its representation, Soyinka tends to move beyond the logical bounds of autobiography towards fictive narrative.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard

At another extreme stands Amos Tutuola's The Palm-Wine Drinkard, a work of fantasy. In keeping with its mode, characterisation here tends to be hyperbolic, exaggerating the bizarre. The 'characters' range from wholly human, through anthropomorphisations of inanimate objects, to personifications of abstract ideas. A number of points may usefully be differentiated along this continuum.

The type of character which might most easily be anticipated in such a work is exemplified by the Red Fish, which is fully described. Its

head was like a tortoise's head, but it was as big as an elephant's head and it had over 30 horns and large eyes which surrounded the head. All these horns were spread out as an umbrella. It could not walk but was only gliding on the ground like a snake and its body was just like a bat's body and covered with long red hair like strings ... (p.79)

By comparison when a character is less fantastic there tends to be less physical description and more characterisation by action. Thus the effect of the beauty of the "complete gentleman" on other characters is supplied, and even the hypothetical effect he might have in another situation:

... if bombers saw him in a town which was to be bombed, they would not throw bombs on his presence, and if they did throw it, the bomb itself would not explode until this gentleman would leave that town, because of his beauty. (pp. 23-5)

Some of the characters, like Dance, Drum and Song, are personifications of inanimate objects or of activities. Their function is only to personify their roles and possibly persuade others to imitate them; they are not described, and their behaviour is limited. 'Death' is a character who is similar in some ways to 'Dance', but is more important and is therefore more fully developed. His physical appearance is not given, but actions attribute to him-a human character of a particular kind. Part of the action which concerns this character is of the nature of a cosmological myth, [19] and explains how it is that death ranges freely through the world after escaping from the protagonist's net. This, in its turn, gives more significance to this character, the palm-wine drinkard, and tends to place him on a more general cosmic plane, making him an everyman figure engaged in an archetypal quest. [20]

A work with a more specific sphere of reference is Kole Omotoso's The Combat (1972), [21] which is clearly a political allegory [22] and is subject to investigation by such critical tools as are provided by Edwin Honig in his book on allegory. [23]The Combat is the kind of allegory which Honig has in mind in this passage:

There is lastly the use of analogy which places most of the weight of a narrative's meaning on correspondences evolved within the story itself, depending hardly at all on borrowings familiar to the reader. When unsuccessful, the attempt often lapses into a kind of analogical baiting or teasing of the reader. When successful, the analogical elements are continually balanced in what may be called an allegorical waver - a trompe l'oeil that is gradually discerned in much the same way that faces are glimpsed and finally focused on in a picture puzzle showing a profusion of foliage. [24]

By definition, an allegory (= speaking of other) must contain a duality: a way of rendering and a theme which is partly concealed. However, the more obvious the separate elements, the less successful the allegory. Honig observes: 'The letter (the literal sense) is not separable from the allegory. The one contains the other, as the outside of a thing contains its parts ...' [25]

This basic characteristic of allegory is likely to have a direct effect on the rendering of character as it is likely to have to bear the burden of the allegory. A significant character should therefore have a life of his own but at the same time preserve a kind of transparency through which the intended allegorical meaning may be glimpsed. In this way, a "lively interplay between fact and fantasy" is achieved. [26]

In The Combat, Chuku Debe and Ojo Dada are two Nigerians who come into conflict when Chuku runs over a small boy in his taxi, and Ojo feels that he ought to apologise. The boy, whose name is Isaac - an allusion to the innocent victim of the Bible is dead by the end of the week spanned by the narrative. [27] It is revealed that he is the son of one of the men - the parentage is also the subject of dispute - by a certain Moni, who changed her name to Dee Madam after acquiring her independence. The combatants remain unaware of the identity of Isaac as they go off to fight to the death at the end of the action. During the preceding week each has gained the support of a foreign power, the U.S.S.R. in one case and South Africa in the other. Each has been provided with military aid, on the condition that the child will be educated in the country of the foreign power. This is an undisguised reference to the situation in which emerging countries, particularly in moments of crisis, will align themselves with one or other of the Great Power blocs, which will then take the opportunity to propagandise the youth of the emerging state. The plain irony in this fictional case is that it is the killing of the child which is the cause of the conflict. He has already died when the duel which would settle his future is about to be fought.

The book begins with long passages concerning the daily existence of the two men, who live together; and when Isaac is introduced, he is also treated to a relatively long passage, giving a realistic rendering of the circumstances of his life of poverty in the streets of Lagos. Moni is also grounded in reality. Having come from the country, she is taken advantage of by several men before turning deliberately to prostitution and theft to achieve her economic independence of them. However, as the work continues, it tends increasingly to a more schematic manner. The passages in which Chuku Debe and Ojo Dada have audiences in the embassies of the foreign powers and take part in dedicatory religious ceremonies achieve a different effect from the early realistic passages: they are in a more satirical mode and seen from a greater remove. A high degree of incongruity is reached at the point where Chuku Debe promises to tour the whole country when the combat is over to collect up all the "habiliments of war" and destroy them. This grandiosity is not congruent with the small scale of the earliest passages. The political references become increasingly clear: the alliances; the interest of the cynical foreign press; the pervasive effect of the fight - but at the expense of technical consistency. The tendency at the points of most explicit reference to the events in Nigeria in the late sixties is towards the "analogical bait" rather than to the ''allegorical waver".

Detailed Analysis of Specific Works

Arrow of God

Arrow of God (1964) could be discussed under the head of characterisation in many different ways, being as it is one of the best examples of an African novel which tends to belong in the English tradition. In this sense it is highly sophisticated, and is therefore susceptible of manifold approaches.

One approach would be through narrative situation, which is predominantly figural throughout Arrow of God. The opening, for example, presents the thoughts of the central character, Ezeulu, the priest of Ulu, as he looks at the sky: "This was the third nightfall since he began to look for signs of the new moon. He knew it would come today." (p.1) In this typical thought report, the narrator does not withdraw entirely - as the use of the third person indicates - but he does present the mental processes of the persona as the main concern. This situation is maintained throughout the book. Summaries of thinking and situations are presented as through the mind of the character. Although the narrator has clearly organised and selected the material, he does not present it in his own person:

But the heaviest load was on Ezeulu's mind. He was used to loneliness. As Chief Priest he had always walked alone in front of Umuaro. But without looking back he had always been able to hear their flute and song which shook the earth because it came from a multitude of voices and the stamping of countless feet. (p.1)

The stance at the beginning of this quotation from near the end of the novel tends to be abstracted, summary, 'authorial'. But the use of such a concrete metaphor tends to restore the quality of the mind of the character, of his experience; rather than maintain the abstracted narrative voice. For the most part, "the reader's centre of orientation is in the now-and-here of the novel figure." [28]

Similar analyses could be made of other means of characterisation which are typical in the novel generally, but it is proposed to examine two aspects of Arrow of God which, though formal aspects, have more to do with the traditions of African society than with those of the novel: the depiction of wisdom through the use of proverbs; and the importance of dreams.

Proverbs are used by a variety of characters, including the narrator, but their use is most significant in the scenes of confrontation between tribal elders. The ability to use proverbs appropriately and forcefully seems to be one of the ways by which people in the Ibo society of the novel judge each other. It therefore becomes part of the reader's critical framework for understanding character.

In an early scene the elders of Umuaro debate whether or not they should go to war with a neighbouring clan. [29] Proverbs are used as devices of argument in the same way as appeals to authority. As one of them says: "Wisdom is like a goatskin bag; every man carries his own. Knowledge of the land is also like that." Every man may also draw from his bag of proverbs which is traditionally handed to him what he needs for present contingencies. This is particularly noticeable at the conclusion of the discussion. Although Ezeulu speaks to the assembly in an angry way - "It was like the salute of an enraged Mask." - he is nevertheless able to make use of many traditional sayings in making his point.

In the course of this speech, Ezeulu declares his deterministic attitude: "If in truth the farmland is ours, Ulu will fight on our side." That this attitude is crucial to the meaning of the novel is brought out by the use of a traditional image in an important discussion of Ezeulu's decision about the announcement of the New Year - his most important function. In defending his position, the priest invokes divine power: "The gods sometimes use us as a whip." However, this is thrown back at Ezeulu by another elder in such a way as to question the basis of this position: "... I should like to know on whose side you are, Ezeulu. I think you have just said that you have become the whip with which Ulu flogs Umuaro ..." In this way, debate has turned on the interpretation of inherited wisdom in relation to a vital question, which could be seen as the question of the purity of the priest's motives - and the very wisdom that Ezeulu had wanted to use to defend his own position is turned against him.

This is one of the ironies about this aspect of society which shows the downfall of the main character. Another is inherent in the manner of Obika's death which in its turn leads to Ezeulu's insanity. Obika is chosen to run as ogbazulobodo on the occasion of a second burial for two reasons: his great strength and speed as a runner and his ability to recall and recite large numbers of traditional sayings, these being the two acts performed by the spirit. It happens that he has "a little fever", but is persuaded to run anyway. The spirit performs his function with such energy that it completely drains his human carrier, and the result is the death of Obika. The irony is that this great blow to Ezeulu is dealt while his son allows himself to be possessed by a spirit - and the very spirit whose function it seems to be to carry the inherited collective wisdom of the clan It is clearly, in Ezeulu's eyes, a judgement of the gods. It drives him mad. Whereas in Things Fall Apart proverbial wisdom was an important means of portraying the characters and the society that they formed; in Arrow of God proverbs form a significant link between character and action and thus contribute to the meaning of the novel.

During the course of the action of Arrow of God Ezeulu has two important dreams. While in prison at Okperi, he dreams that the elders of the clan accuse him of being the priest of a dead, or powerless, god; and state that his ritual powers should be taken away. As one of them asks: "Is there anybody here who cannot see the moon in his own compound?" The dream raises the crucial question of the efficacy of the priest's power. It is implicit that this power exists only by the will of the people; also that the priest is powerless against the white man. Both these issues are important to the meaning of the book. The raising of them in Ezeulu's dream implies that he is aware of the issues involved. As the narrator says: "What he had just seen was not a dream but a vision. It had all taken place not in the half-light of a dream but in the clarity of the middle day." That is, although the vehicle is provided by the unconscious, what is represented are the conceptions of the conscious mind. Chinua Achebe, in a comment on the character of Ezeulu, supports this view: "He is an intellectual. He thinks about why things happen - he is a priest and his office requires this - so he goes to the root of things and he is ready to accept change, intellectually." [30]

When Ezeulu has his second significant dream, it is in the last section of the book. [31] His attitude again is one of awareness.

In the night Ezeulu dreamt on of those strange dreams which were more than ordinary dreams. When he woke up everything stood out with the detail and clarity of daylight, like the one he had dreamt in Okperi.

So again it is a presentation of the interaction between Ezeulu's conscious and unconscious mind. Again it is a dream of conflict brought about by the process of the change: in an atmosphere of mourning and destruction, the royal python of Idemili sings that it is being overcome by the Christians. Again the white man is too powerful for traditional belief systems.

There are two other important aspects of this dream which link the mental processes of Ezeulu with the meaning of the book. The mourners in the dream, firstly, not only invoke an atmosphere appropriate to death, but also remind the reader of the recent death of the elder Amalu; foreshadow the impending death of Obika, who passes immediately afterwards as the spirit Ogbazulobodo; and suggest also the decline of Ezeulu which will follow.

Secondly, Ezeulu's madness is also foreshadowed by the phenomenon of the python's voice which is that of his demented mother, whose fits came upon her, significantly for the present action, at the new moon. This has its effect on the dreamer: "... a vague fear remained ..."

By using the dream in this multi-level way, and by associating its occurrence with particular events, the author has succeeded in bringing together several strands of action and aspects of character. Memories of Ezeulu's mother are associated with feelings about the decline of his power and the instability of his mental state, and with these are implicitly juxtaposed the strands of the action concerning the Christians in general and Oduche in particular - he traps the royal python - and the deaths of Amalu and Obika. That all this is presented in and around Ezeulu's very realistic dream means that he is aware of the actual conceptual issues raised by the dream. It means also that the reader is able to be aware, not only of the conscious contents of the character's mind, but also of certain contents of his unconscious. This permits a more holistic view.

The Interpreters

The title, "The Interpreters", as an item in the authorial register, immediately directs the reader's attention to the characters in the presented world of the text, and perhaps also, by implication, to their means of characterisation. Each of the main characters is engaged in the enterprise of interpreting himself in relation to the society in which he lives, in an attempt to discover the right way to live. The narrative which presents this endeavour is, as a result, multi-stranded and employs a shifting, subjective time-scale. In some phases, the narrative situation utilised is figural, which sometimes results in excursions into the past. All this, together with an intense use of language, results in a work of some complexity.

There is a range of character types in The Interpreters in that each of the main personae has an individual way of interpreting the world, though of course, due to their association with each other, there is a degree of commonality in some respects, both in the sense of shared experience and of quality of experience. For example, all of the men could be said to be intellectuals; all, with the exception of the painter Kola, could be said to be engaged in middle-class occupations: as engineer, lecturer, civil servant and journalist; they are all at least interested in the arts, and at least two are practising artists.

Of Egbo, the civil servant, Gerald Moore, largely from extra textual evidence, says that he "carries the greatest portion of Soyinka's personal concern and identification". [32] Though this could probably not be said on the basis of this book alone, what can be said about Egbo is that it is he who carries the greatest burden of decision. The first individual strand of the action, following the expository presentation of the whole group at the opening of the book concerns Egbo's return to the village of his people. Although he works in the bureaucracy he has the inherited option of becoming ruler of a creek-town whose population controls some vital smuggling routes. Egbo is ambivalent about this choice. On the one hand he perceives the reality of the power he would have, and longs to be released from the amorphousness of existence in the urban power structures. On the other hand he suspects that the unorthodox way of life might also lack authenticity. As he says, "What choice, I ask myself, is there between the ugly mudskippers on this creek and the raucous toads of our sewage-ridden ports? What difference?" [33] In the event, Egbo does not make a clear choice, but goes literally with the tide, which happens to be moving away from the shore where his people live. As far as political structures are concerned, then, Egbo represents the modern African at the point of choice between the old and the new. That it is clearly a very difficult and deep choice is evidenced by the fact that Egbo, with all his intellectual equipment, is unable to make it.

In this particular individual, however, it is a sign of a schism which goes deeper than anything under his conscious control. For Egbo is a man whose nature is profoundly divided. At different points in the narrative we see aspects of him which are extremely opposed. It was not by coincidence that he should go with the tide in the early scene, as it later becomes clear that part of his nature identifies closely with the passivity and receptivity which is often associated with water. This fascination is first demonstrated as a child: "Egbo was discovered at midnight lying at the water's edge in the grove of Oshun, one ear against the ground. 'What were you doing there?' they asked. He said he was praying. So they beat him for paganistic leanings." (p.17) And as a man, he has two profoundly significant experiences again by a river. He spends the night by the Ogun River under the bridge of the Lagos-Ibadan railway. The circumstances make a lasting impression on him: "... for it seemed to him that he was born again, he felt night now as a womb of the gods and a passage for travellers ... And he made it his preserve, a place of pilgrimage." (p.127)

The second of these experiences is with a girl student of Bandele's, whom he impulsively takes with him to the same place, and who will be the other major sexual relationship in his life - after the seductress Simi. The latter is also associated with water in its feminine connotations: "Perhaps after all Simi could weep, for the light-filled waters in rockpools were the weave of Simi's eyes." (p.126)

In the last lines of the book, Egbo is again faced with an important choice - between the woman Simi and the unnamed girl - and again he is unable to perceive it experientially as a real choice: "Egbo watched her while she walked towards him, eyes ocean-clams with her peculiar sadness ... like a choice of a man drowning he was saying ... only like a choice of drowning." (p.251) In a connexion which remains not clearly defined, Egbo conflates the feminine principle, as experienced both in himself and through the women in his life, with a wish for quietism or death, and with the experience and symbolism of water.

The other major tendency is towards strength, destruction, sacrifice, masculine qualities as opposed to feminine. This is the way he is seen by Kola, who uses him as his model for the drunken Ogun in his painting of the Yoruba Pantheon of Gods. Although it is not the way Egbo sees himself: "Look at that thing he has made of me for instance, a damned bloodthirsty maniac from some maximum security zoo. Is that supposed to be me? Or even Ogun, which I presume it represents?" (p.233) However, it is Egbo who kills the sacrificial ram for the feast on the occasion of Kola's exhibition; it is he who sacrifices the virginity of the girl on the rocks which he sees as the feet of Ogun; he impulsively leaves the vapid boy Noah with the homosexual Joe Golder who drives the boy to his death; and it is he who has an impulse to kill Bandele.

The narrative gives enough information to account for this duality in Egbo. His father, a gentle Christian, has been drowned with his mother, who was a king's daughter. Here we have the two influences already, the traditional and the European; also the connexion of sadness and death with water. Egbo's various stepfathers have been, by contrast with his father, rough men who beat him continually. The reader is enabled to imagine the division in the character's nature growing, thus partially accounting for the vacillations and contradictions in his actions.

Perhaps the most fully developed character, especially in terms of relative space, is that of Sagoe. Of course, he is a convenient character to provide many of the mechanical links in the structure of the action, because as a journalist he can range over the greater part of society. This is also one of the reasons why most of the satire in The Interpreters is introduced through the perceptions of this character. Another is because it is more appropriate to the style of thought and expression of a working journalist than to the high art of, say, Kola.

Being more experienced in social observation, Sagoe is aware of the importance of social differentiators such as the criterion of 'good taste'. So it is in the phases of the action which are mainly presented through this persona that the affectations of elite society are satirised. The principal scene in this regard is that in which the judgements of Mrs. Professor Oguazor with regard to the propriety of the ladies' retiring are visited upon poor, immigrant Monica Faseyi who, though European, ironically does not recognise the importance of such Western behaviour in the eyes of the post-Independence society of Lagos. (pp. 39-47)

Sagoe's own notion of visual bad taste forms a connexion with his preoccupation with death. He abhors Dehinwa's cheap wardrobe with its tawdry decorations, and it is from this wardrobe that his fantastic vision of the now dead Sir Derinola makes his entrance as "Sir Morgue". And it is on his way to attend the funeral of Sir Derinola that Sagoe encounters the vastly cheaper ceremony organised by Lazarus. The coffin in the latter case is decorated in the same fashion as Dehinwa's wardrobe. The meaning of these juxtapositions is the value of sincere poverty as against false ostentation.

Sagoe has another morbid preoccupation which is conveyed not by a structural aspect of the narrative, but rather through inset sections of a different genre: the essays in his "Book of Enlightenment" on Voidancy. As well as revealing a fixation in the character, this obsession also brings to notice an unfortunate feature of life in urban Nigeria. Indeed. Sagoe's writing on the subject could be seen as a compensation for the disgust felt at the ubiquity of the evidence of excrement in the streets of Lagos. However, it is a natural subject for a man whose occupation often involves the uncovering of repressed and unsavoury aspects of life.

There are two visions of unity in The Interpreters. One is expressed by Kola in his painting, which is one of the structural keys to the book, as it integrates those of the characters who are used as models with the figures of the theological belief systems. This tends to interpret reciprocally both the people and the beliefs, which represent ways of seeing and explaining the world, but the result for Kola as a character is that he tends to be overcome by his function and is not very fully developed. His views of other characters, though they have important consequences for the reader's understanding of the characters, tend merely to perform that function, rather than at the same time revealing the personality capable of conceiving and demonstrating such views. Kola himself admits to having been influenced by others; not only influenced: he says that it is Egbo who should be working on the painting, rather than himself; (p.227) and reveals that he thinks more of Sekoni's work than of his own. (p.228) It suffices that Kola works very hard, and that the result of his labour forms a catalyst which causes other characters to react in revealing ways, as has been mentioned above, for example, in the case of Egbo, the violence of whose contrary reaction lends support to Kola's view as much as it contradicts it.

The other vision of unity is stated by Sekoni, who, ironically, can barely express himself at all, due to a speech impediment. Further irony may be seen in his personality, perhaps the least 'unified' in the work. "In the dome of the cosmos, there is complete unity of Life. Life is like the godhead, the plurality of the manifestations is only an illusion. The godhead is one. So is Life, or Death, both are contained in the single dome of existence." (p. 122) This is Sekoni's major metaphysical statement (with the indications of stammering removed), the product of a life filled with ironies, conflicts and contradictions. One of the conflicts reveals, as in Egbo's case, some unfortunate aspects of power structures in modern Africa. Sekoni has gained overseas qualifications in engineering. He returns filled with the desire to improve the quality of life in Nigeria in the practical sense of creating electric power. When he is fobbed off with a senseless administrative job, expressed in bureaucratic terms of the most extreme kind ("Please join a preliminary Committee of Five to sort out applications for the post of a Third Class Clerk."), he agitates for, and gets, a real mission. He builds a small experimental power station. When he discovers that the project is written off as "junk" - the reader is informed that the chairman of the government department is also indirectly the contractor and will receive thousands in compensation - it is enough to drive him mad.

An earlier conflict has been with his Moslem father who has disapproved Sekoni's marriage with a Christian. Now that he is ill, his father is reconciled and instrumental in sending Sekoni to Mecca. In yet another irony, however, it is in Old Jerusalem that he perceives "suddenly meaningful affinities" (p. 99) which enables him to return to Nigeria to begin to work through in an art form his experience of division. His first work - "The Wrestler" - expresses something of his struggle and his quest for meaning. A pilgrim is on the point of subduing a python. It is Kola who perceives the work as expressing a feeling of integration, as being without self-doubt: "... Sekoni was an artist who had waited long to find himself but had done so finally, and left no room for doubt." (p. 100) Though the narrator suggests that Bandele is the model for the figure in his first sculpture, it seems a reasonable inference to say that whereas Kola's function is to interpret others through their relationship with their culture, Sekoni interprets himself.

The reason for the use of Bandele as model in the context suggested above can be inferred. Bandele is the character into whose mouth is put the title of the book: this, taken together with other indications, suggests that he is the figure who has a kind of understanding and judgement not shared by the other characters. It is as if only he has the capacity to interpret the interpreters. This overriding vision is not accepted without resentment:

Bandele was mocking, lightly. "Sagoe has his story, Kola has filled another heavenly space on his canvas, what are you getting out of this, Egbo?' Egbo turned angrily on him. "What are you getting out of it?' 'Knowledge of the new generation of interpreters.' Sagoe exploded. 'You sound so fuckin' superior it would make a saint mad.' (p.178)

Monica tells Kola: "Bandele thinks you all lead callous, indifferent lives." He seems to represent an ideal standard of thought and conduct. As a lecturer, he has the highest intellectual status of the group, but in his comments on others he shows a scorn for the impurity of their motives, a moral rather than an intellectual superiority. Referring to the death of Noah, he asks Kola: "'What do you need the ram for? Haven't you had your sacrifice?"' (p. 243) and it is this question which tempts Kola to attack him, as mentioned above. In the same scene he asks: "'Is it not time for your freak-show?"' referring to the recital by Joe Golder. As the narrator puts it, in a key phrase: "Bandele sat like a timeless image brooding over lesser beings." He is clearly being characterised here as the conscience of the group.

This is also shown in his actions. For example, he is more tolerant than anyone else of the ugly half-Americans, Peter and Joe Golder. And when he gives Egbo the message from the girl, he sticks rigidly to his text, in order to give her maximum protection, by allowing negotiations to go forward on her terms. But it is in his last action, the last significant action of the book, that the characterisation of Bandele is completed. He passes judgement on the seducer and abortionist Dr. Lumoye, and on his superior, Professor Oguazor, in one noble pronouncement: "Bandele, old and immutable as the royal mothers of Benin throne, old and cruel as the ogboni in conclave pronouncing the Word. 'I hope you all live to bury your daughters."' (pp. 250-251) In this concluding action, his paternalism and purity are combined with an image of traditional power and wisdom to put the finishing touches to the picture of this important character. The interpretation is complete.

Le Vieux nègre et la médaille

Characterisation is an important element in Le Vieux nègre et la médaille (1956), [34] particularly in the control of authorial tone. A range of tone is employed to express a flexible critical attitude; but a clear distinction is made between the two groups of characters: the Africans and the Europeans. By the way in which the narrative exposes personal and cultural differences between the main personae in each group, these differences are implicitly given value loadings, and thus construct the value system of the presented world of the novel. It is a polarised world: the traditional African culture tries desperately to accommodate European influence, which is shown, through its representatives, as being self-interested and uncomprehending.

From the beginning of the book, the chief character, Meka, is presented as being at no great distance from the reader. He is shown in a most intimate perspective, and engaged in commonplace, everyday activities. In the initial sentence, for example, it is the sleeping Meka's left nostril which is presented, as it were, for the reader's inspection: (p. 3) and almost as close a view is maintained through most of the book. The opening pages show Meka's physical condition after a poor night's sleep; describe him praying, dressing, defecating, and eating; and give part of the discussion with his wife about his summons to see the French administrator. Some of Meka's thoughts are also presented: "How could she sleep so soundly with a summons from the Commandant there, under the bed inside a shoe." (p. 3)

Narrative situation and tone are closely related in The Old Man and the Medal. Whereas the close view tends to create an empathy with the character, the light, ironical tone maintains the balance and restores a slight but precise critical perspective to the presentation. In the sentence quoted above, for example, there is an element of the ridiculous in the juxtaposition of the summons from the Commandant with Meka's absurd irritation at his wife's apparent lack of feeling and with the position of the letter, perhaps put in the shoe as being the safest place. The effect is created by arranging in descending order of seriousness the two spatial details within the same context of the character's attitude.

At times, a critical view of Meka becomes more overt than a sympathetic closeness. This is never clearer than when the business of Meka's gift of land to the church comes up: the tone of the narrative voice becomes broadly sarcastic:

He had had the special grace to be the owner of a piece of land, which, one fine morning, had proved pleasing to the eye of the Lord ... Meka was the great favourite in the Paradise Stakes, one of those rare mortals who would have no more than a mere appearance to put in at Purgatory. (p. 10)

The extreme irony represents, in verbal form, the great distance between the appearance and the reality of the transaction. And the image of the "Paradise Stakes" dehumanises and alienates the character, and therefore reduces sympathy for him, suggesting, on this occasion, the extremity of his naivety, rather than his victimisation.

When the Commandant, M. Foucouni, enters the action proper, the means of his characterisation are noticeably different. The point of observation is maintained consistently at a distance, and there is less manipulation of narrative tone. Apart from a humorous simile, the initial description of the character is straightforward; and in the short scene which follows, there is no comment from the narrator, who allows M. Foucouni's actions to speak for themselves. In the following example from the description just mentioned, it is the repetitiveness and flatness of the writing which is to be remarked upon:

His nose stuck out sturdily from the middle of his bloated face which the sun had turned as red as the bottom of a chimpanzee. He had a terrible temper on an empty stomach but it fell off sharply after a glass of whisky. He lived with an African woman whom he used to hide in the storeroom on the ground floor when he had a white visitor. (p.46)

The European's corruption is clear enough from a mere recital of his habits. It does not need Oyono's wit to bring it out.

The distance between the reader and the character is increased still further on the appearance of the "white Chief" - the Governor - by a temporary shift from the authorial to the figural mode. The presentation of the medals is seen through Meka's eyes:

Then Meka saw the great Chief grasp his shoulders and put his cheeks one after the other against the cheeks of the Greek. At each movement the folds of skin under his chin trembled like a withered dun-coloured breast ... Then it was Meka's turn. The white Chief stood in front of him and began to shout. As he opened and shut his mouth his lower jaw went down and came up, puffing up and then deflating the skin under his chin. (p. 92)

Meka's perception selects what is for him the most striking detail of the Governor's appearance - his ample dewlap; and the repetition of this feature, which for most readers would suggest a comparison with the apparent self-importance of a turkey-cock, has a strikingly humorous effect. It is indicative of the author's subtlety that the comparison with the turkey is not made explicit until the fifth paragraph of this description, thus completing the figure which has already had time to form in the reader's mind.

As we have seen, Ferdinand Oyono's satire in The Old Man and the Medal works mainly through a range of characterisation which in its turn is achieved by a precise and flexible control of narrative situation and tone. Though mediated by a critical perspective, the scenes with African characters (with the exception of the policemen) are always from close up, and are delineated with warmth and sympathy, whereas, on the other hand, the European characters are dealt with from a distance, at one or more removes, so that an empathetic reading is unlikely.

Le Pauvre Christ de Bomba

Satirical narrative, exemplified by Le Vieux nègre et la médaille, has one aspect of characterisation in common with the traditional Bildungsroman, of which Le Pauvre Christ de Bomba may be seen as an example. [35] What is common to them is an obliquity of approach, the angle of which is governed by the control of various kinds of distance: that between author and narrator, for example. In a first-person novel like The Poor Christ of Bomba, a common means of creating a rich and complex tone is the use of a temporal vantage point in the narration which is substantially posterior to the action. This permits, at any given moment in the action, of the implication of at least two levels of meaning, one related to the experiencing self of the protagonist, and one to the narrating self. In this particular work, however, we have a first-person narrator who relates the action through the medium of a diary. That is, although the reader is allowed the opportunity of close observation of the development of the character's mind, there is little temporal distance between experiencing and narrating. Therefore, irony operates, in relation to a view of the protagonist as developing, over a large scale: the whole length of the novel. In order to comprehend the meaning of the novel in this regard, the reader must comprehend a sense of the character's development, but only becomes clear at the completion of the action. This kind of irony is, therefore relatively subtle, but none the less effective.

Another, grosser, kind of irony is that which operates in the course of the action in relation to the distance between the narrator and the reader, between the former's understanding of the significance of what is narrated, and what the reader may further perceive. Although the fiction of the narration is that the narrator is able to remember every word and gesture of the scenes he presents, his attitude to their significance is clearly limited. The narrator is Denis, an African of 'nearly fifteen' who works for Father Drumont at the Catholic Mission of Bomba, and, who, for the level of his education - 'the first year of middle school' - is preternaturally able to express himself in writing: he writes almost the whole journal, which is the novel, in twenty-three days. The main action is the continuing revaluation by Denis of the other main character, the Reverend Father Drumont. The circularity of the structuring of the action - the Father leaves Bomba for a tour of the Tala country, and what he discovers while away and on his return lead to the closure of the Mission - encourage this revaluation, on the reader's part as well as that of the characters. For there are two parallel 'educations' within the novel. Father Drumont is also forced to come to terms with his true role as part of the colonial machine; but whereas his realisation of the truth is relatively quickly achieved, Denis has only really begun to make the appropriate connexions as the novel comes to an end. This then is another effective distance in the structure of the work: that between the rates of development of self-awareness in the two main characters.

These developments will be traced through the exposure of several of the main themes of the work, in order to show: the growth of the diarist's self-awareness; the way in which his opinions of Drumont are affected in the course of the action; the change in the way the latter comes to view his role in Africa; and global movements in the novel which persuade the reader to take up an increasingly critical view of the significance of the action.

The broad lines of Denis' development may be seen as indicated by the direct statements which the diary convention enables him to make about his degree of certainty of the truth of his perceptions. The opening page of the work contains a number of assertions of self-confidence, perhaps stated so strongly that a discerning reader might already think that Denis protests too much. He comments on Drumont, and the fact that the village boys call him 'Jesus Christ': "Jesus Christ! Oh, I'm sure it's no blasphemy! He really deserves that name ... A stern man, certainly. But when you know him well ..." (p. 3) (emphasis added). As events in the action indicate to Denis to what degree his naivety misled him, he tends to go to the other extreme: "... I don't notice a thing. What an ass I've been! It's always like that; things happen all around me and I notice nothing." (p. 119) "And I felt quite estranged from myself, as if I didn't know myself any more. I don't know what's become of me." (p. 130) "I don't understand anything any more; it's all too complicated for me ... (p. 146) 'But then, what has happened to me? I am scarcely myself any more. It's almost as if a stranger had penetrated me, slowly taking over and inhabiting my being, to such a point that I scarcely recognise myself." (p. 147) The plunge into the increasing depths of self-investigation seems to reach its lowest point here. As far as direct statements of consciousness go, this seems to be the turning-point. The same quotation, in part, continues: "But now it's ... all the preceding part of my life which seems dreamlike, cloudy and insubstantial, like something from which I have awoken ... Yes, exactly as if I were waking from a long sleep, without quite knowing what use to make of my new day. My God! How bizarre it all is. My eyes open on a colourless world; it neither rains nor shines and I can't even guess what time it is." Following this, a degree of understanding begins to return: "Now I begin to comprehend all the disquiet, the torment and the anguish of dear Father Drumont. Now at last I understand the meaning of all his conversations with M. Vidal." (p. 189) And finally, Denis not only claims to understand, but also seems to see the possibility of having an open mind about a question, of continuing evaluation: "I'm beginning to wonder myself whether the Christian religion really suits us, whether it's really made to the measure of the blacks." (p. 189)

One means of evaluating Drumont through the eyes of Denis, thereby characterising them both, is seen in those passages in which the narrator compares his father with "the Father", as he is called almost throughout (with the notable exception of the last passage quoted, where Denis claims to begin to understand him, to see him more as an equal). In an early passage, (p.9) the African father is seen as not being able to understand why his son is too busy to succeed at school, and he is compared directly with Drumont, the superior father: "Either he should leave me in peace, or take me out of the mission, if he's so keen on seeing me get the certificate. But he'd never dare do that, he's too scared of the Father Superior ..." As Denis has already said: "The Father Superior is like a real father to me ..." (p.8) At the end of the tour which is the central experience of the action, however, Denis' language has moderated a good deal, even if his opinions have not completely changed: "I suppose my father has a point. All the same it would be useful to go regularly to school and improve my French." (p.164) And when the Africans have been deserted by the disillusioned Frenchman at the end of the book, we leave the narrator taking note of his father's practical advice as to avoiding the machinations of the colonisers. Of his personal characteristics, Drumont's sternness is most openly approved of by Denis in the earlier part of the book. He describes the Father's personal administration of physical discipline with enthusiasm: "... two resounding slaps on the cheeks. And he had earned them! Such arrogance!" (p.23) When Drumont breaks up a village celebration, smashing up the xylophones, simply because it is on the first Friday of the month, he attempts to explain to the chief the reason for his action. Denis would have him take an even harder line: "... listening to all this illiterate nonsense. I'm sure it's a mistake to explain things carefully to them ... Oh, what hopeless people!" (p.56) Not only is the violence approved, but Denis would not even have a reason given.

What changes his views on beating is his personal involvement through the person of Catherine. At the first beating, there is neither approval nor disapproval for the Father's policy, but there is close attention to the suffering of Catherine. Afterwards, the narrator feels "rather sorry for myself and rather lost, especially when I thought about Catherine and the bastinading she got this morning." (p.58) When Catherine comes to be beaten again, during Drumont's investigation of the mores of his sixa, it occurs after Denis and she have been sexually intimate, and his reaction, far from approving the torturer, is now demonstrably sympathetic. "I felt miserable watching her suffer like that and tears came to my eyes too." (p.171)

Indeed, his sexual initiation may be seen as a turning-point in the action for the narrator. Although not necessarily closely related to the more central thematic material: the discussion of the morality of colonisation in general and Drumont in particular; it seems nevertheless to represent a maturational step for Denis which necessitates a new way of seeing. Before his experience, Denis' views on fornication are relatively narrow. He realizes that Zacharia, Drumont's cook, has arranged for Catherine, a girl from the sixa, and therefore supposedly under the protection of the Father, to follow the itinerary of the tour, and the couple are sleeping together every night. He wonders "how long they've been getting away with their filthy tricks?" (p.63) It is not surprising, therefore, after his own encounter with Catherine, that the main thing Denis expresses is his feeling of guilt. This tends to draw him away from Drumont, in that he cannot confess to him. Also the guilt is mixed with other, contrary, feelings. When he does finally confess, Drumont tells him not to have anything to do with women. However, in the last scene of the book, Denis is looking "in very corner for Catherine's sweet face." (p.217) He is clearly unconvinced of the benefits of celibacy.

Denis has had maturity thrust upon him, to a certain extent. Alienation from his spiritual father, caused by his inability to go to confession, is combined with a new view of Drumont's sternness, due to Denis's sympathy for its victim. This seems naturally to lead to a revaluation, in relation to traditional customs, of the religion of which Drumont is the representative, as well of Drumont himself, in relation to Denis' natural father. Having lost his innocence in a sort of informal initiation, Denis must now enter into the world of experience and begin to be able to perceive the possibility of alternative moral positions.

As for Drumont himself, he much sooner than the narrator seems to confront the problems which are at the thematic centre of the novel. Although he seems at the beginning to be a man of authority who is firmly confident of his position, almost as soon as he goes on the Tala tour he appears to have to reconsider his role, unlike the uncompromising Denis. In an early passage in which Zacharia explains to Drumont that the true power in the whiteman's religion is his technological ability, Denis' reaction is quite different from the priest's. He writes: "I was that hot with anger, I would gladly have slapped his silly face. But the thing is, the Father listened to him with great attention." (p.30) Here is an example of the irony on which much of the book's effect is based: the narrator is palpably unaware of the full significance of what he records, although the reader is able to infer it. Another example was cited above, in the passage in which Denis saw no need of Drumont's explaining himself to the angry chief.

Father Drumont is presumably used to seeing himself as the representative of the true God: thus ruling, as it were, by divine right, he feels that can do no wrong. The Africans of course see him rather differently. From the beginning of the novel on, he is identified with other Europeans who more openly exploit the native people: with the businessmen and the Greek traders. "They say that all any of you are after is money," (p.20) says a native catechist to Drumont. He is accused of being a divisive element in families; of keeping the unmarried women in the sixa not so much for their instruction as to provide a pool of labour; and of being in league with the administration in keeping the people in a subjugated state, using their labour for such things as road-building.

This last question is the most significant subject of debate among the characters, as it involves Drumont in a moral conflict. When a new road is built, the people of the area are forced into labour gangs. This creates hardship and misery, and the people go to the priest for support and consolation: his 'business' thrives. But it is the duty of the priest to protect his flock by doing what he can to impede such projects. However, when the people are left in peace, as the Tala were, they thrive, and have no need of European religion. That is, if the priest is successful on the one hand, he will seem to be a failure on the other, as he will suffer a diminution of his followers.

The reader is made aware of the conflict in Drumont's mind from Denis' reports of debate which is taken up at several points by the priest and Vidal, the administrator, who informs Drumont that there is to be a road driven through the Tala area. This means that the Father's next tour through the region, after his current discouragement, will be much more successful, but only at the price of the human suffering brought about by the colonial administration, with whom, he is continually being persuaded, he is identical in many significant ways. Drumont cannot resolve this conflict and he returns to France, leaving his African 'son' feeling confused and abandoned. The final irony is that at the book's close Denis' own home is threatened by a plan to build a road, and he is considering leaving for the town, where he may work for precisely those Greek merchants to whom the cynics compared his 'Father'.

In The Poor Christ of Bomba characterisation and action are inextricably linked. The mature decision of the compassionate priest to retreat from a venture to which his moral sense will no longer allow him to be a party, is reflected in the naive journal of a growing mind which must suffer the consequences of events of which it only inchoately perceives the significance.


1. Franz Stanzel, Narrative Situations in the Novel (Bloomington: Indiana U.P., 1971). Works found useful on the subject of characterisation include the following. Charles Child Walcutt, Man's Changing Mask: Modes and Methods of Characterization in Fiction (University of Minnesota Press, 1966). W.H. Harvey, Character and the Novel (London: Chatto, 1965). Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg, The Nature of Narrative (London: O.U.P., 1966), Chapter 5. David Daiches, The Novel and the Modern World (Chicago: U. Chicago P., 1960), Chapter 2: "Character". Alan Friedman, The Turn of the Novel : The Transition to Modern Fiction (London: O.U.P., 1970), "The Stream of Conscience".

2. Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: U. Chicago Press, 1961), pp. 158-9.

3. Stanzel, Chapter 6.

4. Ibid.

5. A.A. Mendilow, Time and the Novel (1952; repr. N.Y.: Humanities Press, 1965). Hans Meyerhoff, Time in Literature (Berkeley: U. California. P., 1955).

6. Lucien Goldmann, Towards a Sociology of the Novel, tr. Alan Sheridan (London: Tavistock, 1975).

7. Taban lo Liyong, Eating Chiefs (London: Heinemann, 1970).

8. Op. cit. Introduction, p. x.

9. Loc. cit. pp. ix-x.

10. In his book on allegory, Dark Conceit (London: Faber, 1960, p.118), Edwin Honig names personification by nomenclature as the first of his five kinds of personification in the "expanding allegory". African folk-tales generally would fall within Honig's description, as would Soyinka's use of names in The Man Died.

11. As examined for example by Albert B. Lord (following Parry) in The Singer of Tales (N.Y.: Atheneum, 1965).

12. "The Birth of Kamalega". op. cit. p.47.

13. "Raole 'Banyale". op. cit. p.87. In another version of this story, called "Tekayo", by Grace Ogot (Land Without Thunder, Nairobi: E.A.P.H., 1968), the old man hangs himself.

14. "Angulu". op. cit. p.59.

15. "Bura Leb Bari". op. cit. p.53.

16. Ali A. Mazrui, The Trial of Christopher Okigbo (London: Heinemann, 1971).

17. Wole Soyinka, The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka (London: Rex Collings, 1972).

18.America, Their America, by John Pepper Clark, also a Nigerian's account of his own experiences, is an example of a work whose mode is documentary rather than (partially) fictional.

19. This term is used, for example, by G.A. Larue in Ancient Myth and Modern Man, to describe myths which "explain how the world and all that is in it came into being", (p.21). Examples of such myths have been brought together by Ulli Beier in The Origin of Life and Death (London: Heinemann, 1966). That such comparisons may usefully be made suggests how close Tutuola is to his traditional origins.

20. This is the approach, for example, of Gerald Moore in "Amos Tutuola: A Modern Visionary" in his Seven African Writers (London: O.U.P., 1962). He writes: "... the resolution of the Drinkard's individual development as hero is linked with the restoration of harmony between man and gods ..." (p.49).

21. Kole Omotoso, The Combat (London: Heinemann, 1972).

22. Internal evidence is corroborated by the author's statement: "The Combat deals with present-day Nigeria, based on two characters involved in the Biafra War." Interview with Dennis Wilder in Transition 44, vol. 9, 1 (1974).

23. Edwin Honig, Dark Conceit: The Making of Allegory (London: Faber, 1960).

24. Ibid., pp. 125-6.

25. Ibid., p.104.

26. Ibid.

27. Another example of Honig's analogy by nomenclature (cf.n.10, supra); here a more subtle use, as the name alone supplies the referent: there is no other explicit development of the motif of the innocent victim.

28. Stanzel, p.92.

29. Arrow of God, Chapter 2.

30. Interview with Robert Serumaga, February 1967; in African Writers Talking, ed. Dennis Duerden and Cosmo Pieterse (London: Heinemann, 1972).

31.Arrow of God, pp. 276-9.

32. Gerald Moore, Wole Soyinka (London: Evans, 1971).

33. Wole Soyinka, The Interpreters (London: Deutsch, 1965). Page references are to the Heinemann edition of 1970. p.14.

34. Ferdinand Oyono, Le Vieux nègre et la médaille (Paris: Julliard, 1956), translated by John Reed as The Old Man and the Medal (London: Heinemann, 1967). Page references are to the translation.

35. Mongo Beti, Le Pauvre Christ de Bomba (Paris: Laffont, 1956). Page references are to the translation by Gerald Moore: The Poor Christ of Bomba (London: Heinemann, 1971).

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