Sam is the new president of the military regime in power following a coup, a position he holds due in no small part to the efforts of his schoolmates Chris and Ikem. He is described as being very athletic and very charming, having adopted the ways of an English gentleman. Early in the novel, Ikem comments on Sam’s “sense of theatre,” adding that Sam “is basically an actor and half of the things we are inclined to hold against him are no more than scenes from his repertory to which he may have no sense of moral commitment whatsoever.” Although he attended the prestigious Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Sam is fully aware that he is unprepared for his new government leadership role.
However, he soon becomes blinded by power, insisting on being called “Your Excellency” and seeking to be elected “President for Life.” Military school trained Sam and his fellow cadets to remain aloof from political matters, and Sam was, at first, quite terrified in his new role. His solution was to gather together his friends and give some of them government positions from which he could seek their advice. Once he overcame his fear, however, he began to relish his power, becoming extremely upset at even the mildest demonstrations against him. Chris can see that Sam is now a dictator−in−the-making and considers him a “baby monster,” but Sam is only concerned about securing as much power for himself as he can without interacting with the people of the country. In fact, he is starving a dissident province in hopes of forcing them to comply with his authority. He soon becomes consumed with paranoia, anger, and insecurity, and when his political ambitions are disappointed, he recalls being told how dangerous boyhood friends can be. After he arranges for Ikem’s murder and Chris has fled, Sam himself is killed during a coup and buried in a shallow grave.
Chris’s fiancee, Beatrice is one of Achebe’s most fully developed female characters. She works for Sam and is an old friend of Ikem’s, so, through her connections to Chris, Ikem, and Sam, she plays a significant role in the action of the novel. She was born the fifth daughter to her parents (one sister has died). Her father had been hoping for a son, so she was named Nwanyibuife, which means “A Woman Is Also Something” As an adult, Beatrice is well-educated, having earned a degree with honors in English from the University of London, and she holds an important civil service position as an administrator in a state office. She also enjoys writing short fiction, which Ikem reads and admires for its “muscularity” and “masculine” qualities.
Beatrice is characterized by sophistication, intelligence, and independence, but she is also attuned to the common people on an intuitive level. Never having planned on a career in the government, she is very disturbed by accusations that she is ambitious. In reality, she desires what she has desired since childhood—to be left alone in her peaceful solitude and not attract any attention. Achebe places her firmly in the mythic tradition of the people, making her a sort of manifestation of Idemili, a goddess sent to Man to oversee morality. Although Beatrice is unaware of the myths regarding this goddess, she grows into a woman possessed with wisdom, self-knowledge, and compassion as she connects with the culture of her land. At the end of the novel, she participates in the naming ceremony for Ikem and Elewa’s baby girl by naming the infant Amaechina, a boy’s name meaning “May the Path Never Close.” This is bold not only because she has given a boy’s name to a girl, but also because the responsibility of naming traditionally belongs to a man.
In his youth, Chris attended Lord Lugard College with his friends Ikem and Sam. Even then, he served as the “buffer” and mediator between the athletic and outgoing Sam and the intelligent and pensive Ikem. As adults, the three occupy prominent roles in Kangan’s new military regime, and Chris’s role as Commissioner for Information again puts him in the position of go−between as Sam and Ikem engage in a contest of wills. Chris stepped down as editor of the National Gazette to accept his position on Sam’s Cabinet, after which Ikem became the newspaper’s editor. Chris is now Ikem’s boss, but he himself reports to Sam, which puts him in the uncomfortable position of trying to get Ikem to comply with Sam’s will. Although Chris sees Sam becoming mad with power, he is reluctant to give up his position in the Cabinet. Chris finally asserts himself when Sam orders him to fire Ikem, thus beginning a harrowing series of events. Fleeing for his life, Chris comes into contact with the “people” and begins to understand his country better. Chris is killed trying to save a girl from being raped at a chaotic party, and his last words are, “The last green.” This is a reference to a running joke he, Ikem, and Sam shared in the early days, when they imagined themselves as three green bottles arrogantly situated on a shelf, each bound to fall.
Ikem is the outspoken and reform−minded editor of the state−owned National Gazette, a position that often puts him in conflict with his boyhood friend, Sam, who is the president of Kangan. Part of his duty is to broadcast Sam’s messages to the people, which are Sam’s way of feeling that he is radiating power from the capitol out to the people. Ikem, on the other hand, believes strongly that the press should be free and independent of government regulation. He and Chris often debate the effectiveness of Ikem’s editorials, but Ikem feels that even if they are futile, he should continue publishing them.
Despite the fact that he is a London−educated intellectual, Ikem is very sensitive to the needs of the common people. His editorials are often harsh in their criticism of the new ruling regime, which makes Sam regard him as treacherous. Ikem states that the best weapon against ineffective or unjust governments is not facts, but passion. Unlike Chris, Ikem is an extremist who is not interested in working gradually toward progress and so uses his powerful position as a journalist to call for change. Speaking to a group of students, Ikem discusses the role of the storyteller in depth, insisting that it is the role of the writer to ask questions and make challenges. He concludes his speech to the students by proclaiming, “Writers don’t give prescriptions. They give headaches!”
Ikem also makes a joke about putting Sam’s head on the country’s coins, which leads to false reports that Ikem called for the beheading of the president. His fate already orchestrated, Ikem is taken in the night by government secret police and killed. Still, his presence continues to be felt among the people and his friends—a presence strengthened by the fact that he leaves behind a girlfriend close to giving birth to their child.