In this mixed setting, Scobie goes past the secretariat to meet the commissioner at the police station and learns that he has again been passed over for promotion, despite his fifteen years of service with exemplary integrity. Instead of accepting any of the usual options offered to an officer in his position, Scobie refuses to resign, retire, or transfer to another colony; he wants to stay because he “likes the place.” He knows the colony so well that he has no need of maps because he carries the “whole coastline” in his mind’s eye. However, his disappointment at being denied promotion combines with the lassitude of the tropical colony to change him in ways that ultimately lead to his destruction.
Scobie’s house. House originally built for a Syrian trader near a swamp in which Scobie lives with his wife, Louise. The last time Scobie had been on leave, he was ousted from his government bungalow in the town’s European quarter. Louise, already unhappy with her living conditions, is even more anguished by Scobie’s being denied promotion. She feels humiliated and wants to go to South Africa to prepare a home there for his retirement. Unlike Scobie, Louise can never feel at home in West Africa. The novel’s primary conflict arises from the widening distance between Scobie and his wife over where they should live.
Bamba. Backcountry town in which another government officer, Pemberton, commits suicide, prompting an order for Scobie to go inland to retrieve Pemberton’s body. Scobie’s trip to Bamba, with its river crossings, marks a turning point in his domestic and professional life and foreshadows his own suicide. At Bamba, the shady Syrian merchant Yusef–a suspected smuggler–offers Scobie a loan to pay for Louise’s trip to South Africa. This incident begins a relationship between Scobie and Yusef that intensifies suspense through suspicion, spying, and blackmail.
Nissen huts. Shabby one-room quarters for government officers and their dependents near the coastline. Wilson and Harris live in one of these huts. Likewise, Helen Rolt, a freshly widowed woman rescued after her ship is torpedoed by Germans during her honeymoon, occupies one. Scobie believes that his relationship with Helen is “safe,” but when they are alone in the hut, they begin an adulterous affair. This setting provides a center to the theme of betrayal at the novel’s conclusion. Wilson not only lives in close proximity to Yusef’s office, he uses bribery, enticing promises, and the blood bond between his servant and Yusef’s servant to spy on Yusef. Scobie’s desire to conceal his visits to Helen shake his trust in his servant, Ali. The pervasive atmosphere of mistrust in this setting leads to Ali’s murder and Scobie’s suicide.