Writing Death and King’s Horseman as a play was a creative way to enable a conversation between colonialist forces and Nigerian natives. One of the main characteristics of a play is that it is dependent on dialogue. There is one particular scene in Part 4 which maximizes the benefits of the play. In this scene, Jane and Olunde, discuss the sacrificial suicide tradition and what Olunde has learned from living in Europe. They try to reach some understanding, but fail. This direct interaction between a representative of both colonialism and the (somewhat) native, together exploring themes such as war, tradition, empathy and death, shows that Soyinka truly capitalized on the form.

Not only do most of these characters serve as representatives for either capitalism or Nigeria, but they also seem to be foils of other characters. For example, Asuma and Elesin each highlight different cultural perspectives of duty. Elesin’s duty seems primitive where as Asuma’s duty was bestowed upon him by his Western master. And even though he accepts it unquestioningly, he is seen as the more sophisticated one. Iyaloja recognize the irony of the situation, but Asuma does not seem to. This reminds me of the conversation we had about Things Fall Apart and how Achebe presents both sides of the story.

Another character that parallels Elesin is the Prince. Olunde explicitly draws this connection by saying that the Prince sacrificed himself by making the journey to Nigeria, therefore the Pilkings should not be so hard on the sacrifice Elesin is making. I also thought that a parallel was drawn between the Prince and Elesin through dancing. Right after Elesin’s pre-death trance dancing is described, the Prince is described as dancing at the ball. Both are ritualistic. Perhaps Sonyinka was attempting to elevate Elesin to a kind of royalty. Although the Prince does not play a large role in the play, even he serves a purpose. In this short play about true events, Sonyinka effectively and creatively uses his characters.

About kwhudkins

I am a Junior at American University studying Literature and Multi-Ethnic Studies.

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