A connection that I found between Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was the relationship between father and son. Within each story, the son moves onto the more modern of belief systems and ways of life. This generational shift toward the “new” and the ancestral generation’s solid foundation in the “old” brings out the much discussed theme of the struggle with modernity present in many African and specifically Nigerian novels.
This troubled bond between old and new present in both novels makes me think of another African novel that I’ve read called Nervous Conditions, written by Tsitsi Dangarembga. While her novel is based in Rhodesia, the main character finds her brother being sent to a missionary base to be educated. When he comes back he speaks fluent English and, over time, loses his fluency in their native tongue. The narrator, Tambu, finds this break down of communication between her son and her mother disheartening. The same disappointment comes to Okonkwo and Elesin, as both their sons move to Christianity and a British university, respectively.
In the cases of Okonkwo and Elesin, these men both condemn their sons. However, Elesin’s son, Olunde, does try to come back and honor his father. This marks the critical difference between the father-son relationship in Soyinka’s play and Achebe’s novel. While Nwoye flat out rejects his tribal culture and his father’s beliefs, Olunde means to, at least, show respect to his father. Olunde is the one character that has found a balance between the old and the new. While he still intended to complete his studies, he realized the importance of family, yet another common theme among African novels.
It’s interesting to look at how the balance of family and modernity is what brings about a seemingly successful character. Aside from the fact that Olunde dies… While Olunde dies in vain, the fact that he initially brought family and his modern life together gives a voice of hope to those threatened by modernity in African culture.