One of the things I found the most interesting about “Death and The King’s Horseman” was the stark difference in language of the conversations between the Nigerians and the conversations involving the whites. As was mentioned in class the first scene is rather difficult to decipher due to the long-winded dialogues, full of allusions to natural and animal phenomena, that are difficult for a westerner to digest.

This also made me think of Achebe’s article “English and the African Writer” and his discussion of what language a novel needs to be written in for it to be called authentically Nigerian. A point that stood out to me in this article is when Achebe cites his own writing to demonstrate how the use of English can still portray authentic African thinking. He writes, “the material is the same. But the form of the one is in character and the other is not.” Later he writes, “English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience […] still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings.” Wole uses English in just this way in “Death of The Kings Horseman.” Although the same language is being used throughout the entire play the usage of poetic and riddle like syntax, as well as the constant references to nature and animals, used by characters such as Iyaloja, Elsin, and the Praise-Singer to each other, the interaction does seem authentically Nigerian, ancestral, and tribal.

I cannot help but believe that the difference in writing style between dialogue among Nigerians and dialogue among the whites is intentional in that it not only allows an audience a view into the difference in interaction between the people of different cultures but also engages the audience directly. I feel that the average western viewer would struggle to fully understand these monologues, and if nothing else would at least take note of the complexities of these lines. In this way the viewer doesn’t only understand, but also can relate to the inevitable discrepancies in communication that arise between the colonizers and the Nigerians. When views of the world are so vastly different knowing the same language will not necessarily yield comprehension.


About juliannatwiggs

I'm a sophomore at AU majoring in IS-International Development and minoring in French.

One response »

  1. audreyvorhees says:

    I completely agree with your post! I had the same thought during several excerpts from the play. One of the things I noticed was that the dialogue between African peoples was extremely elegant and regal; it almost sounded like poetry. They had a flow to their conversations and an almost roundabout way of speaking that I usually associate with the well educated or bourgeoisie class. This was contrasted with the Pilkingses, who I thought spoke rather plainly throughout. When Joseph talks to the either Simon or Jane, it is in broken English. I believe Soyinka was absolutely genius in creating such contrasting voices throughout the dialogue. By giving the Africans more decorum in their conversations, it actually implies they are more educated and sophisticated than their English counterparts, who place more emphasis on appearance. The conversations with Joseph go to show how little the English think of the Africans, despite them learning a second language and communicating efficiently in it, which many of the Europeans never did.

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