September 21, 2004
Response to "Death and the King's Horseman"
After gaining some background on this play by reading the first two scenes and Professer K.'s helpful information, the first thing that struck me about the opening was the sense of ending or closing, and how it parallels and foreshadows Elesin's impending death. This was sharply contrasted by the entrance of Elesin, who is “...a man of enormous vitality, speaks, dances, and sings with that infectious enjoyment of life which accompanies all his actions.” This contrast suggests some of the Yoruba culture and their view of death. In Western cultures, death is the end to everything, something to be feared and avoided. In the Yoruba culture, however, Elesin's death is noble and honorable, wrapped up in ceremony and not a bad thing at all.
Another way that I believe the closing of the marketplace may be symbolic is that it stands for their culture. From what I've gathered so far, the play is about the Yorubian culture being invaded by whites, and them being prevented from practicing sacred ceremonies and traditions; therefore, I saw the closing of the marketplace as a parallel to the figurative 'closing' of the Yorubian culture.
Last year, in my CIS Intro to Lit class, we often discussed Western influence on many different cultures, and how these influences caused traditions to change and transition into something more modern. I also read it in the Author's note: he used the key word of transition. That made me think of the liminal stage, in at least two different scenarios. There is the liminal stage of Elesin's death, with his transition from the world of the living to the world of the dead; there is also the liminal stage of a culture that is changing, that is being affected by the outside influence of these westerners with completely different ideas and a desire to change the 'savages' into something 'human'.
And I apologize profusely for this digression from the actual topic. Without having read the whole play, there isn't a whole lot I can really talk about.
Posted by holm0567 at September 21, 2004 8:04 PM
No need to worry about digression in these blog writings. I'd like to know where your thought processes go rather than closely guarding them. Your departure is, actually, very revelatory. First, though...the way Elesin's life and vitality counters his impending passage out of life into the world of the dead is a central element of the play's conflict. Keep that contrast in mind. Also, I like your metaphor of the closing of the marketplace and the closing of an acceptance of the traditional. Track your sense of that idea while you read the rest of the play. What do the shifts in the way the characters understand the function of tradition and 'traditional' or 'primitive' cultures signify about the importance of these traditions?
Your note about the word transition--this play is steeped in liminality. We'll look at different configurations of the notion of transition both on Thursday and next week.
I have read the play and studied it in my Drama 1 course at Rhodes University in South Africa and I have a deep understanding of the play (mainly because I am South African and can relate better to this play and its themes).
I would just like to correct you on your point that "the play is about the Yorubian culture being invaded by whites". It is indeed not so. Wole Soyinka himself makes this point very clearly. The tragedy of Elesin's death would have occured without colonial intervention. The themes are in fact those of the failure of a leader to fulfil his duty to his community - this throws the whole Yorubian society into doubt and it is even implied that this failure will affect the world and the ancestors.
Soyinka also comments on the corruption that power causes. Elesin's love of the market place (which represents the centre of earthly life and commerce) indicates the love of life he has and the enjoyment of earthly goods, also indicated by his marriage to the young bride. What makes Elesin's failure so tragic is that Iyaloja (the Mother of the market) also enjoys her power, but "never thinks she can transgress the fundamental rules which underpin the Yoruba world".
I am aware that you did not read the play, but I just needed to point your fault out.
Thank you, Ines
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