September 27, 2004
The Whole Soyinka
The idea of liminality is one of the most prominent themes in Death and the King's Horseman. Even in the opening, before any words are said, the audience is exposed to the closing of the marketplace, at a time when day is not quite over, yet it is not yet evening. This in-between stage starts the play off with a feeling of uncertainty, and the concept that the future is not predictable, that anything could happen. Obviously, the main character, Elesin, is in a liminal stage as he expects to pass from the world of the living into the world of the dead; however, many of the other characters are also in a similar state. For example, in the first scene, we learn that the entire community is deeply affected in much the same way that Elesin is. The young girl who becomes Elesin's bride is especially in a liminal stage, as her life has been completely changed in just a few moments - from being betrothed to Iyaloja's son to being married to the chief of their village. The Praise-Singer is also in a state of uncertainty, because his master is departing for a different world, and he is not sure of what will become of him. He pleads with Elesin to be permitted to accompany him into death - "I have prepared my going - just tell me: Olohun-iyo, I need you on this jouney and I shall be behind you."
On the 'Western' side of things, we are introduced in scene two to Mr. and Mrs. Pilkings, who are in something of a liminal stage, as they are preparing for the grand ball with His Royal Highness the Prince. This anticipation is soon overshadowed, however, by the announcement by Pilkings' sergeant that the chief of the village is about to commit suicide. This realization of Elesin's impending death becomes a catalyst for the rest of the action of the play; because the idea that 'anything can happen' was introduced right from the very beginning, now the play takes a turn from ordinary events into the world of the liminal, where nothing is predetermined and the characters are faced with situations that they have never been in.
Since the news of Elesin's death is what causes all of the action in Death and the King's Horseman, death is one of the most important concepts within the play. The ideas held by the Yoruba people regarding death will come as a shock to most audiences from the United States or Europe. It is these greatly differing views of death that cause the conflict of the action - were the two groups to effectively communicate, to come to an understanding of each other's cultures, the events of the play would not have occurred. Unfortunately, there is no effective communication between the cultures, except for Olunde. Olunde tries to explain to Jane about his people's traditions in scene four, that his father's death is desired and not a bad thing. However, Jane, and her husband Pilkings, do not understand what Olunde is trying to tell them. In this play, death is worth investigation because of theatre's power of suggestion - an audience can be immersed in a play so that it feels real, so that when death is introduced, it will cause people to think seriously on the topic, since they have 'almost' been there themselves, having seen the show.
So, since this idea of liminality is present right from the very beginning of the play, and acts as a catalyst to propel the action of the play forward, it follows that the concept of death behind the liminality is the main topic of the play. For the word 'Death' to be included as the first word of the title says that it is meant to be the point behind the show - the liminality surrounding Elesin's death being the true focus of all the subject matter and analysis.
Posted by holm0567 at September 27, 2004 11:29 PM
I think your recognition of the Praise Singer as a character in a liminal space is a very valuable one. It is almost as though he envies Elesin, or so simply very attached to him. His liminality, to me, is more the idea of having his master with him vs. being about to lose his master. That in itself will change his life and his world, which is what puts him in a state of liminality. I agree with the Bride, though I see her liminality as a very quick transition - she goes immediately from being Iyaloja's son's bride to being Elesin's. This is contrasting to Elesin's liminality, as his lasts for thirty days. It seems to me that that would have more weight, so to speak, as there is so much time to contemplate it. I'm not really sure what you mean by the English being in a liminal state because they are preparing a ball for the Prince. Perhaps you could clarify what you mean by that? I guess I don't interpret a situation in which "anything can happen" as being liminal, because it seems like in any situation in life, "anything can happen."
I think you make some very valid points about the differing views of death in the two different cultures, but I think you could take it a lot further. Obviously there is little communication between the cultures, and their conceptions of death are startling different, but I think there's more to it than just that the English don't understand why Elesin has to kill himself. That is more of a cultural question in general, than a question of the conceptions of death itself. I also take issue with your assertion that the audience will feel death more simply because the play deals with death. What exactly do you mean by this? Does this effect out conception of death as Westerners, like the Westerners in the play? Or are we supposed to understand death more like the Yoruba because we are also presented with their "suggestion" of the reality of death? But I do agree with your point about the title - for death to be present there automatically makes it a great fixture.
The recognition of some individuals who are subtly in a liminal space is extremely commendable, for instance Elesin-Oba's wife, as she sits in limbo following recently being married to a man doomed to die and, chances are, carrying his child. I definitely agree with everything in these blogs, the topic of death is defitely most obviously embodied in the conversation between Olunde and Jane and it is one of the more powerful scenes in the play. Although there is a recognition of subtle liminal spaces, one of the more obvious and important ones is Olunde's cultural liminality as he is caught between White culture and that of his own people. Also, be sure to mention Pilkings actually preventing Elesin from following through on his own death as it is the most concrete way to display the cultural conflict regarding death, and also provides an idea of how highly these cultures regard death and their willingness to go to great lengths to uphold what they believe to be the correct thing to do. The subtleties caught in this blog are what makes it excellent though.
I am in an African American Literature class that asks the questions, how was Elesin actually going to kill himself? I cannot find a clue in the text. Does anyone know?
Culture is really a very important in one's effective communication skills. It is often a hindrance between or among parties in trying to communicate effectively.
One must be more open minded and respectful when communicating with a person who has different culture than his to be able to communicate effectively. He must consider that the other has different customs, practices or beliefs.
When dealing with other people or people with different cultures, we must develop or exercise our communication skills. This would make us communicate with them effectively.
With our communication skills, we'd consider and respect other's cultures and even opinions. These are often the cause of conflicts between or among people. So understanding is really important.
I can see that the play was great and that the characters were effective in their acting. There may be some tensions going on before or during the play but the people involved should stay positive about the success of the play.
The Sedona Method is one effective way to get yourself positive and motivated all the time. It pays to be positive always for it can help you succeed with your goals and dreams in life.