Death and the King's Horseman Quotes

Essential Quotes

Essential Quotes by Character: Elesin Oba

Essential Passage 1: Act 1

ELESIN:
Where the storm pleases, and when, it directs
The giants of the forest. When friendship summons
Is when the true comrade goes.

WOMEN:
Nothing will hold you back?

ELESIN:
Nothing. What! Has no one told you yet?
I go to keep my friend and master company.
Who says the mouth does not believe in
‘No, I have chewed all that before?’ I say I have.
The world is not a constant honey-pot.
Where I found little I made do with little.
Where there was plenty I gorged myself.
My master’s hands and mine have always
Dipped together and, home or sacred feast,
The bowl was beaten bronze, the meats
So succulent our teeth accused us of neglect.
We shared the choicest of the season’s
Harvest yams. How my friend would read
Desire in my eyes before I knew the cause—
However rare, however precious, it was mine.

Summary
Elesin, the king’s horseman, enters the market on the last day of his life. By tradition and by law, the king’s horseman must commit suicide one month following the king’s death, on the day of his burial, in order to accompany him to the afterlife. Elesin prepares to enjoy this last day before he gives his life. Elesin has long been a loyal servant to the king, a close companion and protector. He has not asked for more than was given him, but rejoiced in the honor of serving. When the king was in want, Elesin was in want. When the king lived in plenty, so did Elesin. The king knew what was in Elesin's heart before Elesin himself did. Thus gladly does Elesin face his own death, knowing that he will spend eternity in the afterlife with his king and his friend.

Essential Passage 2: Act 1

IYALOJA:
Elesin Oba…

ELESIN:
What! Where do you all say I am?

IYALOJA:
Still among the living.

ELESIN:
And that radiance which so suddenly
Lit up this market I could boast
I knew so well?

IYALOJA:
Has one step already in her husband’s home. She is betrothed.

ELESIN [irritated]:
Why do you tell me that?

[IYALOJA falls silent. The WOMEN shuffle uneasily.]

IYALOJA:
Not because we dare give you offence Elesin. Today is your day and the whole world is yours. Still, even those who leave town to make a new dwelling elsewhere like to be remembered by what they leave behind.

ELESIN:
Who does not seek to be remembered?
Memory is Master of Death, the chink
In his armour of conceit. I shall leave
That which makes my going the sheerest
Dream of an afternoon. Should voyagers
Not travel light? Let the considerate traveler
Shed, of his excessive load, all
That may benefit the living.

Summary
Elesin has seen a young girl and immediately decides that his last act will be to marry her, sleep with her, and hopefully leave one last child behind as his legacy and duty to the community. Iyaloja, the “mother of the market” or community wise woman, pauses at this request, because the girl is betrothed to her son. Yet she knows that the king’s horseman, on the last day of his death, is to be granted whatever he wishes. Despite the remonstrations of the market women, Iyaloja says nothing to Elesin. However, she does warn him that he should keep in mind all that he is leaving behind. Not just a child but a reputation is an important legacy, and this legacy is not to be thrown away lightly on a whim, should it turn out to be that this is what Elesin’s fascination with the girl would be. Elesin ignores her warning or does not catch the full meaning. He simply desires to have one last woman. Iyaloja's warning, however, will come...

(The entire section is 1708 words.)

Essential Quotes by Theme: Duty

Essential Passage 1: Act 2

AMUSA:
The government say dat kin’ ting must stop.

WOMAN:
Who will stop it? You? Tonight our husband and father will prove himself greater than the laws of strangers.

AMUSA:
I tell you nobody go prove anyting tonight or anytime. Is ignorant and criminal to prove dat kin’ prove.

IYALOJA:
[entering from hut. she is accompanied by a group of YOUNG GIRLS who have been attending the BRIDE] What is it Amusa? Why do you come here to disturb the happiness of others.

AMUSA:
Madam Iyaloja, I glad you come. You know me, I no like trouble but duty is duty. I am here to arrest Elesin for criminal intent. Tell these women to stop obstructing me in the performance of my duty.

IYALOJA:
And you? What gives you the right to obstruct our leader of men in the performance of his duty?

Summary
Amusa, who is a sergeant in the British police force, is in a difficult position as an African in the service of the British. Under orders from Pilkings, he has come to arrest Elesin so that the king’s horseman will not commit suicide. Amusa interrupts the wedding celebrations of Elesin and his new young bride, evoking the ire of the market women. The women try to prevent Amusa from carrying out his orders, stating that Elesin, their “husband and father,” will prove himself greater than the British laws against suicide. Interrupted by Iyaloja, the market mother, Amusa is initially glad to see her, believing that she will be the voice of reason in this trying situation. Yet Iyaloja proves otherwise, stating that Amusa has no right to prevent the ceremony or the ritual suicide of Elesin. It is Elesin who is to be allowed to do his duty, not Amusa.

Essential Passage 2: Act 4

JANE:
…Mind you there is the occasional bit of excitement like that ship that was blown up in the harbor.

OLUNDE:
Here? Do you mean through enemy action?

JANE:
Oh no, the war hasn’t come that close. The captain did it himself. I don’t quite understand it really. Simon tried to explain. The ship had to be blown up because it had become dangerous to the other ships, even to the city itself. Hundreds of the coastal population would have died.

OLUNDE:
Maybe it was loaded with ammunition and had caught fire. Or some of those lethal gases they’ve been experimenting on.

JANE:
Something like that. The captain blew himself up with it. Deliberately. Simon said someone had to remain on board to light the fuse.

OLUNDE:
It must have been a very short fuse.

JANE [shrugs]:
I don’t know much about it. Only that there was no other way to save lives. No time to devise anything else. The captain took the decision and carried it out.

OLUNDE:
Yes…I quite believe it. I met men like that in England.

Summary
Olunde, Elesin’s son, has returned from England where he has been attending medical school. Olunde went to England against his father’s wishes, and there is still much animosity on the part of Elesin that Pilkings would try to make his son over to fit in with the white man’s world, though to the limited degree allowed to a person of color. Olunde had left England on hearing of the king’s death, knowing the duty that was required of his father. By chance or by design, he arrives on the day of his father’s predetermined suicide. Mrs. Jane Pilkings and her husband Simon are discussing the voyage to Africa during a time of war. Jane mentions a British sea captain who died by purposely blowing himself up with his ship to prevent its endangering the coastal town. Olunde, though he...

(The entire section is 1664 words.)

Michael Foster, Ed. Scott Locklear