Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
Death and the King’s Horseman is about the potential and imminent collapse of the African world because of an African failure of will. It is not about a clash of cultures in which the victor is the West. Soyinka makes the point in his introductory note to the play that the “clash of cultures” tag has become a catchall for African literature. Its main inadequacy is that it “presupposes a potential equality in every given situation of the alien culture and the indigenous, on the actual soil of the latter.” Soyinka insists that this play cannot fit into that category. He has certainly made a conscious effort not to place on equal terms the British culture, which condemns Elesin and the Horseman ritual, and the Yoruba, which considers the ritual crucial to its survival.
He further makes the point that a director must not make Pilkings into “the victim of a cruel dilemma.” Throughout the play Pilkings quite clearly has a bureaucratic mentality and is blinded by British prejudices and sycophantic concerns. He wears the egungun costume, sacred to the Yoruba, to a fancy-dress ball, in the face of clear evidence that he is being offensive-even Amusa, a Muslim, and Joseph, a Christian, find his wearing of the costume repugnant. Soyinka purposefully makes the representatives of British culture inferior to the Yoruba. There can be no “clash” of cultures when one culture does not even comprehend the other. The one cannot defeat the other when it is...
(The entire section is 604 words.)
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