The Interpreters Essay - Critical Essays

Wole Soyinka

Critical Context

The novel, though a Western form, has proved to be a flexible medium for Soyinka and other African writers. In using it to reflect his perception of African life, Soyinka has created structures uniquely his own. Both The Interpreters and Season of Anomy (1973), his second novel, range from farce and social satire to psychological realism, romance, symbolism, and myth. In Soyinka’s case the range derives its justification not only from the complexity of African life but also from his specific cultural context, the Yoruba mythology in Western Africa, specifically the god Ogun, whose mythical story makes him both creator and destroyer, both protector of the weak and drunken murderer. Such contradictory, paradoxical qualities in one god suggest to Soyinka the complexity of the human makeup and of human actions, and hence the variety of modes appropriate within one unified work. One finds similar mixes in Soyinka’s drama.

One particular aim of Soyinka is to carry over into the novel what in his drama is a literary adaptation of communal ritual. Soyinka stresses its importance not only by its noticeable absence in The Interpreters and by its presence in Season of Anomy but also by the representations of the communal experience itself, insofar as that is possible in a narrative form. In The Interpreters, the five men who form the close-knit group of intellectuals are an unsuccessful substitute for what is lacking in the community at large. In Season of Anomy, Soyinka creates a whole community, Aiyero, that possesses the old communal spirit and practices its rites. Much of the difficulty in Soyinka’s style is its elusiveness, elliptical and imagistic qualities that convey a mysteriousness and a cultishness, a hidden presence that never quite reveals itself. To the Westerner encountering Soyinka’s world, the sensation of strangeness is not only unmistakable but also persistent, even after several readings.

That Soyinka has created literary works distinctively original and has furthermore succeeded in becoming an African voice of international significance, has been officially recognized by the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.