Study Guide

Song of a Goat

by John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo

Song of a Goat Themes

Themes and Meanings (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Song of a Goat is almost a classical tragedy. Added to the mode of classic Greek tragedy are the traditions, myths, riddles and metaphors, indigenous to African folk drama. In African drama, these characteristics are both classic and modern. The play has most of the techniques of classic drama: foreshadowing (Orukorere’s prophecy in the first movement); sacrifice (Zifa’s ironic sacrifice of the goat); heroism (Tonyá’s atonement by his suicide); metaphor (the use of the word “house” for Ebiere’s womb); gods (the divinity of the sea and its spokesperson, Orukorere); pride (Zifa’s refusal to accept his infertility); and redemption (Zifa’s sacrificing himself to the sea gods).

The classical theme of women’s supposed infertility is displayed in the person of Ebiere, who, like Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, appears unable to bear children. Like Julius Caesar, Zifa refuses to acknowledge his own impotence. Zifa states, “Meanwhile I may regain my power. . . . Is it my fault I cannot lift up my lifeless hand?” In reference to Ebiere’s womb, Zifa declares, “I will not give up my piece of land.”

The masseur, a natural confidant of the people of the village, and a parental figure, attempts without success to convince Zifa that he must be a mature person and accept his failure to procreate: “One learns to do without the masks he no longer wears. They pass on to those behind.” The masseur’s advice foreshadows Tonyá’s surrogate fatherhood. Like Oedipus, Zifa has consulted all the other “experts,” but to no avail. Zifa’s hubris will not allow him to admit that he has been drained of his manhood, for that admission can rob him of his masculinity and thus kill his spirit. As a classic tragic hero, he contributes to his own destruction.

Many other themes of African drama are revealed in this play. Among them are the conflict between the young and the old, rejection by oneself and others, symbolism taken from folklore, and the problem of sterility.