Certain characters play double roles in A Dance of the Forests. Does this have any significance?

The characters who play double roles in A Dance of the Forests include the Forest Head and Obaneji, and Rola and Madame Tortoise. By drawing connections between past and present and the supernatural and natural realms, the author emphasizes the spiritual dimensions of contemporary life and the importance of traditional culture for modern Nigeria. The capricious nature of life is also stressed through the actions of Eshuoro, a trickster, who mixes up the identities.

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The primary story of the effects of Demoke’s actions is interconnected with the story of two ghostly characters, the Dead Man and the Dead Woman. This connection is emphasized through the doubling of the magical Forest Head with an ordinary human man named Obaneji. Likewise, the character of Rola in...

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The primary story of the effects of Demoke’s actions is interconnected with the story of two ghostly characters, the Dead Man and the Dead Woman. This connection is emphasized through the doubling of the magical Forest Head with an ordinary human man named Obaneji. Likewise, the character of Rola in the present is doubled with the mythical Tortoise woman, and the artist Demoke is doubled with an ancient counterpart of a poet.

Through the use of different kinds of doubles (both disguised individuals and parallel sets of characters), Wole Soyinka shows how the past affects the present and how traditional culture provides an indispensable source for modern life. The doubling of characters is expanded by the duality of settings, namely the forest and the town. The two divine figures, Ogun and Eshu or Eshuoro, also provide elements of duality. The routine, normal world dominated by Ogun is upset by Eshuoro’s trickster behavior, thus confirming how unpredictable and uncontrollable life is.

Rather than simply juxtapose two sets of characters or two plots occurring in the past and the present, Soyinka mixes up the natural and supernatural worlds. While the ghostly realm that the Dead Man and Dead Woman inhabit may be associated with the past, it is also the realm of power. The living characters cannot safely ignore that power, which affects their behavior and interactions. By connecting a modern character, such as the protagonist Demoke, with unresolved issues of a man in the past, Soyinka shows the dependence of Nigeria’s people on their cultural and spiritual heritage.

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