In Death and the King's Horseman, Iyaloja talks to the girl about not thinking about the dead or the living but only the unborn. What does she mean?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Iyaloja's words to Elesin's bride actually end the play, as the women react to Elesin's suicide and then have to face the consequences both of Elesin's inaction and of his terrible final action in killing himself. Note carefully what Iyaloja says to the girl, who is bearing Elesin's unborn child in her womb:

Now forget the dead, forget even the living. Turn your mind only to the unborn.

Iyaloja encourages the girl to focus only on the future highlights the theme of the cycle of life in the Yoruba world view, where death is not seen as an ending so much as a new beginning. In the Yoruba view of the world, death, birth and life are viewed as a cyclical process, with unborn children regarded as potentially being ancestors who are returning to life. Life in this play is presented as a continuum, and the focus at the end of the play on the future in the form of the not-yet born child in the girl's womb is appropriate after the two deaths of Elesin and his son, Olunde. Having considered so much the transition from life to death of both Olunde and Elesin, it is appropriate that the play ends with a more optimistic focus on the future and the beginning of new life.

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Death and the King's Horseman

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