Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka

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Does Death and the King's Horseman represent a tragedy for Simon Pilkings?

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This tragedy certainly does not extend to Simon Pilkings in the same way that it does to the Yoruba culture as a whole. Pilkings in this play is presented as a character who is completely unable to understand, appreciate or empathise with Yoruba culture. In Scene 2, for example, he completely fails to see how wearing the egungun masks, which are used in Yoruba culture to represent the dead ancestors who commune with the living, might be considered offensive, and in Scene 4 he goes on to parody the egungun ceremony to the great amusement of his white audience. His one and only concern about the Elesin affair is to prevent a "scene" that would disturb the Prince, who is visiting at the time of the play. Note how this is conveyed in Scene 5 when the women begin to approach where Elesin is kept prisoner and Pilkings blames Olunde for the noise and disturbance:

He knows damned well I can't have a crowd here! Damn, it, I explained the delicacy of my position to him.

The eventual death of both Olunde and Elesin are events that will leave little mark on Pilkings in the long run. They will probably make amusing stories that he will narrate later on in his life when he talks about the "barbaric savages" and their customs. As far as Pilkings is concerned, the Prince's rest will have remained undisturbed, and as a result, he is safe. The theme of complete lack of cultural understanding is expressed through his failure to understand the tragedy of what has occurred.

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