Death and the King's Horseman

by Wole Soyinka

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Why does Elesin Oba fail to fulfill his duty in Death and the King's Horseman?

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Elesin Oba fails to perform his duty to die and accompany the king into the afterlife because he is attracted to a woman and takes her as his wife. He loses his will to die because of the pleasure he has found, and he hesitates so long that he is arrested by the officials. His son performs the duty for him.

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In Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman, Elesin Oba has a critical duty to perform. He must die so that he can accompany the king into the afterlife. Elesin claims to be an extremely courageous man and declares that he is ready to go. He is, after all, the king's horseman, and this is what he is destined to do.

But Elesin Oba fails to perform his duty. He sees a woman. She is a bride, just on the verge of marrying someone else. Yet Elesin wants her, and because he is the king's horseman who is getting ready to die, no one can refuse him. He takes the woman as his own, thus delaying his duty.

But word of Elesin's imminent death arrives at the home of Pilkings, the district officer, and he refuses to let such an act take place under his watch. He sends his agent to arrest Elesin. Elesin is quite pleased as he leaves the chamber of his new wife. He is feeling alive and sexually satisfied, and now, he doesn't really want to die. He hesitates too long and is arrested.

Elesin is ready to blame everyone but himself for his failure to do his duty. He blames his new wife for making him want to stay in the world. He blames Pilkings for arresting him. Iyaloja arrives at the prison to tell Elesin that he is off the hook. He doesn't have to die now; someone has done it for him and has gone to meet the king. Elesin is horrified to see that it is Olunde, his own son. Elesin dies anyway—by his own hand as he strangles himself—but it is too late to perform his duty.

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