Death and the King's Horseman Summary and Analysis: Act II
by Wole Soyinka

Start Your Free Trial

Download Death and the King's Horseman Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Summary and Analysis: Act II

New Characters
Simon Pilkings: The District Officer, an administrative figure in the colonial government.

Jane Pilkings: Simon’s wife.

Sergeant Amusa: A “Native Administration” policeman who is a Muslim.

Joseph: A native servant to the Pilkingses who is a Christian.

Scene Two begins with a view of the verandah, a spacious porch off the front of the District Officer’s bungalow. Sergeant Amusa, a constable in the “Native Administration” police force, is seen climbing up the steps of the verandah and peeking through the wide windows of the bungalow. Inside, Simon and Jane Pilkings are dressed in native costumes complete with traditional masks, practicing the tango. When Amusa recognizes the costumes as ritual Yoruban dress, he is visibly horrified. Startled, he upsets a flowerpot, and this attracts the attention of the Pilkingses, who stop dancing. Jane turns off the gramophone, and Simon approaches the verandah. Recognizing Amusa, Simon asks him what is the matter. Stammering in non-standard English, Amusa points his finger at Simon’s costume and asks why they are dressed as they are, in clothing that belongs to a “dead cult.” Simon cannot understand why Amusa appears so bewildered and worried. Simon tells Amusa that he is a disappointment after all, for Simon has been bragging at the club that Amusa does not believe in any “mumbo jumbo.” Ignoring these remarks, Amusa begs Simon to take off the outfit because it is not good for a white man to touch such a thing. Simon informs Amusa that he and Jane plan to wear the costumes to the fancy-dress ball at the club, and that they hope to take first prize in the contest. Amusa refuses to talk to Simon while he is wearing the traditional outfit. Jane advises her husband that this is a matter that must be handled delicately, but Simon shrugs off this advice, telling Amusa to use some sense and to remember that as a constable in the service of the British king’s government, he is obligated to provide Simon with any important information or face disciplinary action. Amusa says that his report involves death, and he cannot talk about death to a person in the uniform of death. He begs to be released, to return to give his report later. This enrages Simon, who roars at Amusa. Amusa remains stubbornly silent, looking up at the ceiling. Jane tries a different tact, asking Amusa what there is to be so afraid of. She reminds him that he was the very officer who confiscated the costumes last month from the “cult leaders,” and if the “juju” didn’t hurt him at that time, then it cannot possibly hurt him now. Avoiding looking directly at Jane, Amusa acknowledges that he did arrest the ringleaders, but that, out of respect, he never touched the egungun (ancestral ritual) garments and masks.

Exasperated, Simon tells no one in particular that the whole thing is hopeless because when a native acts like this, there is nothing one can do; at this rate, they are likely to miss the best part of the ball. He tells Amusa simply to write down his report on a notepad and then he can go. The Pilkingses retreat offstage. While Amusa writes his report, the sound of drumming coming from the village grows louder. Amusa pauses concernedly, then finishes his report and leaves the bungalow.

Simon returns and reads the report. Calling Jane back into the room, Simon reads the report to her: Amusa has heard that a prominent chief, the Elesin Oba, is to “commit death” that evening as part of a native custom. Interpreting the phrase “commit death” as murder, Simon decides to have the man, and anyone else involved, arrested. Expressing relief that they will not have to miss the fancy-dress ball, Jane mockingly imitates Amusa’s earlier behavior. Then she asks Simon if he should talk to the chief before locking him up. The question irritates Simon, who seems to notice the sound of drumming for the first time, commenting that the natives always find some excuse for making a lot of noise....

(The entire section is 2,137 words.)